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PyGotham 2016

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I attended PyGotham, a regional Python conference in New York City. This year, it was held in the United Nations conference building, which was really cool! This was my first regional Python conference, and I'm really glad I went: it had the same spirit of PyCon, but at a much smaller scale (around 500 people or so).

New York City

New York City is always fun to visit — it wasn't my first time, and it won't be my last. Since PyGotham is a weekend conference (Saturday and Sunday), I headed down to NYC the day before the conference started, and decided to stay a few extra days to visit friends in the city. I had spent the prior week in Provincetown, MA for Bear Week (which was also tons of fun in a completely different way), so I spent most of Friday taking the ferry from Provincetown to Boston and the train from Boston to NYC. I found a simple and affordable Airbnb that was a 20 minute walk from the conference location, so I stayed there for the weekend, and my friend Ken agreed to host me for my remaining time in the city.

I didn't get a whole lot of time to walk around the city on this trip, because it was so full of things to do and people to meet with. However, I spent some time exploring Queens and Brooklyn, and rediscovered just how diverse NYC really is. People walk down the street chatting in every language under the sun, and some of them rush from place to place while others stroll much more leisurely. I like New York, though I'm not sure I'd want to live there. But who knows? I've been in Boston for a long time now, and maybe it's time for a change...


But on to the conference! I arrived at the United Nations building early on Saturday morning, ready to get some breakfast and meet other Pythonistas. However, there had been a miscommunication with the security guards, and they weren't letting anyone in until 9 AM, which was when the opening keynote was scheduled to begin! There were hundreds of people lined up outside the building, wondering what was going on and hoping that the rigorous security wouldn't cause them to miss their flight talk.

But by some luck, I happened to run into Russell Keith-Magee and Katie Cunningham, and we chatted while waiting in line. I am continually amazed by how the technical community of Australia manages send attendees to tech conferences in the United States: Russell is from Perth, and not only did he attend PyGotham, he's also heading to DjangoCon in Philadelphia and PyOhio in Ohio! (I also ran into him at PyCon in Portland, although we didn't really chat.) Russell had promised me a Challenge Coin for resolving a Lektor issue, and happily, he delivered! Meanwhile, it turned out that Katie was part of KatieConf, a tech conference where all the speakers are named Katharine (or similar). Unsurprisingly, she is also a friendly and knowledgable person, and was knitting almost constantly as we talked.

Shortly before 9, the security guards finally started letting people in -- and we found that we had to go through a metal detector and get our bags scanned. (It wasn't as bad as the TSA airport security rigamarole, but it was close.) Finally, we made it inside, and everyone swarmed the registation booth to get their badges and a bite to eat. Fortunately, the conference organizers deftly shifted the schedule to account for the disruption, changing the start time of the opening remarks from 9 AM to 9:45 AM. It helped that there were no printed schedules, which meant that everyone was relying on checking the conference website on their phone. When the organizers updated the website, all of a sudden everyone knew about the updated schedule!

Day One

I ended up attending very few talks at PyGotham: it wasn't quite as extreme as my PyCon experience, but it was close. Instead, I immediately declared a Birds of a Feather session on the topic of Docker, and scoped out the BoF room in advance. In the process, I met Laura, who was new to programming but eager to learn. We chatted for awhile, I told her about BoFs and why they're fun, and I encouraged her to run one. (I found out the next day that she took my advice!) I learned a bit about GraphQL, and then walked back to the BoF room, hoping for a good turnout. Two other people showed up. 😞 The three of us chatted for a bit, and then headed our separate ways.

I then dropped in on a talk about making games in Python, and managed to catch most of it. It's a nifty topic, and although the idea of making games has never gotten me fired up the way that making websites does, it's something I wanted to learn more about. I learned about the PursuedPyBear game engine, which is way up there on the list of "most adorable names," and maybe I'll try it out some day.

After that was lunch, which was another organizational nightmare. PyGotham wasn't the only conference happening at the UN that day: WordCamp NYC was going on at the same time, which was pretty interesting. PyGotham and WordCamp were supposed to have staggered lunch schedules, so that there wouldn't be a thousand people all descending on the food at once. Unfortunately, something got screwed up once again and both cons got lunch at the same time, which meant tremendously long lines. Even worse, lunch was outside, and the searing summer sun combined with the lack of shady spots meant that none of the computer nerds were particularly happy — and both conferences were filled with computer nerds.

After lunch, I went to Russell's BoF about mental health, and learned about the mental health first aid certification, which I really need to investigate further. Mental health is a real issue that most people don't want to address, and it can lead to some truly scary outcomes like suicide. I'm really glad that organizations like OSMI are starting to appear, giving people resources to talk about mental health issues and remove stigma.

After the BoF, I saw a really interesting talk on summarizing documents, most of which went over my head, but I was able to pick up a few really interesting points. (The core problem with document summarization is picking out the most interesting and important sentences in a long document, so this seems apt.) I also caught Russell's talk on writing native apps on iOS and Android using Python, and it made my head explode several times. I'm really keen on checking out Toga, Rubicon, and VOC: maybe I'll build an app or two! 😃

After his talk, I chatted with Russell a bit more, and we talked about funding open source projects, something that Nadia Eghbal recently wrote an extensive report about. I still need to read the actual report, but I've read some excellent analyses of it, and as a contributing member of the open source community, I'm familiar with some of the problems. Of course, Russell knows more about this than I do, but I think I was able to give him some interesting ideas from my experience with edX.

The talks closed with Ewa Jodlowska's keynote, which had been originally planned as an opening keynote, but had been hastily rescheduled due to the morning's timing issues. The keynote had a lot of interesting data about how the Python Software Foundation was funding Python development around the world, and it's great to see how truly global the Python community is.

There was also an after-party, and I chatted with Joe and Scott for awhile. They're two other Boston-area Python developers who I admire, and I don't get to hang out with them enough. They do some crazy, frightening things with the deep guts of Python, and their bytecode talk is really well done. They informed me that Quantopian, the company they both work for, hosts a board game night every week, and now I think I need to show up for one of those events.

Day Two

Walking into the UN on Sunday morning was a breeze compared with Saturday. No more ridiculous lines! I saw a talk about neural networks, and then went on to the real fun part of the morning: the beginner BoF and the lightning talks!

As I mentioned earlier, Laura took me up on my suggestion to run a BoF, and she decided to focus on changing careers into the software world. I was happy that I could join and provide some perspective as someone who had been living in the software world for several years: I wish that I had someone to answer my questions when I was just getting started, so I try to provide that for others when I can. There were about eight or nine attendees, which I count as a great success for a BoF!

After the BoFs were the lightning talks, which are always great fun. I went first and gave a quick presentation about Lektor, which a lot of people seemed interested in. There were several other interesting talks, but my favorite was one about the JetBrains Python developer survey, which revealed some really interesting (and sometimes surprising) insights about how people are using Python today. Apparently 50% of Python developers use Django in some capacity or other, and 40% use Flask! That's an incredible amount of developer mindshare for such a small and young project!

After the lightning talks came lunch, which was (thankfully) smoother than the prior day's lunch. There were a few more talks and conversations after that, but nothing particularly noteworthy until my presentation.

I presented my Advanced Git talk, and like every other conference I've presented it at, the room was packed full. Seems like a lot of people want to know about Git! The talk went fairly smoothly, although I did end up running out of time. (Fortunately, there was a break immediately after my talk, so I had some flexibilty to go overtime.) I got a lot of positive feedback afterwards, including one or two people who said they were interested in hiring me for contract work! Hopefully one or both of them actually follows through. :)

Lastly, I had some time to go see Ted's talk about stenography and see him type at over 200 words per minute. I knew nothing about steno before I saw the talk, but now I'm curious to give it a try — it seems to be chord-based typing based on the phoenetic pronunciation of words, usually on specialized keyboards. Tim also described a fascinating evolution of open source tearing down an existing set of expensive, proprietary systems and replacing them with better, open systems like Plover. Anyone know where I can get my hands on a stenotype machine?


It's now 1 AM and I'm tired, so I'll make this short. PyGotham was a wonderful conference, and I'm really glad I decided to make the trip. I plan to come back next year, and see what else the NYC community has in store!