Friday, October 14, 2011

PyCodeConf 2011 Report

As my fiancee said, "PyCodeConf is a new kind of Python conference with a radically different format. Speakers are invited to speak about whatever they desire relating to the theme ("The Future of Python"), in front of a room of round tables. In between talks there are long breaks to encourage discussion. As a result, talks are edgier, and you really get to know people and possibly shape the future together."

This summer (2011) I was invited by Chris Wanstrath to be an invited speaker at the first ever PyCodeConf, to be held in Miami, Florida. I've been using Git and Github since early 2009, and more importantly, I've known Chris since DjangoCon 2009. I've always appreciated his interest in not just providing tools for the community, but also his efforts across languages and platforms to improve the lives of developers and those who support developers. And that he and his partners seem to make a pretty penny at it and share what they make (drink-ups and now conferences) is only a good thing in my opinion.

So I accepted Chris' invitation. :-)

The theme for the conference was the future of Python, and I submitted a talk proposal about Collaboration. Chris helped me figure my talk topic, which was awfully nice of him. Shortly afterwards my fiancee, Audrey Roy, received her own invitation to speak.

Between the time that Chris invited me to speak and the start of conference, Chris Williams of JS Conf got involved.

Alright, let's review things...


Everyone stayed in the Epic Hotel, in downtown Miami. The rooms fit the name of the hotel, being Epic in size and having amazing stuff in them. The rooms had free/good internet if you signed up for a hotel mailing list. Since we rehearsed and polished talks the night before the conference we ordered room service and were pleased with what we ate. The hotel had a heated outdoor pool on the 14th floor, which I'll get into later. In any case, the only time I've been in a comparable hotel was the incredible arrangements provided by the PyCon New Zealand folks who put us up in the Museum Hotel for a few days.

Sure, $189/night is high, but 3 nights when you split it with 2 or more people makes it not so bad.

Result: Superb

Conference Meals

If you are serving me food, you can't go wrong with salmon, steak, good cheese, fresh vegetables, coffee, and juice. I can report that PyCodeConf did quite well in this regard.

Outside of the conference I really enjoyed the food. Andiamo was a crazy good pizza place. I also got some really nice grouper which you can only seem to get in Florida.

Result: Superb

The Conference Room

The conference took place on the 14th floor of the Epic Hotel. This was a single track conference, with all the talks were given in the same room. The room was large, but everyone had a comfortable seat at large round tables. That was a nice touch, because it encouraged you to socialize with everyone nearby.

That worked out for the most part, except for a couple of developers sitting at a table who had backs turned to the speakers and were talking loudly while pair programming or something. I asked them to quiet down but 30 seconds later they were back at it. We moved away, but in retrospect considering their rudeness, I should have politely asked them to take it outside.

Anyway, the acoustics were good, the temperature comfortable, and the seats comfortable.

Result: Superb


Speaker selection was done magnificently well. There wasn't a dud within the lot of speakers. I normally expect that in any conference you'll get at least one dud talk per day, and pycodeconf didn't have that problem (unless my talk sucked).

Jesse Noller opened things up with a great encouraging talk, Raymond Hettinger gave a talk on Python basics that was so full of nuance that I'm terrified of attending an advanced talk by him, Alex Gaynor filled us with hope for PyPy, Tracy Osborn taught us how to bootstrap entrepreneur projects, Travis Oliphant wants Python core and PyPy to collaborate more with the Scientific Community, Audrey Roy gave up some of her community building secrets, David Beazly explained the issues of the GIL in terms mere mortals such as myself can understand, Gary Bernhardt gave an amazing talk comparing Python and Ruby, and Leah Culver made Django + backbone.js look easy, but if you talk to her you know whatever she does is sophisticated and not for beginners. Dustin Sallings sold me on a neat idea for testing to help catch edge cases and Armin Ronacher opened my eyes on WSGI.

The wonderful thing about these talks is that since everyone knew the upcoming tracks, or had seen the previous ones, we could relate to each other. So David Beazly, Travis Oliphant, and Avery Pennarun raised interesting concerns about PyPy that everyone got the chance to hear about. They weren't show-stopping issues, just raising awareness about things that Alex didn't cover in his talk.

I live-noted the event as much as I could, with notable gaps in Leah's talk (she talks fast and is very technical and wanted to give her my full attention) as well as Armin (his talk shocked me a bit - I'm still a WSGI newbie). You can see my efforts at my PyCodeConf live-notes.

Speaking of live-noting, Josh Bohde also live-noted the event and captured a ton of stuff I missed.

The gaps between talks were also a nice 15 minutes. That meant you could stretch your legs, get a drink, and talk to people.

Result: Superb


We (me and Audrey) missed the first party (hosted by New Relic at a place called DRB) on account of preparing for our talks. We always do our absolute best on talks, and both like to practice a lot. Also, Mark Pilgrim's disappearance had touched me and I wanted to talk about it. We heard it was a great party, so we'll assume that it was. :)

The next evening the party (hosted by Heroku) was on the 14th floor, which meant it was a pool party! There was great food, good drink, and a latin jazz band playing. One of the pools was heated, so most people stayed in there, and drank many watermelon mojitos served by the staff. The pool was a huge hit because it was comfortable and people just talked freely. No laptops, no phones, just talking. Chris Williams served us drinks himself, Chris Wanstrath got wet, and everyone just relaxed. I have to say, a heated pool party is something EVERY conference should give. MOAR POOL PARTEEZ PLEEZE!

The final night's party was at the News Lounge and was hosted by Github and Droptype. The drinks and people were awesome, and I have good memories of being in a circle listening to Chris Williams and Audrey Roy talk. I did go beyond tipsy, overdid the Capoeira, and tried to convince Chris Wanstrath to give up the whole DVCS hosting thing to do wedding planning. There was also a bunch of us getting kicked out of a Karaoke bar because of the antics of a Python core developer. Ha ha ha. It was a crazy night that took me two days to recover from.

I'm glossing some important discussions that happened while I was still sober at these two parties, and maybe in the future if things play out right I'll go over them.

Result: Superb


Part of attending conferences is to meet old friends and make new ones. I got to spend time with Mark Ramm, Jesse Noller, Nick Coghlan, Alex Gaynor, Ben Firshman, Armin Ronacher, Raymond Hettinger, Rachel Hettinger, Chris Wanstrath, and many other excellent people. I also got the chance to meet and befriend Kenneth Reitz, Chris Williams, David Cramer, Wayne Witzel, and Leah Culver. I'm missing at least a dozen more. It was great to put faces to people, and in some cases, hear their side of a story.

Also, I got to gush at programming heroes like David Beazly and Travis Oliphant like a total fanboy.

Believe it or not, I got a bit shy. I'm kicking myself over not introducing myself to more people. Next time!

Result: Superb


The conference was amazing. Like all conferences it had its own character and fun. Because it was a purely commercial conference I was a bit worried going into it, since I've heard about the corporate feel of these things. Those fears were completely mitigated by the open attitude and decentness of the conference organizers and sponsors. I look forward to attending PyCodeConf again in the future.

If you've got good senior technical staff and you want them to benefit from a conference, this is a good place to send them.

Overall Result: Superb