conference

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!

PyCon Canada 2018 Reflections

PyCon Canada 2018 was my fourth and final Python conference of 2018. I proposed a talk on a whim after seeing the CFP on Twitter. What the heck, why not? It couldn’t hurt to try. Much to my surprise (and delight), I was accepted to speak! So, up to the Great White North I went for the first time since childhood.

The Conference

#PyConCA2018 took place in Toronto, Ontario from November 10-13 at the Chestnut Residence downtown. I attended the conference (Nov 10-11) but skipped out on the sprints (Nov 12-13). It looked like about 400-500 people attended the conference, but I don’t know the exact count. A few vendors had tables with swag, but the talks were clearly the main focus of the conference.

A great view of downtown Toronto from my Chinatown Airbnb

The Talks

PyConCA offered three tracks for talks plus a tutorials track. There were two time slot lengths for talks: 10 minutes and 30 minutes. I had not attended a conference with short 10-minute talks before, but they turned out to be a great way to cover a broader range of topics in a short amount of time. The tutorials were long-running sessions for which anyone could register at no additional charge, but they each had a limited number of seats. (I regret not signing up in advance for the Kubernetes tutorial.) There were also four decent keynote addresses.

I attended the following talks:

  1. A Bossy Sort of Voice: Uncovering gender bias in Harry Potter with Python
  2. Replacing Guido
  3. Guide to your own artificial intelligence application in 3 easy steps
  4. Who’s There? Building a home security system with Pi & Slack!
  5. PEP 572: The Walrus Operator
  6. WSGI for Web Developers
  7. Get Productive with Python in Visual Studio Code
  8. Lessons learned open sourcing (and maintaining) my first library
  9. Nimble Testing!

My Talk

My talk was entitled, “Behavior-Driven Python with pytest-bdd”. It was a recasting of my PyCon 2018 talk on Python’s behave framework using pytest-bdd instead.

Prepping for my talk at my Airbnb with my toque and Royaltea glass!

I spent a lot of time reworking the slides, writing new example code, and rehearsing my words before the talk. And I felt great when I presented it: without any script, I hit all the major points without skipping a beat and ended right on time. I felt my passion flow through me as I spoke. This tweet pretty much summed up my feelings:

The People

Meeting people is one of my favorite parts of Python conferences. Everyone is friendly. Everyone will chat with you. Everyone will get excited about whatever makes you excited. This time around, I ended up in a posse with a few other guys who mostly attended the same talks and also sat at the same lunch table. I hope our paths cross again. I also got to meet Elaine Wong, the conference chair.

After the Conference

I was on my own for both evenings after the conference talks. My Airbnb rental was just two blocks away in Chinatown, so I could walk to and from the conference center (in the bitter Toronto cold). On Saturday night, I ate a delicious dry hotpot of beef, lotus flowers, and wood ear mushrooms at the House of Gourmet, followed by a fancy bubble tea in a light-bulb-shaped glass across the street at Royaltea. On Sunday night, I treated myself to foot-and-body massage at Evergreen Beauty and Wellness. My therapist, who was from Beijing, helped me practice my Mandarin. Thereafter, I went to Sichuanren for an all-you-can-eat hotpot buffet: beef, pork, lamb, seafood, and veggies. It’s so much fun to visit a big city with a large Chinatown – it provides access to things I can’t always get at home. That US-to-Canadian-dollar exchange rate is quite favorable, too. The only challenges I faced were (a) no mobile phone service and (b) worrying if establishments would accept my credit/debit cards. The temps also hovered around freezing.

Takeaways

PyConCA was a strong finish for my 2018 conferences. I’m so thankful for my opportunity to speak, and I’m glad that I took the time to attend.

My favorite physical takeaway items of swag were:

  • My PyConCA sticker, now proudly displayed on my Macbook
  • My PyConCA t-shirt, which will soon appear in my rotation
  • My PyConCA “toque” (Canadian word for “knit winter cap with a pom-pom on top”)
One more badge, and one more sticker!

My main inspirational takeaway from this conference could be summed up in one word: confidence. I feel much more confident in myself as a conference speaker after nailing my talk this fourth time. After listening to a number of talks, I also feel much more confident in my Python web development skills. Picking up Flask (which is on my todo list) should be doable. Finally, I feel capable of learning data science and AI with Python when the time comes. Many talks showed how machine learning can solve novel problems with straightforward tools and techniques.

That should conclude this panda’s round of conferences for the year. I look forward to what 2019 brings!

PyTexas 2019 Reflections

PyTexas 2019 was an incredible Python conference. It was held at the Central Library in Austin, Texas from April 13-14. I’m so glad I went. Even though this was my seventh Python conference, it was one of my favorites so far. Here’s a brief recap of my experiences.

Why I Went

I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to go to PyTexas 2019. After my talk proposals for PyCon 2019 were rejected, I saw this tweet from Dustin Ingram, the conference chair for PyTexas:

Reinvigorated, I decided to give it a try. Lo and behold, one of my talks, Egad! How Do We Start Writing (Better) Tests?, was accepted! The video recording is below:


Thankfully, my talk was the very second talk of the conference. I could get it out of the way early so I could enjoy the rest of the conference without the nerves. And everyone always loves the pandas.

I also gave a Lightning Talk for the first time! I talked about the difference between unittest and pytest. My talk starts at 30:17, but be sure to listen to all of the talks.

I’d also like to thank my employer, PrecisionLender, for sponsoring my trip and enabling me to speak.

Memorable Moments

Talks are usually the main part of any conference. PyTexas 2019 was a single-track conference, meaning that everyone saw all of the talks. All talks were memorable for me, but I’ll write a separate post about the talks once all the recordings are posted. Here, I’ll cover other awesome things that happened.

My Recovery Day

Things had been very stressful for me in the first few months of 2019. I came to PyTexas essentially exhausted from life, and I needed a “Self Care Sprint” (as Kojo would say). So, that’s exactly what I did: I flew into Austin on Friday morning and spent the whole afternoon just being a low-key tourist. I ate a Texas-sized lunch at Stubb’s BBQ, viewed the artwork at Mexic-Arte Museum, walked along the Colorado River, and nearly fell asleep in the Central Library after perusing the stacks. That evening, I met up with other speakers at the Spider House for an informal pre-conference get-together. Even though I wasn’t “productive” by any professional definition, I felt thoroughly refreshed and ready for the excitement to come.

Electric Scooters

Austin has been invaded by electric scooters. They are on every street corner. There must be half a dozen different brands. Even Uber and Lyft have scooters for rent! Instead of hailing ride shares downtown, I just hopped the nearest Lime scooter. They go really fast, and they’re tons of fun!

The First After-Party

Literati Books generously hosted an after-party at Jo’s Coffee after the first day of the conference. I got to spend time with a bunch of cool people from the conference while enjoying sliders and craft beer. Carl even shared some of his jerky with us!

Other Testing Talks

I always get a rise out of testing talks at conferences. Python conferences always have a few but only a few. PyTexas had three. I think Kojo‘s tweets summed up my enthusiasm perfectly:

The Zen of Python Teams

Adrienne delivered one of the best keynote addresses I’ve ever attended. Seriously, go watch it. She talked about how the Zen of Python can be applied not only to code but also to teams. The best part was the “Easter egg” at the end. The Zen of Python famously leaves the 20th line blank so that we can make it for ourselves. Adrienne challenged us to come up with our own 20th point after handing out real Easter eggs to everyone in the audience! Mine? People matter.

Whataburger

I had never eaten at Whataburger before. This trip, that changed. William, Brian, and I hopped on those electric scooters and went to the Whataburger across the river for lunch on day 2. The patty melt was tasty, but the Dr. Pepper milkshake was out of this world! The views from the bridge were gorgeous as well.

The Second After-Party

After the conference ended, William, Aly, and I went to Mort Subite, a cool Belgian beer bar, to celebrate and unwind. Then, we rode electric scooters over to Baton Creole for a late-night dinner with Adrienne. We had some good food and even better discussions. It was the best way to end PyTexas!

Takeaways

PyTexas was the first conference where I felt like I fully belonged from day one. Every previous conference was a bit of a shot in the dark for me because I was still new to the Python community. PyTexas 2019 felt almost like a reunion. I strengthened existing friendships and made new ones: Adrienne, Kojo, Dustin, Ernest, Aly, William, Piper, Andy, Carl, Mason, Michael, Brian, and so many more. I also felt like I made a bigger impact at PyTexas than at other conferences because I genuinely felt like part of the community.

We should never take conferences (or any moments) for granted. Truly wonderful things happened at PyTexas. I felt creative. I felt inspired. I felt challenged by new ideas. I felt the itch to try new things. I left on a post-conference high and, surprisingly, I wasn’t particularly tired. The organizers did a phenomenal job running the conference smoothly and successfully. Seriously, hats off to them – many thanks for a job well done. As attendees, we should be grateful for all the hard work so many people did for the conference, and we should capitalize on what we take away from the conference.

Single-track and multi-track yield two very different conference experiences. PyTexas 2019 was my second single-track conference and my first one for a Python conference. Overall, I think the single-track format worked very well. Putting everyone on the same track in the same room builds a strong sense of camaraderie. It also gives speakers a much more prominent platform. However, multi-track provides more choices for attendees, and it gives more people the opportunity to speak. Both are good. I think it would be cool if future conferences do both: maybe one day for single-track and another day for multi-track.

I’m going to (attempt to) develop a new Python package. For a while, I’ve wanted to implement a particular testing pattern in a Pythonic way. My goal is to develop and release it to PyPI as an open-source package. I never had the time or clarity to do it until now. PyTexas gave me a huge boost, and I hope I can carry my vision through to delivery!

People matter. The Python community is a truly wonderful group. People come for the language and stay for the community – it’s true. PyTexas 2019 has challenged me to be a better person and to help people through software.

One final takeaway – another conference sticker!

PyCaribbean 2019 Reflections

PyCaribbean was held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic from February 16-17, 2019. I was blessed with the opportunity to deliver not just one talk but two at the conference! Typically, I write lengthy chronological reflections of my conference experiences, but this time, I’m going to share my big takeaways.

The welcome banner. This conference was #lit!

Python has GREAT people.

Python is truly just as much about the community as it is about the language, and conferences are one of the best ways to become part of that community. Everyone at PyCaribbean was excited to learn, grow, and be inspired. Here’s a short list of Twitter handles for some of the awesome folks who made a direct impact on me at the conference:

There were many others, too. I felt like I really got to connect with these folks, not just meet them in passing.

This was the room for my talk. Everyone was eager to learn about testing!

The Dominican Republic has GREAT people.

First of all, many thanks to Leonardo Jimenez for organizing the conference! He did so much not only to bring together an excellent program of speakers and events, but he also got the support of the local software community and even the government in the DR.

PyCaribbean really showed the best of the software world in the DR. Everyone there was hungry to learn and share. I had no idea how vibrant the software industry was becoming there, too. There’s a bright future ahead.

Don’t wait to make proposals to conferences.

I consider myself especially fortunate to have attended PyCaribbean because I almost didn’t get to go. I submitted my talk proposals one night on a whim after seeing the PyCaribbean Twitter handle appear on my feed. After submitting two talks, my third one got blocked with a message saying submissions had been closed. Had I delayed a few minutes, I would have been too late!

Join the PSF.

The Python Software Foundation (PSF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that holds the intellectual property rights behind the Python programming language.

https://www.python.org/psf/

The PSF does awesome things for the community, such as running PyCon. Anyone can become a member, too! There are different membership classes for varying levels of involvement. Lorena Mesa, one of the PSF Directors, encouraged me to join during the conference. If you care about Python, then I encourage you to join as well!

Beach trips are fun.

The day after the conference ended, a bunch of us (mostly speakers) took a day trip to Be Live Collection Canoa at Bayahibe. This was my first time at an all-inclusive beach resort. The water was a clear light blue, and the sand was white. Mixed drinks and Presidente beers were unlimited – you could even order them from a bar in the swimming pool! The buffet lunch was also on point. Plus, the trip offered the perfect chance to get to know the others on a deeper level. I almost didn’t get to go, but thankfully Delta rearranged my flights due to weather delays and gave me an extra day in the DR. I needed that day at the beach to just be me, but relaxed. #WorthIt

Music brings people together.

One of the conference highlights was the electric violin performance on day 2. I don’t know the name of the musician, but he shredded it! He played “Wake Me Up” by Avicii, “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars, and “Corazon Espinado” by Santana. As I sat in the auditorium listening with the others, I just thought to myself, “This is really nice. This is a once-in-a-life performance for incredible renditions of these three awesome songs.” Everyone else there seemed to agree with me.

“Wake Me Up” (Avicii)
“Corazon Espinado” (Santana)

Passionfruit is delicious.

I ate passionfruit for the first time in my life in the DR. It was delicious. The edible flesh of the fruit is basically a gooey collection of black seeds in a yellow mucus. It tastes tart but slightly sweet. I normally don’t eat breakfast, but I devoured about four halves on the morning I first discovered them. They had them at the beach resort buffet, too!

Where has passionfruit been all my life?

I need to stick up for myself.

During my trip, it was very obvious that I was a tourist – a white American who spoke no Spanish and wandered around just to look at things. Unfortunately, because of that, some people tried to take advantage of me. I was clearly overcharged for my souvenirs, even after attempting to haggle. A guard at Independence Park took my phone to take pictures of me and then demanded money. On my return flight, a guy sat in my seat on the plane and refused to yield it to me.

These experiences really frustrated me. I’ve always been somewhat shy in social circumstances, and that leaves me vulnerable to others who would take advantage of me. Reflecting on how I handled these situations has made me determined to be more assertive. I won’t become a jerk, but I don’t need to be afraid to stick up for myself. I should use my inner strength and discernment instead of folding.

The world is a fallen place.

One thing truly broke my heart during my trip: I’m 99% sure I witnessed prostitution on multiple occasions. I won’t go into details, but it was shocking to me. Call me naïve. Let’s work to make a better world where this sort of thing doesn’t need to happen.

I know so little.

My PyCaribbean trip was challenging but rewarding. It was my first time visiting the Caribbean and Latin America. Not only did I gain some software experience, but I also gained some life experience. I’m thankful I got to go and that all the details fell perfectly into place. Hopefully, I’ll get to return to learn even more!

Time lapse while riding the JFK AirTrain

PyOhio 2018 Reflections

PyOhio 2018 was a free Python conference hosted at Ohio State University in Columbus, OH from July 28-29. I had the pleasure of not only attending but also speaking at PyOhio, and my company, PrecisionLender, graciously covered my travel expenses. I had a great time. Here’s my retrospective on the conference.

My Talk

The main reason I went to PyOhio was because I was honored to be a speaker. When I was at an Instagram dinner at PyCon 2018, I met a few conference organizers who encouraged me to propose talks at other Python conferences. On a whim the next morning, I spitballed an idea for a talk about building a test automation solution from the ground up in Python. After talking with a number of people, I realized how test automation is such a struggle everywhere. I took inspiration from Ying Li’s keynote and crafted a story about how Amanda the Panda, a Bamboozle employee, becomes a test automation champion. And, BOOM! My talk proposal was accepted for PyOhio and PyGotham! The video recording for my talk, “Egad! How Do We Start Writing (Better) Tests?”, is below:

Arrival

Good news: Raleigh and Columbus have direct flights. Bad news: they are either early-morning or late-night direct flights. So, I left Raleigh on Friday morning before the conference and spent the day in Columbus. Surprisingly, the security line at RDU wrapped around 2/3 of the Terminal 2 perimeter, but I still boarded the flight on time. Once I landed in Columbus, I took the COTA AirConnect bus downtown for the low price of $2.75.

My goal for Friday was personal development. I rarely get a chance to escape the rigors of everyday life to focus on myself. Personal retreats let me clear my mind, dream big, and begin taking action. And on this day, I started writing my first test automation book – a dream I’ve held for over a year now. I spent a few hours at Wolf’s Ridge Brewery, sampling beers with lunch as I developed a rough outline for my project.

My evening was low-key. I took a nap at my hotel, the Blackwell Inn and Pfahl Conference Center. For dinner, I ate at White Castle for the first time – and it was pretty darn good. After practicing my talk, I got a tiramisu bubble tea from Vivi as a night cap.

The Conference

PyOhio was a much smaller conference than PyCon. There were fewer vendor tables but nevertheless a wide selection of stellar talks. As a result, the conference felt more intimate and more focused. Perhaps that feeling was due also to the venue: the third floor of the Ohio Union had full rooms with “cozy” hallways. Hats off to the organizers, too – everything ran smoothly and professionally.

As soon as I arrived, I scored my name badge, my swag bag, and my official PyOhio 2018 t-shirt. The opening keynote from Adrienne Lowe, “From Support to Engineering and Beyond: What to Take with You, and What to Leave Behind,” about the highs and lows of trying to make it as a developer was exceptionally inspiring. Engineers often don’t talk about how hard the job is, especially for newcomers to the industry. Everybody suffers from imposter syndrome. Everybody feels inadequate. Everybody is tempted to quit, even to the point of tears. The vulnerability in hearing others say, “Me, too,” is so relatable and so relieving.

The first talk-talk I attended was Trey Hunner’s “Easier Classes: Python Classes Without All the Cruft.” Trey gave an excellent overview of writing more sophisticated Python classes. TL;DR: upgrade to 3.7 and use dataclasses.

The next talk I attended was Leo Guinan’s “Go with the Flow: Automating Your Workflows with Airflow.” Apache Airflow is a platform for automating workflows. As an automationeer, it struck me as being like a continuous integration system generalized for non-build purposes. The Q&A portion of the talk was lit.

After finding an authentic Chinese restaurant for lunch, my friend Matt arrived! I worked with Matt in the testing space at LexisNexis. He drove all the way from Dayton to see my talk and hang out. We spent the early afternoon catching up, and we went to Hook Hearted Brewing for dinner after the conference because we’re beer buddies. I was so thankful he came to support me – it meant a lot!

My talk was at 3:45pm. Other than discovering my Thunderbolt-to-HDMI adapter was a dud, the talk went very well. I decided to stick to a script for this talk because most of it followed a story, and I’m glad I did. (For my PyCon talk, I chose instead to speak without a script and rely instead on the slides alone.) There were about 30 people in the audience. Many expressed appreciation for my presentation!

The last talk of the day for me was Jace Browning’s “Automated Regression Testing with Splinter and Jupyter.” It was the perfect follow-up to my talk. Whereas mine was mostly high-level, Jace showed implementation and execution. I loved how he compared raw Selenium WebDriver calls to splinter calls, and I was thrilled to see hands-on test execution using Jupyter. One of the things that makes Python so great for automation is that modules can be called from the interpreter – and Jupyter notebooks make that so easy.

The Second Day

Sunday was a shorter conference day. The opening keynote, Lorena Mesa’s “Now is better than Never: What the Zen of Python can teach us about Data Ethics,” didn’t start until 11:40am. Lorena showed us what the Zen of Python can teach us about data ethics in a scary, modern world.

I got lunch at Chatime: dan dan noodles (or rather, an imitation thereof) and a matcha latte with grass jelly. Yum! After lunch, I attended Daniel Lindeman’s “Python in Serverless Architectures.” Now I know what the buzzword “serverless” means! I even found out that I had already developed a serverless app using Django and Heroku. There are some really cool ways test automation could take advantage of serverless architectures.

Another one of my favorite talks of the afternoon was Vince Salvino’s “Containers Without the Magic.” Vince broke down how easy containers are to use. It was a great refresher for me.

Open Spaces

At 3:15 on Sunday, I tried something new: I hosted an open space for test automation. “Open spaces” are rooms that can be reserved for a time slot to meet up informally about a common interest. (For example, PyCon had a juggling open space!) At first, nobody showed up to my open space, but after a few minutes, one lady walked in. She had been a software tester for years and wanted to start doing automation. I walked her through as much info as I could before time was up. She was very grateful for the guidance I offered. It worked out nicely that she was the only person to come to my open space so that she could really get value out of it. (My friend Jason also popped in and helped out; more on him below.)

The After-Party

At conferences, my biggest fear is being awkwardly alone. I want to spend time with good people, both new and familiar. Thankfully, PyOhio didn’t disappoint.

Backstory: At PyCon 2018, I met a guy named Julian who runs PyBites (together with his buddy Bob). We really hit it off, and he invited me to join the PyBites community. They offer great code challenges and a “100 Days of Code” challenge course, as well as a blog about all things Python. Through the PyBites community, I met another guy named Jason who would be at PyOhio 2018 with me. We agreed to meet up for dinner and drinks after the Sunday talks.

(On a side note, I recommend PyBites as a great place to learn new things, hone skills, and meet great people!)

That Sunday night, it just so happened that Adrienne and Trey, two of the other speakers, intersected Jason and me as we were deciding where to go for dinner. The next thing we know (after a hotel pitstop), we’re all walking off together to Eden Burger, a local vegan burger joint. I had a vegan “cheeseburger” with fries and a “milkshake” – and they were genuinely delicious! More than the food, I enjoyed my time with new friends. I was really inspired by the cool things each of them is doing. I guess that’s Python conference magic!

Jason and I hit World of Beer after dinner. After Slack-ing for weeks, it was so good to spend time with this fine gent. We discussed Python, software, our careers, our families, and our dreams. What a perfect way to conclude PyOhio 2018!

Takeaways

There were so many takeaways from PyOhio 2018 for me:

  1. Conferences are phenomenal for professional development. The pulse I get from conferences is electrifying. I walked away from PyOhio galvanized to be an even better software engineer. The talks opened up exciting new ideas. Inspiration for several blog posts sprang forward. The people I met motivated me to try new things. I got so much vigor out of such a short time.
  2. My friends around the globe are awesome. Matt, Jason, Adrienne, Trey, Julian (vicariously), and all the other great people I met at PyOhio made my conference experience so rewarding.
  3. Good values foster wonderful communities. My company, PrecisionLender, has four major values: Be helpful, humble, honest, and human. Those values make my company such a great place to work. I see those same values in the Python community, too. People at PyOhio even asked about these values when they saw them on my PL shirt and my business card. I think that’s partially why Python conferences are always so welcoming and inspiring.
  4. Bigger conferences have more pizzazz, while smaller conferences are more intimate. PyCon 2018 was big, flashy, and awesome. I scored so much swag that I nearly couldn’t fit it all in my suitcase to carry home. PyOhio 2018, on the other hand, focused much more intently on the talks and the people. A perfect example of this was Leo Guinan’s monologue-turned-dialogue on Airflow: it was natural for people to just ask questions. Both types of conferences are good in their own ways.
  5. PyCon 2018 was likely a watershed moment for my career. I cannot reflect on PyOhio 2018 without seeing it as an extension of my PyCon 2018 experience. The only reason I attended PyOhio was because someone at PyCon encouraged me to propose a talk. The reason I met Jason is because I first met Julian. The reason I want to keep speaking is because PyCon went so well for me. The fact that both conferences were hosted in Ohio only two months apart is also rather serendipitous. Like my first trip to China, I think PyCon 2018 will have a lasting impact on my career.

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!