PyCon 2018 Reflections

PyCon is the main conference for the Python community. I attended it for the first time this year, and it was AWESOME. Here are my reflections. Enjoy!

I also compiled a list of my favorite talks at The Panda’s Dozen: Top PyCon 2018 Talks.

My Talk

The main reason I went to PyCon 2018 was to deliver a talk entitled “Behavior-Driven Python” about behave, one of Python’s most popular BDD test automation frameworks. One of my major professional goals for 2018 was to speak at a conference – and any conference would do. Fortunately for me, PyCon accepted my proposal, and Piper Companies in Raleigh graciously footed the bill! The video recording for my talk is linked below. It also has a GitHub example project and a companion article. (I’ll write a separate article with links to other talks I enjoyed.)

The Destination

PyCon 2018 was held in Cleveland, Ohio. I had never been to Cleveland before, and I found the downtown area to be charming. Everything I needed was within walking distance: the Huntington Convention Center where the conference was held, the DoubleTree by Hilton on Lakeside Ave where I stayed, the skyline, the city hall, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Great Lakes Science Center, and Lake Erie itself.

I flew into Cleveland on the evening of Thursday, May 10. Unfortunately, I missed the opening reception because my Frontier Airlines flight was delayed. (I guess I got what I paid for.) When I arrived, I had only one destination in mind: Great Lakes Brewing Company. Great Lakes has been one of my favorite breweries since I first started drinking craft beer in college. I boarded the Red Line train at the airport and rode it directly to the Ohio City station, where their pub is located. The food and beer did not disappoint!

The First Morning

PyCon 2018 had three major phases: tutorials from May 9-10, talks and events from May 11-13, and sprints from May 14-17. I attended only from May 11-13 for the “main” part of the conference. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was blown away by what I found.

The first thing I did on the first day was registration. I showed up at about 8am to get my badge and my conference t-shirt. The volunteers also handed me a “swag bag,” pre-populated with a map and some random goodies. Since I had my backpack, I didn’t think I would need an extra bag – boy, was I wrong!

The main conference area was an expo hall full of companies and organizations giving away endless freebies, much to my naive surprise. (This was nothing like the last conference I attended, PyData Carolinas 2016.) The major stalls were Microsoft, Amazon (AWS), Google, Facebook/Instagram, LinkedIn, Anaconda, O’Reilly, and Heroku. Others included the Python Software Foundation, Django Girls, JetBrains, Elasticsearch, ChowNow, Yelp, Patreon, Squarespace, Linode, platform.sh, PostgreSQL, Nylas, DigitalOcean, DataDog, Cactus, Six Feet Up, OfferUp, Twilio, Nexmo, Okta, Pluralsight, Zapier, Bloomberg, Shopify, PyBee, EdgeDB, Anvil, and others I can’t remember. Over the three days of main events, I talked with people at nearly every stall to learn about what they do and to score that dank swag. I walked away with twelve t-shirts, five pairs of socks, laminated Python guides, a JetBrains yo-yo, a Google puzzle, Yelp gloves, a Facebook earbuds case, an OfferUp water bottle, a couple koozies, and a countless number of stickers.

While waiting for the first keynote address, I ran into Kenneth Reitz at the Python Software Foundation table. Kenneth is the original author of requests and pipenv. It was a pleasure to meet him in person. He also interviewed me for his PyCon 2018 podcast! My segment is at 19:11.

I was about to go to the keynote address when I walked by the O’Reilly stall and discovered a book signing: Harry J.W. Percival was scheduled to give away free signed copies of the second edition of his book, Test-Driven Development with Python. I got my “golden ticket,” waited in line, skipped the keynote, and scored that dankest swag of the conference. O’Reilly was giving out other books throughout the conference, but as a Software Engineer in Test, this one was the big kahuna for me. #worthit

My talk, “Behavior-Driven Python,” was scheduled at 12:10pm in Grand Ballroom A. I wasn’t terribly nervous because I had given this sort of talk many times, but I was worried that I would run out of time. Before speakers give their talks, they go to the “green room” where they test projector cables and meet the “runner” who will take them to the auditorium. I got to meet other speakers, which made me feel more comfortable. My talk got off to a delayed start due to some technical difficulties with the projector, but I think it went really well. The ballrooms could each seat several hundred people, and it looked like my talk was fairly well attended. A number of people asked me questions afterwards. Then, I ended up having lunch with a new friend I met named Gabriel, too!

The Rest of Day 1

I spent the rest of the afternoon attending talks, which can be mentally exhausting after too much. However, at the end of the day, I got to spend some sweet time with my dear friend Kennedy from college. Kennedy reached out to me before the conference to let me know that he would be there. I ran into him each day, but we got to spend the most time together sitting outside Ballroom A just catching up on life. We hadn’t seen each other since 2010 at RIT. Kennedy is really getting into software infrastructure and DevOps-like work. It was such a blessing to see him there.

Kennedy

My bro Kennedy sports that Linode shirt like a boss!

Dinner was another fortuitous blessing. ChowNow invited me to dinner and drinks at TownHall. I met their chief product officer, their engineers, and their recruiters. We talked a lot about test automation. They’re in a very similar situation as my current company, PrecisionLender: a hundred people and growing, realizing their need for automated feature tests, and discovering how hard it is to build an automation solution themselves or find someone who can. They were really great people doing awesome things, and I can’t wait to see them grow.

ChowNow also had a fun giveaway challenge. To enter, one needed to hit a REST API endpoint, which then returned further instructions. It was a bit of a puzzle – I got confused for the first few minutes, but after a hearty facepalm I figured out the challenge and successfully submitted my entry. (Python REPL and requests FTW!) The grand prize was an iPad Pro, but I won the consolation prize of $20 in ChowNow bucks. Not bad.

The Second Day

For me, Day 2 at PyCon was almost entirely about talks. The morning keynotes were really inspiring: Ying Li told a great story modeled after the Wizard of Oz about how everyone plays a part in security, and Qumisha Goss shared how she inspires kids at the Detroit public library to get into coding with Python. There were more talks I wanted to attend than I could. I learned about sloppy Python, developing arcade-style games, statistics on Python users, Appium, and compiler tools.

In the expo hall, my most memorable conversation was at the Python Bytes / Talk Python To Me table. These are major Python podcasts. Julian Sequeira of PyBites told me all about the #100DaysOfCode in Python, which I really want to try so I can learn about things beyond my domain. He then introduced me to Brian Okken, who wrote Python Testing with pytest and runs the Test and Code podcast. We talked quite a bit about testing practices and frameworks. I almost convinced him of BDD’s benefits, and he tried to convince me that unit testing is waste. It was a great conversation, and I really want to learn more about Brian’s pragmatic testing perspective.

Julian

Julian championing the Sceptre of Python!

That evening, Instagram invited me to dinner. I thought it would be drinks and appetizers at a bar, like with ChowNow. Oh, no, it was … Let me tell the story. Before PyCon started, Instagram invited me to join them for a special dinner. I think they invited me because I was a speaker. Instagram provided promo codes for a free Lyft to Crop Bistro, one of the best restaurants in the city. It resides in an old bank: marble columns and fresco paintings on the walls. When I arrived, the hostess walked me to the back, down the stairs, through the kitchen, and into the bank’s old vault, which had been converted into a private party room. They served a full three-course meal with a full bar, and it was damn good. That ribeye steak… I met a lot of great people, too. I talked with Instagram’s release manager at length about struggles with test automation. I also got to chat with a number of their engineers (many of whom were from China), as well as other Pythonistas who were invited. It was a wonderful event, and I truly thank Instagram for the invitation.

Also, I want to say that the weather in Cleveland was pretty darn cold! Daily temperatures were in the 50s, while at the same time in Raleigh, they were in the 90s. I froze my ears off walking from the hotel to the convention center!

The Third Day

At the Instagram dinner, I met a few guys who help organize Python conferences. They encouraged me to submit proposals to PyGotham and PyOhio. So, when I woke up on Day 3, I did! Hopefully, my proposals will be accepted.

The main event in the morning was the Poster expo / Job Fair. However, since I had already met most of the companies, I spent most of my time at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame instead. I’m a huge fan of rock music. The museum had awesome exhibits with really cool memorabilia. I even got to vote for new inductees – I voted for Iron Maiden! I headed back to PyCon for the afternoon talks, but then I skipped out of the finale to finish seeing all of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibits before the museum closed.

My original dinner plan was to visit another local brewery. PyCon was hosting an event dinner at the Great Lakes Science Center, but I didn’t register in time to get a ticket. Nevertheless, my friend Kennedy offered me his meal ticket since he was returning home that afternoon. Hashtag-BLESSED. The museum was so cool. My favorite part was the NASA Glenn Visitor Center – they had one of the Apollo Skylab capsules! Many of us Pythonistas built a really tall tower out of wood blocks that we had to knock down once dinner was ready. The food was excellent, too: steak, salmon, mac ‘n cheese, green beans, and cheesecake for dessert.

My (Delta) direct flight home left on time Monday morning. I could barely fit all the swag into my suitcase! I caught a cold while attending the conference, but thankfully it didn’t take effect until I was back home.

Major Takeaways

So much happened at PyCon 2018. Even though I was doing stuff nonstop for three days, there was still so much more there to do. It will take me a few weeks to fully process everything. Here were my major takeaways:

I accomplished my goals. Before going to PyCon, I set three major goals for myself: (1) get a pulse on the state and direction of Python, (2) establish rapport in the community, and (3) become inspired to pursue greater work. CHECK! I met a lot of great people who all love using Python. A number of people really enjoyed my talk. I learned how so many groups, from top-tier Silicon Valley companies to local user orgs, are using Python to do cool stuff. There are also now just as many data scientists as web developers using Python. Seeing Python used in so many different domains really inspired me to learn more about those domains in which my knowledge is limited. I feel like I have more work to do after the conference than I did to prepare for it!

The Python community is so welcoming and friendly. When PyCon’s banner says, “For the community, by the community,” it’s true. This conference was about people much more than it was about programming. I was initially afraid that I would be lonely because I didn’t know anyone, but once I got there, everyone was outgoing; even me! Python is a language for everyone from beginners to experts, and there was no sense of elitism whatsoever at the conference. The atmosphere reminded me very much of freshman orientation week at RIT, when total strangers would strike up conversations and bestow well-wishes at every turn.

All companies have major test automation struggles. There is a universal awareness of the need for good testing, but there is also universal struggle to develop reliable feature tests at scale. Knowing that companies like Facebook/Instagram and ChowNow have problems similar to companies where I have worked gives me boosted motivation as a Software Engineer in Test to keep going!

Never write shell scripts. Just write Python scripts. Yes! This came from the “sloppy Python” talk. It’s so true. Shell scripting is so low-level and often unreadable. Plus, Python is cross-platform!

Flask is a big deal. Flask is a minimalist Pythonic web framework. It is a lightweight alternative to Django and Pyramid. Everyone was talking about it. O’Reilly was giving away books about it.

Prep for PyCon 2019! I want to return to PyCon very much. Next year, I have a better understanding of the talks, so I can make better proposals. I’ll also check out the open spaces and lightning talks. PyCon 2019 will be back in Cleveland, too!

What’s Next?

I feel like I have so much more to learn! Here’s what’s next for me:

  1. Watch videos for all the talks I missed.
  2. Come up with a personal professional development plan.
  3. Take the 100 Days of Coding challenge course.
  4. Learn about Flask, Arcade, and Pyre.
  5. Read more books about software testing.
  6. Look into data science, machine learning, containers, and security with testing.
  7. Develop more content for a blog.
  8. Write my own book(s) about software testing.
  9. Start speaking at more conferences!

 

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