Archive for the 'PyConUK' Category

The Diverse People of PyCon UK


I met the Irish, the Greeks. I met the Django Girls, the Trans*Coders, the Posters. I met the teachers, the testers, the gamers. I met old friends, I tended acquaintances hoping to grow them into friendships, and I made new friends.

Diversity is good.


I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we have a diversity problem. By “we” I mean the programming community. One could spend an entire career and meet only white middle class straight cis men. If you have the opportunity, try and avoid that.

To quote Rachel Evans summarising the PyCon UK attendance: 300 delegates on the main track, 55 Django Girls and TransCode, 30 scientists, 40 teachers, and 100 children; 20% women.

I’m glad someone is watching (and I would encourage the newly formed PyCon UK Committee to appoint a diversity officer, to watch on a formal basis). And I’m pretty sure that Rachel is right, this is better than many parts of the tech sector. My own experience is that professional interactions are > 95% with other men. And of course gender is just one small aspect of diversity, and male/female is just one aspect of gender. So, the non-white, the trans, the gay, all under-represented.

That is why I agree with Rachel that there is still room for improvement, and that Belinda Parmar is right to point out that it’s another dude fest. I was in that hall and it certainly had more “dudes” than the morning before when the ranks of dudes were swelled by our allies Trans*Code, Django Girls, and teachers. On a positive note, the dudes have turned up to see one the the Django Girl organisers, @helenst, present her experiences on Managing Mocks.

Daniele Procida’s keynote was about how in the Open Source world power is left lying around for the taking. Whom you pay attention to is a small example of that power. Stop going to talks by white middle class straight cis men, stop reading my blog, and start paying attention to the diversity that your community already has. Foster it. Fund it. And don’t worry, the poor downtrodden white cis man will still have plenty of opportunity to give talks and plenty of people listening to them.

I think PyCon UK is doing great. I went to see the science track, the education track, Trans*code, DjangoGirls. And once I’d done that, the so called “main” conference didn’t seem so main any more.

Talking PyCon UK


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.

My PyCon UK talks


My «Embedded Programming with Python» talk was the first Saturday morning slot, and really it was about manipulating hex-files and ‘scope dumps with Python:

Slides as PDF, 2.5e6 octets.

On Sunday Nick B gave a presentation of Clear Climate Code. I didn’t do much during the presentation; I was the OmniGraffle monkey. Here’s the presentation at the Clear Climate Code site.

Talk about Python


PyConUK 2008 is asking for submissions. You should give a talk.

You should give a talk because I want to hear what you have to say. And so will others. People tend to think that no-one will want to hear what they’ve been doing, or that it won’t be interesting. But on the whole I just don’t think it’s true.

Communication is a skill, and it is improved by practice. I think computer scientists and software engineers should all strive to be better communicators.

Python is not a huge community, we do not have a PR department. If we want Python to grow then we have to grow it ourselves. Conferences like PyConUK are an important part of that community growth, and the speakers—that’s you—that provide content are an important part of the conference.

What should you speak about? Why you love Python, why you hate Python. Your favourite module. How you saved the world from global nuclear catastrophe with a simple Python script. Anything really.

I’ve submitted my talk already, and—shock—it’s not about functional programming.

Look forward to hearing what you have to say in September.

Code Monk recalls PyCon UK



I should have definitely attended both days. Felt there wasn’t enough time to just meet people and chat, so the evening social events would have definitely helped. I also enjoy chatting at breakfast so maybe I should hotel it next year (or scam myself into the hotel’s breakfast room). Next year: attend as many days as possible!

Nobody else (that I saw) use a laser pointer and I think a couple of people could’ve done with one.

I should’ve investigated my bag more thoroughly to discover the conference schedule. Durr.


Venue excellent once I’d found it. Given how awesome John Pinner and the rest of the committee were I feel that it would be reasonable to ask for a big 10 metre wide pink laser descending from the skies above and pointing at the building next year. When I was lost I asked several people if they knew where the conservatoire was and it was quite a while before I found someone who did. All the time I couldn’t have been more than 200 m from it!

Excellent organisation. John Pinner and the PyCon UK crew rule!

The talks I attended:

My «Introduction to Functional Programming in Python». I was very surprised by the high attendance and that makes me feel a bit guilty about slapping something together the day before. This was my first conference talk, I think it went quite well for all that. The room, the projector, Simon as chair, and the attendees were all excellent. I think I gave Simon and John Pinner a bit of a fright by not showing on the radar until 10 minutes before I was due to start. Sorry about that.

Julius Welby‘s «A Pythonista’s Year at Kew». I would have dearly loved to have seen more Python code, but on the other hand it was also really interesting to see what other people were doing with Python. Some excellent text processing war stories. This talk made me remember one of the things I like best about Python: it’s so easy to get real work done using it.

Jonathan Fine’s «From MathTran to PyTeX». (Has Latex 3 really been in development since 1992? Even a day after I’m still a bit shocked, and I still think my “that’s longer than perl 6!” heckle is amusing.) Anyway, MathTran looks already cool and PyTex looks like it should be cool. It’s an approach to the problem of how to make TeX sane that I hadn’t thought of. The approach is: treat TeX as a two-way piped coroutine, squirt TeX input in, get boxes out. Now TeX is a callable function. I remember having to submit batch jobs to run TeX, and now I can do it from a web page in a few milliseconds. Very cool. It’s been a while since I’ve used TeX in anger and I found the nostalgia simultaneously pleasant and a bit stomach churning. (aside: people use TeX to typeset Hieroglyphics, how cool is that?)

The break: At last I get to taste some of the coffee that I sponsored. It was okay. Good opportunity to chat to some Python dudes, which is always good.

Nick Efford and Tony Jenkins, «Python in Higher Education». Yay! I think we’ve all been appalled and depressed by the way that Java has taken over CS departments everywhere (even Cambridge has a Java course). Now Python is fighting back. I liked their mountain analogy. Also the power of just being able to whip out an interpreter in a lecture to answer questions. Great war stories, students saying “I felt restricted by C++”, 1st year students making stuff out of Python that is good enough to demo at PyCon UK!

Russel Winder‘s «Python is the Future of Build Systems». Seems like a guy on my wavelength. Clearly just wants to solve problems by making software and seems very hacked off by the current state of build systems. Everybody likes to bash autotools. A much more thorough investigation of various approaches to the build problem than I was expecting, using make, CMake, autotools, ANT, Maven, Rake, and Scons (and, does he mention Gant too?). CMake and Scons come out on top but only one of those has a real programming language behind it. I will definitely have to give Scons a second look (I abandoned it after brief flirtation a couple of years ago). The highlight was definitely when Russel switched the microphone off.

Lunch. Not bad at all.

Laura Creighton’s keynote. I’ve never heard of her and she seemed to assume that I (not me personally, but the audience in general) should have. Her talk was quite interesting, it turned out to be on software patents, the artificial opposition between Science and Engineering and the opposition between Arts and Engineering. It had nothing to do with Python. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; one thing Python programmers probably should be doing is talking to politicians about how they created all this stuff using these Open Source tools and they did it without a single patent. It was a bit scary when Laura directly addressed me in a kind of how-could-you-possibly-come-to-pycon-without-knowing-what-a-sprint-was-way to explain what a Sprint was.

Lightning Talks. Well these varied from the very entertaining and slick to the deserving and interesting but unprepared. Fun all round though. Any cool graphics went down well, even if they were presented to an audience of 200 on a laptop held at an awkward angle. Might be interesting to do one next year. For me Johnnie Stovall’s talk about the direct value of education via sprints was particularly compelling.

Introduction to Functional Programming in Python


I recently gave a talk «Introduction to Functional Programming in Python» at PyCon UK.

Slides (2.2e6 octet PDF)

Accompanying notes, including homework (49e3 octet PDF)

In another post I give my ramblings on PyCon as a whole.

It was my first talk and it was a very interesting experience. Thanks to all who attended (it was much more popular than I was expecting). It’s definitely something I should do more of.

[2008-05-06: I gave a talk with the same title but about 50% different content at the spring UKUUG]