Hello World! I’d like to give an update on the PyCarolinas 2020 conference, since we’ve been quiet for quite some time. I’ll share what we’ve done and a new vision for where we want to go, especially given current world events.
How We Got Started
Calvin Spealman founded “PyCarolinas” in 2012 with the first (and so far only) conference at UNC Chapel Hill. The only other Python conference held in the Carolinas since then was PyData Carolinas 2016, hosted by IBM. Despite having several talented Pythonistas in both North and South Carolina, various factors prevented the return of either conference.
I first encountered the Python community when I delivered my first conference talk ever at PyData Carolinas 2016. However, I really became engaged at PyCon 2018, an experience that forever changed my life. I started speaking at several Python conferences around North America. The people I met became dear friends, and the ideas I learned inspired me to be a better Pythonista. However, one thing disappointed me: my home state didn’t have a regional Python conference. I wanted to bring the awesomeness of a Python conference to my backyard so that others could join the fun.
During PyCon 2019, I shared this idea with some friends, and every one of them said that we should make it happen. A few of us attended an open space for conference organizers to swap ideas. Dustin Ingram then invited me to give a call-to-action for a PyCarolinas 2020 conference on the big stage during the “parade of worldwide conferences.” Immediately thereafter, I held an open space for PyCarolinas to kick things off, and dozens of people attended. We created a Slack room, launched a newsletter, and started a Twitter storm. I got in touch with Calvin so we could formally plan things together. Calvin secured a venue at the Red Hat Annex for June 20-21. We even created a logo and took Code of Conduct training by invitation of our wonderful PyGotham friends. Things were looking bright.
Well, What Happened?
Life happened. From November until now, I personally had to handle several personal and family matters, in addition to holidays, my full-time job, and various commitments. You can read the full story here. Calvin also had things come up. As a result, PyCarolinas progress was minimal. We brought together a community, but we failed to meet critical milestones. I personally take responsibility for those failures.
There’s also a new monkey wrench in our plans: COVID-19. The coronavirus is starting to spread throughout the United States, and North Carolina is already in a state of emergency due to multiple local cases. Other conferences like SXSW 2020 and E3 have been canceled. At the time of writing this article, PyCon 2020 might be canceled or postponed. We just don’t know how things will be by June. We would hate to put a lot of work into PyCarolinas 2020 if it could be canceled due to COVID-19, especially when we are already behind schedule.
A New Way Forward
Personally, I was ready to give up and recommend that we cancel PyCarolinas 2020. Then, while returning from PyTennessee 2020, I had a stroke of inspiration:
What if we made PyCarolinas 2020 an “unconference”?
Traditional conferences take a lot of top-down planning and hard commitments, which is not something we can or should do right now. Unconferences, on the other hand, are participant-driven. Their organization is lean: provide a space for people to gather, collaborate, and cross-pollinate.
Here’s the new vision I’d like to cast for a PyCarolinas 2020 Unconference:
- One day only: Saturday, June 20 at Red Hat Annex
- Lightning talks only: no lengthy CFP; informal sign-ups beforehand
- Maybe a keynote speaker
- Open collaboration spaces in the other rooms
- Set aside time for organizers to seriously plan PyCarolinas 2021
- Limit sponsorships for simplicity
- Uphold the Python community’s Code of Conduct
- Offer only about 100 tickets to keep the event small
- Encourage local and regional attendance
- Empower the Python community to be awesome!
Furthermore, I would like to offer tickets for FREE! Free tickets would allow anyone to come, and they would also help us as organizers avoid the hassle of money changing hands, bank accounts, and legal entities for this event.
Red Hat has already graciously provided a venue for free. I’d like to find a sponsor to provide pizza and soft drinks for lunch. If possible, I’d also like to find a sponsor to print some stickers.
By keeping this event lean, we win both ways. If COVID-19 is no longer an issue by June, then we get to lead a truly unique type of Python regional conference. If COVID-19 is still a problem, then we can easily postpone the event without much loss or pain.
The Next Steps
I’ve shared this idea with a few friends (including Calvin), and everyone so far agrees that this is a good path forward. In the coming days, we will share this plan to make sure the community agrees. Then, if this is the way, we can launch a very simple website, set up ticketing, and find someone to sponsor pizza.
Personally, I feel good about this idea. It’s a big relief to downsize. Deep down, I know I can trust the Python community to make this unique type of conference a hit.