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.
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:
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.
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.
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.)
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!
There were so many takeaways from PyOhio 2018 for me:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.