I was lucky enough to go to Pycon this past week in Santa Clara, California. It was phenomenal. I couldn’t even imagine it would be this awesome.
My colleague, mentor, old boss, person who changed my life, whatever you want to call him, Titus Brown suggested that a fellow grad student and I apply for financial aid to go to Pycon. We both got it, probably in large part because of the substantial contribution from PyLadies, which is awesome. We both honestly thought that we’d be two women in a sea of men but Pycon ended up being 20% women which is pretty neat (I know, every time I say this, someone says, “wait, only 20%??? Isn’t that bad? What is the state of things when we’re celebrating 20%?” I have no good answers for you.)
The trio of us spent the first day in the education summit which was all about how to fix the state of programming education whether it’s to children, minorities, women, or in the public education system/college. I learned about a lot of things – Sugar Labs and how children develop apps for them, iPython blocks as an interactive teaching tool, CodingBat.com/ProjectEuler.net for programming practice, and PyLadies and other outreach groups that provide a safe learning environment. The coolest thing of the entire summit was 13 year old Carter who was on a panel with his father and volunteered to give a lightening talk on homework automation. He’s the kind of kid that you wish you could claim as your own because he was extremely intelligent and engaged. While talking about learning approaches that worked, he stated that the video game Portal was such a success because each level was challenging but not overwhelming and the difficulty ramped up slowly with each progressive level. He was extremely insightful.
I went to a lot of talks. The opening speech from the chair Jesse Noller was super welcoming. The keynote from Eben Upton, the founder of Raspberry Pi (which as a conference present, everyone got one!), detailed the extremely interesting history of how unexpectedly popular the Raspberry Pi became. How the Internet Works by Jessica McKellar had a deliciously nerdy marriage proposal suggestion at the end. Python: A Toy Language by David Beazley was about how kids can be a challenge to you and how he used whirling knives in a CNC miller to keep up. Awesome Big Data Algorithms by the very famous Titus Brown had a live demo with iPython notebook and talked about “data of unusual size.” Scaling Community Diversity Outreach was a panel with Asheesh Laroia, Jessica McKellar, Dana Bauer, and Daniel Choi on all sorts of cool outreach programs and how you can start them in your community. Selena Deckelmann had a talk on What Teachers Really Need From Us–it basically boiled down to teachers knowing how to teach and how we should work with them instead of reinventing the wheel (a point that really needed to be made!). And finally, Matt Davis’s talk on iPython Blocks which reminded me how much insane functionality iPython is and how it’s the most awesome IDE ever.
We also went to the Testing in Python Birds of a Feather (TiP BoF) which featured an insane amount of lightening talks that were all informative and amusing. There was mostly funny heckling from the audience. There were also some less than ideal folk who really don’t know how to talk to girls and that sucked and reminded me of this post on being told to lighten up. But I digress. This was one of the places where you saw the strong sense of community in the Python world, whether it was people instantly jumping to follow @SecretMathLab after Jason Huggin’s reveal or seeing people befriend those sitting next to them as they googled if “Pet Goats and Pap Smears” was an actual book. The room was packed, the laughter was non-stop, and it was super informative. What more could you ask for? My new goal in life is to one day go up and do a lightening talk of my own. Unfortunately for the TiP BoF crew, the TiP BoF was my second favorite thing from Pycon.
What was the first? The PyLadies auction. It was a hoot. I kept getting goosebumps when people would keep increasing their bids even though they could go home and buy the same thing off Amazon for less. My favorites were when there were books on teaching children to program for auction — people’s escalation in bidding definitely showed how enthusiastic they are to spread their love of programming. The auction won out over TiP BoF because of the insanely incredible chair, Jesse Noller. My fondest memory was when Jesse Noller got up and did a jig despite being injured so that the bidding on an item would increase. You could see him afterwards wince in pain and you could tell that he knew that it was going to hurt, but his commitment to PyLadies was above himself. I honestly can’t express how inspiring that is. Seriously, what a guy. I like to attribute all of the awesome of Pycon to him.
To me, Pycon had an amazing commitment to making me feel welcome in the community. It also inspired me to go home and do outreach of my own. I am super likely to take a couple days off work next year so I can make it to Pycon 2014 in Montreal. I was lucky enough to be introduced to all sorts of awesome people in the Python community. All of these people felt that I could make a contribution to the community, too. It wasn’t because I was a woman, it was just because I was a person, and at the end of the day, that’s all I want — to be respected as a person.