What I learned at PyCon 2016

This was my first PyCon (or Python conference of any sort) and I didn’t really know what to expect. First off, it’s a fairly large event: over 3000 people attended. There were more women present than I often encounter at larger conferences, which was very exciting to see. The organizers reported that 40% of speakers this year were women as well.

A theme I heard repeated throughout the week was how important community is to people who work with Python. Guido van Rossum talked about this in his keynote, and it was clear in the PyLadies events I attended. So many technical communities take the stance that code comes first, before anything else, and it was refreshing to hear that the goals of the Python language are focused on creating something for people to use, together.

All of the talks were recorded, and they’re already online to view. This is great even for those of us who attended in person, because with five talks scheduled at each time, I missed a number of things that sounded interesting. Here’s my personal favorites, of the ones I attended:

  • Seriously Strong Security on a Shoestring — Kelsey Gilmore-Innis shared how she was able to address security for Project Callisto, a sexual assault reporting system, as an application developer with no specialized experience. There’s lots here for anyone who works on code that handles user data.
  • Trainspotting: real-time detection of a train’s passing from video by Chloe Mawer was a detailed tutorial on building computer vision systems, and how you tell Caltrain from a FedEx truck.
  • Building a Quantitative Trading Strategy To Beat the S&P500 by Karen Rubin talked about using Python for data analysis on an interesting topic: what if you built a quantitative stock trading system based on whether companies have female CEOs? I found this a really useful introduction to Python’s data tools, and Rubin discussed a number of ways her results tie into other research.

This brings me back to something else that was very different about PyCon from other technical conferences I’ve attended: there’s a large set of Python developers who aren’t focused on end-user application development at all. Python is in heavy use in areas like data analysis, machine learning, and scientific research, and that was well-reflected in the presentations.

I really loved the closing talks too.

I also attended an open space session (these are scheduled by attendees during the event) on making zines, which was hosted by Jessica Garson. She brought a stack of paper and markers, and participants worked on their own projects about Python and programming. Jessica has made a few zines herself, including “What’s My Function?” which you can download.

I met another zine-maker too, Roxanne Johnson. She created an awesome pocket-guide to learning data analysis in Python, written as a choose-your-own-adventure story. Here’s a little more about the zine, and the poster session that went with it.

Sadly I couldn’t stick around for the code sprints, which finished out the week. These are a really friendly way to learn about open source, and collaborate on code with other people (which is so important for learning!). Several projects identified themselves as open to beginners, and there was a workshop the night before to introduce newcomers to how the code sprints work. If you’ve ever thought, “I’d love to contribute to a project like Django, or Python itself” this is really worth checking out. Some people who can’t make it to the full conference show up just for this part.

In case you want a few more ideas on what’s worth checking out at PyCon, here’s roundups from some Portland PyLadies members: