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PyCon 2019: A Quick Lookback

Last updated on May 28, 2019

This year marked my fourth year going to PyCon and has been by far the best. I’ve decided to share with you a few of my experiences and recommendations. To do this, I’ve broken this up into the following sections:

  • Volunteering: This year I did more volunteering than before and you should do more too.
  • The “People” of PyCon 2019: I met quite a few people who made an impact on my PyCon experience who I’d like to share with you.
  • Talks, Keynotes, and Tutorial Recommendations: Recommended talks, keynotes, or tutorials that I attended or watched.
  • Swag: A quick look at this year’s swag, well one thing in particular.

Volunteering

This year, prompted by my article on Real Python about PyCon, I decided to do more volunteering at PyCon than I’ve done before and I’ve got to say that it augmented my experience tenfold. Why? First and foremost, I felt like I was no longer just a participant in the conference, but now also a contributor. Next, I was able to meet some people in a more personal manner that otherwise, I might not have been able to meet. Finally, I was given a small glimpse into the inner workings of how a conference of this scale is put together and managed. Hint: strong use of volunteers.

While at PyCon I took on several roles. I want to elaborate on what they were and involved doing and the benefits they brought me while volunteering.

Tutorial Support (aka bouncer):

When supporting a tutorial your job is one akin to that of a bouncer. You’ll check that the person coming in has indeed signed up for the tutorial. Sometimes I would get people that came to the wrong tutorial and would direct them to the correct room. Other times I had to inform people that the tutorials were paid add-on to the conference and that if they didn’t pay for it, they couldn’t attend.

I had the honor of supporting David Beasley’s tutorial this year. Because I was standing in the room helping out, he came up to me and started chatting with me. It was a surreal moment for me; here was a man whom I’ve read his books and listened to his talks in awe, having a casual conversation with me!

Registration/Check-in

When you first come to PyCon, you need to go to registration in order to get your badge, tickets for events and stuff, and a map/schedule of the conference. Almost everyone behind the desk are volunteers. What makes this area so great is that you get to quickly meet all sorts of people as they check in. I even got to check in Michael Kennedy from Python Bytes and Talk Python to Me!

Swag Bag Stuffing Dance Party w/ Larry Hastings

This is something that anyone can help out with and have lots of fun doing. You simply walk, stroll, dance, or whatever Larry Hastings’ mixes may inspire you to do while holding a bag for others to stuff with all the good swag that we get. Not only is this a lot of fun, but you will get an inside look at what we get before anyone else. You might even get some stuff if there’s still some extra.

Session Staff (Runner and Chair)

The other thing that I did with regards to volunteering was being a Session Runner and Chair.

As a session runner, your job is to make sure that the speaker gets to their assigned speaking room on time. It’s a pretty simple enough job but a neat experience to see these speakers as they get ready before a talk.

As a session chair, you are the one that gets to introduce the person for the talk. I decided to try this out to see how well I would do speaking in front of so many people as I have hopes and dreams of giving a talk myself some day. As the session chair you also get inside access to the speakers and get to know them a little on a personal level.

Me introducing Dr. Rachael Tatman for her talk

With both the session chair and runner, you also get a walkie talkie and earpiece which gets you inside access to what’s going on behind the scenes of running these talks. Plus you get to look pretty awesome while walking around with them on.

The “People” of PyCon

This year I met and made so many new connections with people. I want to share with you a few of these connections:

Joel Garza

Joel was a fellow tutorial bouncer with me and was pivotal in securing me additional Circuit Playground Expresses for my Boy Scout troop. Overall just a great guy you should be if you ever get the chance.

Carol Willing

Carol, I met by simple chance while volunteering. She was in the Green room with all the other volunteers and I assumed that she was one of them. She gave me some invaluable advice about volunteering where I live. To my utter surprise, while watching the Keynote, I found out that she is one of the members of the Python Steering Council!

Real Python Team and Members

I’ve been writing for Real Python for about a year now and it’s been amazing to work with some of the smartest minds that are using Python. But with all that we’ve done working remotely with each other, we really were able to solidify our friendship and camaraderie by meeting up at PyCon and getting to know each other in real life. It’s made the interactions that I have with them (even those that I didn’t get to mee) all the more enriching. Besides volunteering, I would say that meeting up with this team was the biggest highlight of my attendance at PyCon.

Made even better though, was that the Real Python team decided to snag an open space for an hour for our first ever Real Python Summit, where people that were readers of Real Python could come and meet Dan Bader and some of the authors.

The Inaugural Real Python Summit

The turnout was far greater than we could’ve ever expected and it was humbling to hear about some of my articles being talked about as tools that people actually used and loved.

Chalmer Lowe

Chalmer and I go way back… all the way to PyCon 2016; He just doesn’t know it. I first met Chalmer at his Booz|Allen|Hamilton booth that he had in PyCon 2016. They had a capture the flag contest going at the time and surprisingly enough I won (there weren’t that many participants that year so that’s how I think I won). I’ve seen him each year since in passing and this year he held a tutorial on Machine Learning using SciKit Learn. I took the course and highly recommend (it made the list below).

Recommended Talks and Tutorials

Below is a list of talks and tutorials that I attended or have seen since coming home and recommend watching.

Rachael Tatman – Put down the deep learning: When not to use neural networks and what to do instead
Geir Arne Hjelle – Plugins: Adding Flexibility to Your Apps
David Beazley – Lambda Calculus From the Ground Up
Raymond Hettinger – Modern Solvers: Problems well-defined are problems solved
Anthony Shaw – Wily Python: Writing Simpler and More Maintainable Python

Circuit Playground Express (CPX)

There was a lot of swag that was given out this year, but probably the coolest was the Circuit Playground Express board:

See the source image
https://blog.adafruit.com/2019/05/02/how-its-made-the-thousands-of-digikey-adafruit-circuit-playgrounds-for-pycon-2019-in-cleveland-ohio-pycon2019-pycon/

These board come pre-loaded with Circuit Python and have so many sensors, leds, and buttons theres literally thousands of things that you can do with them. Turns out there were quite a few of them left over and thanks to Joel for speaking with the PSF team and adafruit, I was able to get 10 of these to take home and use to teach robotics to my local Boy Scout Troop. Even more, Microsoft donated 10 of the CPX kits!

With that, I’ve decided to work on a project creating lessons on robotics and programming in Python. You can check out the GitHub page here:

https://github.com/mertzjames/circuit_playground_examples

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