PyCon 2019 Reflections

When I was a kid, I was an enthusiastic Boy Scout. And every year, I looked forward to summer camp. For one full week, I would have a mini-adventure in the woods with my friends while earning new ranks and developing new skills. Summer camp was the highlight of every summer. As an adult, this is exactly how I feel about PyCon.

PyCon 2019 was my second time at PyCon. While I doubt any conference will ever have the same impact on me as my first PyCon, my second one was nevertheless every bit as good. I had a phenomenal experience. As always, I like to capture my reflections in an article so that I never forget the wonderful times I had. Here’s my story.

PrecisionLender

PyCon 2018 was a career-changing experience for me. I felt it at the time, and I can validate it now a year later. PyCon 2018 was my first serious engagement with the Python community. PyCon 2018 inspired me to speak at other conferences. PyCon 2018 introduced me to friends I still have today. As soon as PyCon 2018 ended, I knew that I needed to return for PyCon 2019.

Between 2018 and 2019, PrecisionLender (my employer) started doing much more Python work, especially in our data analytics division. I got approval from my manager to go to PyCon, but I also knew that others in the data division would benefit from PyCon as well. When I suggested the idea to the VP, he replied with one line: “Let’s do this thing!” With his blessing, I convinced four other PrecisionLender-ers to join me: Adam, Henry, Joe, and Raff.

I’m so thankful PrecisionLender approved our trips. Going with other friends from my company boosted not only my excitement for the conference but also my desire to learn new things. I’m proud to represent a company that supports its employees so well.

Art

Good conferences are good but exhausting. They cram
hundreds of adrenalized people into back-to-back activities requiring deep focus for hours at a time and for consecutive days. Amidst the mania, it is crucial to pace oneself. My friend Kojo sums this up perfectly in what he calls the “self care sprint.” It’s okay to step back to catch your breath. It’s vital to one’s mental health to take breaks, rest, and recover, especially at conferences as intense as PyCon.

Heeding Kojo’s advice, I took a #SelfCareSprint on the day before PyCon tutorials began. How so? I spent my afternoon at the Cleveland Museum of Art, which exhibits pieces from around the world dating from ancient times through the present day. Make no mistake: the Cleveland Museum of Art is world-class. In addition to their permanent collections, they had a special exhibit on Shinto artifacts from Japan. I barely had enough time to walk through all the galleries. What I did see impressed me, inspired me, and challenged me. Some pieces even spoke deeply to my soul.

The dichotomy of art and technology balance each other. Exploring pieces of art and the viewpoints they represent helped me center myself. I could clear my mind in preparation for the conference. I gained rest and recovery. I am human, after all.

Tutorials

PyCon 2019 hosted two days of tutorials before the main conference. Whereas talks are thirty minutes long and open to anyone, tutorials are three-hour sessions that require preregistration for limited seats. Tutorials are meant for hand-on learning with expert instructors. I had never attended tutorials at a conference before, and so this time, I wanted to try.

My first tutorial was Writing About Python (Even When You Hate Writing) by Thursday Bram. Since I do lots of blogging (and I ultimately want to write a book), I wanted to get first-hand advice on technical writing in the Python ecosystem. Thursday gave great advice on writing techniques and gotchas. The most valuable takeaway was her proofreading checklist. Her tutorial also inspired me to do something cool later in the conference. (Keep reading!)

My second tutorial was To trust or test? Automated testing of scientific projects with pytest. Unfortunately, this tutorial wasn’t right for me. I thought it would be about testing within data science, but it turned out to be a basic walkthrough of pytest. I didn’t learn any new material. What I did learn, though, was that I should be pickier with tutorials – I had to pay in advance, and I couldn’t just walk out to another talk.

My third tutorial was Escape from auto-manual testing with Hypothesis! by Zac Hatfield-Dodds. Hypothesis, a property-based testing tool, is hot right now. I first learned about it at the previous year’s PyCon, and I always wanted to learn more. Zac provided not only helpful lectures but a rigorous set of examples for us to complete. Hypothesis also works seamlessly with pytest. Zac made be a believer: Hypothesis is awesome! I need to spend more time learning it on my own.

Talks

As always, the talks were on point. I didn’t attend as many talks this year because I was too busy in the “hallway track,” but there were quite a few noteworthy ones that I attended.

In Don’t be a robot, build the bot, Mariatta showed how she and the Python core developers automated their GitHub workflow with the help of useful bots. It was cool to see how mundane processes can be automated away and how much more efficient teams can become.

In Break the Cycle: Three excellent Python tools to automate repetitive tasks, Thea Flowers showed how to use tox, nox, and Invoke to automate just about anything in Python. I’ll definitely refer back to this talk for testing.

In ¡Escuincla babosa!: Creating a telenovela script in three Python deep learning frameworks, Lorena Mesa showed us how serious machine learning can also be used for fun projects. Although the telenovela script she generated was short and humorous, it clearly proved that ML can get the job done.

In Scraping a Million Pokemon Battles: Distributed Systems By Example, Duy Nguyen showed how he scraped data from competitive Pokémon battles to level the playing field for new players. In the process, he developed a pretty slick distributed systems setup!

In Shipping your first Python package and automating future publishing, Chris Wilcox showed best practices on building and releasing Python packages. This talk was well-timed for me – I’ll definitely use this info for a current pet project of mine.

Dependency hell: a library author’s guide by Yanhui Li and Brian Quinlan will also be a great resource when considering dependencies for packages.

In to GIL or not to GIL: the Future of Multi-Core (C)Python, Eric Snow showed his thoughts for how to fix problems with the GIL and true multi-core processing.

In The Perils of Inheritance: Why We Should Prefer Composition, Ariel Ortiz made clear the nasty side effects inheritance can have and how composition is often a much better approach. The talk was fairly introductory, but I couldn’t agree more.

Expo

The expo hall was full of companies and organizations. The swankiest booths this year were:

  • Capital One – the Guido portrait and puzzle and the Zen of Python wall
  • Jetbrains – content developer tables for PyBites, Real Python, and others
  • Microsoft – four interactive Azure stations + active lab tables

However, my favorite company in the expo hall, hands down, was The Pokémon Company International. Their table was small and easily overlooked, but every time I passed by, it was packed. Everyone loves Pokémon! I got to meet a few of their engineers and managers. Apparently, they do much of their backend in Python. They’re also growing quite a lot. They were raffling off a giant Pikachu, and one of the engineers even developed a Google Home app that would make Pikachu respond whenever someone spoke to it! It was so charming to see them there. I’m glad that things are going well for Pokémon.

Swag

If you don’t overfill your swag bag, then you’re doing PyCon wrong. This year’s haul was as good as last year’s. I walked away with:

  • A dozen t-shirts
  • Half a dozen socks
  • An Adafruit kit from Microsoft
  • A signed copy of Flask Web Development from O’Reilly
  • A deck of cards with the Zen of Python from Capital One
  • An artistic deck of playing cards from Heroku
  • 16 packs of Pokémon cards
  • A JetBrains yo-yo
  • A few pairs of sunglasses
  • Water bottles from DoorDash, Wayfair, and Citadel
  • A guide to building Slack apps
  • Countless stickers

The best t-shirt award goes to Microsoft for their Visual Studio Code shirt, with honorable mentions for LinkedIn and SmartBear. I also shared a good amount of this swag with my coworkers at PrecisionLender.

Breweries

Cleveland (and greater Ohio) are renowned for craft breweries. Every time I return to Ohio, I’m always delighted by the beers I discover. I spent many lunches and dinners with a flight set on the side. Here’s where I went:

  • Hofbräuhaus Cleveland, twice! (I even bought the souvenir Maßkrug!)
  • Masthead Brewing Company
  • Noble Beast Brewing Company
  • Southern Tier Brewing Company
  • Great Lakes Brewing Company

The best was the Lichtenhainer from Noble Beast – a sour that tasted like a ham sandwich on sourdough. The worst was the “shampoo beer” from Southern Tier – did they forget to rinse the lines after cleaning them?

PyBites Dinner

Back at PyCon 2018, I met an Aussie by the name of Julian Sequeira, co-founder of PyBites. We hit it off. In fact, meeting Julian is one of the reasons why I continue to engage the Python community today. Through Julian, I met other friends like Jason Wattier, Brian Okken, Cristian Medina, and many others. Leading up to PyCon 2019, Julian organized a BIG dinner at Great Lakes Brewing Company for a bunch of Python content developers: PyBites, Real Python, Python Bytes, Test & Code, tryexceptpass, and Automation Panda (me!). Not only was it a time of sweet reunion, but I finally got to meet others like Bob Belderbos, Michael Kennedy, and David Amos in person. One of the best parts of the dinner was when a few of us chose to walk back to the hotels over the bridge instead of calling taxis. The night was cold, but the experience was worth every second.

Lightning Talk

Sadly, I did not get to deliver a full talk or tutorial at PyCon 2019. Believe me, I submitted. But that didn’t stop me from trying – there’s always one more chance with lightning talks! One exercise during the Writing About Python tutorial was to pitch a lightning talk idea. At the time, I struggled to come up with a good topic. I first considered something about testing or being a tester, but those ideas just didn’t feel right. Then, I struck gold: what about giving helpful tips for blogging, based on my experiences with Automation Panda?

I put my idea on the call-for-lightning-talk-proposals on Saturday morning: “3 Quick Tips for Software Blogging.” When I didn’t receive any notification by lunchtime, I thought my pitch had been rejected. Then, while chilling in the quiet room at 3pm, I received an email: “Congrats! You’re giving your lightning talk today at 5pm!” Excitement, then panic, took over. I threw some slides together, rehearsed them in my head, and marched myself to the main auditorium. My lightning talk was second in queue, and I delivered it like a BOSS!

PyCarolinas

Ever since my first PyCon, I’ve dreamed about having a Python conference in the Carolinas. There was a PyCarolinas 2012 and a PyData Carolinas 2016, but both were one-hit wonders. My dream remained in my back pocket until PyCon 2019.

While meandering the expo hall on Friday, I ran into Tim Hopper and Brian Corbin, two friends who were also from the Carolinas. We talked about lots of things, but one point of discussion was about relaunching PyCarolinas. Later, Dustin Ingram, chair of PyTexas, tweeted that there would be a conference organizer’s open space on Saturday. I asked if I could join because of my PyCarolinas dreams, and he said absolutely yes. Brian and I both attended, made connections, and got tons of helpful information.

Dustin then asked me if I’d like to include a slide for PyCarolinas in the “regional conference parade” on Sunday morning after the lightning talks. Heck yeah! PyCarolinas was the very last slide as a call-to-action: We have a dream; come help us make it real!

At 10am on Sunday, I held an open space to talk about (re)launching PyCarolinas. 26 people came! We got everyone’s info, created a Slack room, and started throwing around ideas. In the week after the conference, over a hundred people signed up for our Slack room. The excitement is palpable. Our goal is to host PyCarolinas in summer of 2020 for 150+ people. I’m so thankful I got the opportunity to be the spark that lit this wildfire, on such a big stage.

Twitter

Together with my blog, I use my Twitter handle @AutomationPanda for professional development. Twitter is especially helpful during conferences for communicating with friends and sharing experiences. During PyCon 2019, I crossed a big milestone: I hit over 1000 followers! That was cool.

I also made my first viral tweet, thanks to a sticker from Facebook:

Friends

If you read these reflections down this far, thank you. Seriously, I mean it.

The best part about PyCon 2019 for me was the time I spent with my friends.

The previous year at PyCon 2018, I went in blind. I did not know anyone. Along the way, I met Julian, Dustin, Gabriel Boorse, and Jon Banafato. At PyOhio 2018, I met Adrienne Lowe, Trey Hunner, and Jason Wattier. From there, I just kept meeting and re-meeting great people: PyGotham 2018, PyCon Canada 2018, PyCaribbean 2019, and PyTexas 2019.

PyCon 2019 was a high point for friendships. Everyone I knew was there. I couldn’t walk for 10 minutes around the convention center without running into someone I knew. I feel like I’m truly part of the Python community now. Here were just a few highlights:

  • Going there with my PL team: Adam, Henry, Joe, and Raff.
  • German dinner and souvenir Maßkrugs with Adam at Hofbräuhaus.
  • “Shampoo” beer with Joe and Adam at Southern Tier.
  • Snagging Pokémon cards on opening night with Mason Egger, and then running into Jason Wattier on the way.
  • Ramen dinner and Hilton rooftop drinks with the PL crew plus Mason.
  • Impromptu lunch with Adrienne so she could share the awesome things she’s accomplishing.
  • The Great Lakes dinner with Julian and company.
  • Hallway track encounters with Daniel Furman, Veronica Hanus, Trey Hunner, Piper Thunstrom, Mark Locatelli, Brian Corbin, Tim Hopper, and many others.
  • A true Saturday night Hofbräuhaus party with the PL crew, Mark, Mason, Gabriel, William Horton, and the funniest waitress ever.
  • The Great Lakes dinner with Mason, Gabriel, William, Aly Sivji, and Etienne.
  • #PyMansion that needs to happen.

PyCon 2019 filled my head with knowledge and my heart with love. I even took a new Pythonic nickname: “Pandy.” I can’t wait for more conferences like this!

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