Talking PyCon UK

2015-09-23

I’m always so grateful for the speakers. For without speakers there would be no conference, and without the conference there would be no people.

I remember a few years ago at a EuroPython in Birmingham, in the morning I met someone for whom it was their first conference. Towards the end of the first day I spotted them again and they looked very tired, I asked them how many talks this person had been to and they replied “all of them”. “Beginner mistake!” I replied, and explained that if you went to all the talks that you could then you would be very tired, your brain would fill up and overflow, and in any case “the corridor track” was where it was at.

This year I think I tried for about 50:50 talks and “corridor track”. If you’re not familiar with the term “corridor track” it means all the talking and conferring that goes on in the corridor, outside the scheduled talks. If you think about it, it’s really the only place you can properly confer with someone, which is the whole point of a conference. But this blog article is about the talks.

I went to the @ntoll and @teknoteacher show who were cajoling and encouraging the teachers in the education track, being generally enthusiastic about all things Python and all things education, and introducing developers to teachers. In a similar vein I went to (stumbled into would perhaps be more accurate) MissPhilbin‘s “colouring in” class. It was actually a practical hands on workshop using the Pi Foundation’s new Sense Hat. I was impressed at the mix of skills needed (bit of design and colouring in of pixel art, bit of colour theory, bit of programming, and interaction design). More of that please.

Daniele Procida’s keynote “All I Want Is Power” was very smoothly delivered and mixed light moments with really serious commentary. In an open source world the power is knowledge and doing (the “do”-ocracy, remember?), and it’s lying around for the taking. So we should take it and begin the revolution. Something like that anyway.

I might not have agreed with everything Owen Campbell said in his “Leadership of Technical Teams” talk, but the subject is important. I don’t think programmers as a whole talk enough about people skills, or indeed all the other things we do that aren’t programming. So this was a welcome talk, and certainly had good points to make, and a useful diagram for framing expertise (page 17 of the slides). In the area of leading technical teams, Owen has much more expertise and experience than me, so it doesn’t matter that I disagree, he would ignore me anyway. :)

I finished the day with the Safe and Fiona show. Talking about their experiences of making cross platform (meaning mobile platform these days) games and finding and building the tools and frameworks to make them. The quest ends with using Kivy and building Myrmidon. It was a talk in two parts, Safe delivering part one and Fiona delivering part two, and I thought that worked quite well.

Poster Session

Another early start on Saturday (I was driving from Sheffield), where after breakfast I watched Simon Sheridan’s talk, “Landing on a comet”. I was a little late, so if Simon started by explaining what his Ptolemy experiment had to do with Python, then I missed it. In any case, no matter about the Python connection, the talk was really interesting. Science, comets, serendipitous mishaps, all good fun. Because I was slightly late, I watched this from the overflow room, which I thought worked rather well. The audio and video feeds from the main room were brought into a side room where you could watch on the projector. I liked it.

Zeth is one of those people who seems to have only a single name. Just Zeth. His talk on JSON and what to do when you want to add a bit of structure to JSON was somewhat misleadingly title “JSON and the daughters of Pelias”. I didn’t get the reference to the ancient greek Jason, husband of Medea, until Zeth had practically spelled it out for me. Adding type systems to JSON is always good fun.

I wandered out to get a cup of tea, then realised I was too late to rejoin to see @helenst‘s talk on using Python mocks. Due to an all too common problem getting the laptop to talk to the main projector, the talk was late starting, so I did in fact manage to sneak in. Despite having to accelerate the talk to make it 10 minutes shorter, Helen’s talk was well delivered and very practical. I’ve used mocks a bit in the past and experience many of the same situations and experiences that Helen had, so I found a lot to sympathise with.

Just before lunch Gemma Hentsch revealed why she has an unhealthy love of tests. I think all programmers are a little bit obsessive about something, so it’s nice to see this come out in a talk.

Thanks to @morty_uk I found an almost secret staircase that led to the poster session. I think this was new this year and it was most welcome.

After lunch I went to @flubdevork‘s talk of packaging with Conda. Anaconda is pretty popular in scientific circles and uses Conda. So I think this is something that I’m going to be seeing more of. I also, between the two lightning talk sessions, managed to see Tim Golden talk, very rapidly, on his experiences using pgzero and Raspberry Pi to teach a small group of young teenagers.

Ah the lightning talks. At my first conference I had no idea what lightning talks were, now I see them as one of the best parts of the conference. People stand on stage in front of the big hall and talk for 5 minutes. Lightning Talk Man comperes and provides witty German jokes. I think we collectively must be getting better at lightning talks, because they were mostly pretty slick. It was especially exciting to see the kids do their own lightning talks earlier in the afternoon. Children just seem to have an infectious enthusiasm when they get into something, and it is really encouraging to see them getting coding.

In between all this, I did manage to chat to a few people and share in the communion of tea and cake.

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