Writing a PyCon Proposal
Posted: 2014-09-03 11:29


With the PyCon 2015 Call for Proposals ending in 12 days (on September 15), a few people have been asking "what makes a good PyCon proposal?" We've written up some proposal advice in the past and gathered a bunch of proposal resources as well (including a sample proposal I wrote about putting a pug into space), but we still get questions on filling out the actual proposal form.

Speaking at PyCon, or any conference or meetup, is an awesome experience. With a conference the size of PyCon and with the amount of proposals that are received, competition is pretty intense. The following guidelines have been helpful to others, and I hope they'll be helpful to you. Keep in mind that I'm only one individual reviewer - these aren't PyCon's "official" guidelines.

Tip

If you want to follow along, create an account on the PyCon site and then enter your dashboard. From there, choose the "Submit a new proposal" button and then the type of proposal you want to submit. If you had an account last year, we carried them over to this new site.

Title

A couple of words represent all of the work you put into this proposal; your slides, the rehearsals, and everything else about it. The title is your big shot to attract people, and it's also one of the few ways to find your presentation after you give it. Substance is much more valuable than flash here. It doesn't have to be dry like a patent application title, but shy away from memes.

Duration

PyCon has a limited number of 45 minute talk slots, and asking for one is merely a suggestion to the program committee chair who constructs the schedule. If you think you have a 45 minute talk, go ahead and select it, but be aware that it might not fit in the schedule and you may instead be offered a 30 minute slot.

Description

Your description will end up both in our printed program and in the online schedule. It's limited to 400 characters, so it's a nice supplement to your title. If I bumped into you in the hallway and found out you were on the way to give this talk in two minutes, what would you tell me? Write that down and you're golden.

Audience

Since PyCon attracts a wide range of people across a broad range of skill sets, you're going to end up with some attendees who are learning your topic for the first time, some who know about it, some know it, and sometimes even the people who created it. Who do you really want to reach out to the most? Who do you want to hear questions from at the end?

Python Level

Be as accurate as you can be. A lot of people come into PyCon looking for talks that will help them level up across the board, so you may get a beginner who is going to try and attend a bunch of intermediate talks and push themselves. If we're all fairly accurate, we can put information in that person's hands that is within reach to help them learn. That's why we do this whole thing in the first place.

Objectives

What do you want people to get excited about? Maybe you started off your proposal by saying "hey, I wish people knew X, Y, and Z". Boom. Maybe you started it off with a generic topic and formed a more specific proposal within it. Either way, think about what you'd want to talk about in the hallway after you give the talk. What do you want your attendees to tell their friends about?

Detailed Abstract

This text ends up on our website, clickable from the schedule and talk lists. You hooked 'em with your title, your description made it sound even better, and now it's time for business. This is where you dig in and explain what you're going to talk about for 30-45 minutes, with some amount of detail into the topic. Let readers know why you're giving this talk and what they'll get out of it. If the Description was what you'd say to me two minutes before the talk, this is what you'd tell me at dinner the night before.

This field is Markdown enabled so you can jazz it up with links and other formatting. Some people like to put their full outline in here, which is fine. If you do that, just note it in the Outline box.

Outline

This is only visible to reviewers. A lot of people like to put a Detailed Abstract in paragraph form and then break it down into an outline to show how the talk would be organized. The outline helps reviewers get a feel for your level of preparedness on the topic as well as how organized your thoughts are in covering the topic in a live presentation. If you've thought about how much time you want to spend in a particular area, a lot of people add that, which is helpful as well.


Good luck with your proposals!

Hanging out with Hackers & Hookers in San Francisco
Posted: 2013-10-23 14:44


It's that time of year again: Halloween. The season is changing, leaves are falling, pumpkin spice lattes are everywhere, everyone's digging out their hoodies, and we're all planning our next mind bogglingly thoughtless party.

Oh, wait, you weren't doing that last one? Well that's alright. It's good, even. Hacker Hideout, "a member based community center in San Francisco for thinkers and builders; tech lovers and business moguls; students and teachers alike", is taking care of that one for this year. On Friday, the "social event center" will be hosting "Hackers & Hookers", representing the Hideout's social entertainment services.

If you're one of the Hackers at Hacker Hideout, "you are supported by a community of others that are living and breathing, and dreaming of making something great, changing the world, and being rewarded for it." Basically, you're alive and you want to do stuff and be rewarded for it.

Think about being a hooker for a second. That definition runs something like, "you turned to prostitution to keep food on the table or were forced into it, you abuse drugs to clear your mind of what you now have to do, you can't stop being a prostitute because you won't have money to feed the addictions, and even if you get out of the sex trade, you'll likely still turn to drugs to scrub your mind of what you had to go through in the past. You dream of another life."

The Hacker network at Hacker Hideout, "provides valuable resources; at a minimum through others’ expertise and experiences you will take part in a knowledge share that can only enhance and help you prepare for your own execution plan."

Think about the hooker network for a second. Their pitch runs something like, "the community uses your body for small sums of money and you will take part in it for the foreseeable future, spending most of your income to numb your mind."

Members of the Hacker group were "just like you at one point." They had dreams, plans, and profitable business models. They were working towards their goals, and now they're united by a physical hub, destined for greatness.

Members of the hooker side of the party were also just like you at one point. They had dreams and plans. Now they're having sex for crumpled twenties so they can buy a honey bun and a couple of hits of dope.

The people who run Hacker Hideout don't take equity: it's for the hackers. Ever heard of a pimp?

Sounds like a great event. The flier says there will be girls there.

Why I don't feel so bad
Posted: 2013-02-20 09:45


Yesterday I came across a post titled The Python documentation is bad, and you should feel bad. It made me feel a little bad, but not too much. Here's why.

Weighing in at over 2,000 words, it makes a few decent points, but it makes broad conclusions based on small samples, and makes a few cringeworthy points towards the end. 200 words would have made the relevant points, or just a bug report or two. That's not as fun as writing a rant, though.

I disagree heavily with a few things he wrote about, namely what I think is a view of the community clouded by a lot of other negativity he was feeling around the topic of documentation. It's no secret that our documentation can use some work, but I think the community gets a bad name here when it isn't called for. There also seems to be a misunderstanding of how work gets done.

The Community

The section on "The Python Community" was pretty unfair and doesn't really seem to reflect reality. While it states that the section isn't all about #python, it's pretty clear that the poster's experiences with #python colored his beliefs. Unfortunately, the IRC channel isn't always known as one of the most friendly places to find help. That sucks, and I hear from some trusted folks that it's changing for the better, but it is somewhat of a common opinion, so I'm not 100% surprised he feels that way.

The later mention of fanboyism, specifically towards Twisted, likely comes from his experience in #python, because that's one of the few places I consistently saw Twisted being recommended. They get a ton of questions every day, many of them repeats, and they probably try to limit the set of answers they need to give. It's a very busy channel and they try to help as many people as they can, so they need something to make it easier for them.

Whether or not you like Twisted, it does solve a lot of the network questions people have. I'm with the author that being told "just use Twisted" isn't always helpful and isn't a possibility in some cases, but it doesn't make the whole community unhelpful and hostile. Just like "install linux" isn't a helpful answer to "How do I install pywin32?", which pops up on Reddit here and there, sometimes you just need to ask in another place to get more (useful) opinions. Hostile and unhelpful would be some of the last things you could say about support avenues like comp.lang.python or Stack Overflow.

The post has an edit to clarify that his opinions don't seem to apply to Reddit and Stack Overflow, which is good. However, I don't see the differentiating factor between any of those sites and the many other communication channels. One the author attempts to provide is "communities that consist mostly of Python developers, and do not have a very distinct culture of their own," probably referring to mailing lists. Having participated in all of these sites, mailing lists, and IRC channels, it still looks like the painting is being done with an awfully wide brush.

Community Norms

"The general norm for the Python community appears to be that if you are not already familiar with the language, you do not deserve help," is something that could not be further from reality.

How many beginners books do we now have? How much free introductory material do we now have? How many colleges, traditional and otherwise, are now teaching Python? There is no better time than now to learn Python, and the amount of resources has never been as plentiful.

The tutor mailing list, a resource for those beginning with Python, looks pretty active and helpful. I just looked at the February archive and what do you know? The very first post on that page is by Alan Gauld, author of "Learn to Program Using Python". Funny story: My father was one of the reviewers of that book leading up to its publishing in 2000, and I wrote my own small review of the book (he gave me the $200 they were paying reviewers at the time, I bought a new baseball bat). His response is a wonderful showing right off the bat, and a quick perusal through the list shows some good help being given.

python-list is another resource and tends to be for those who have gotten their feet slightly wet, but it's really open to anyone. This list is very active, and while I haven't followed it in years, a quick look through the archives shows the same generally helpful user base that I'm familiar with.

When it comes to being involved in development efforts, we have the core-mentorship list that serves as a great place to get involved in a helpful and friendly atmosphere. Many beginners have come through this list and gotten started on their way to having their contributions accepted into the Python source tree. Even python-dev is good about working with first timers when they come up.

PyCon, a conference generally stocked up with intermediate to advanced material, has two tutorials not only for beginners to Python but for complete beginners to programming as a whole. There are also two days of childrens tutorials being given for free.

The Python Software Foundation has a committee devoted to helpful and friendly efforts. The Outreach & Education committee funds efforts around the world to teach Python to various groups of people. There's a budget and a list of excellent committee members, and a network of people around the world that are interested in helping the cause.

The rest of the paragraph goes on with wild hyperbole about people saying you're horrible for having less than optimal code. I'm not usually one to say "cite your source," but, cite your source.

I'm aware of the confirmation bias I have at times when it comes to Python being a nice and friendly place, but I'm well aware that it's not actually sunshine and roses. The community at large may need tuning as growing pains hit from time to time, but it's not a current issue as far as I've been made aware of.

Reading the Source

Speaking of sources, the poster goes on to resist reading the source. While a valid point in general if you're just trying to find out the signature of a function, there's a lot to be learned by reading the source of code you're using. When it comes to Python, a language generally referred to as "readable", in some cases the code really is a good thing to rely on.

However, it shouldn't be the only thing, so I can see why he got upset with it. Pointing people to the source isn't usually a good beginner response unless you can point them to where in the source their answer is going to be, and even then you have to make sure it's not going to overcomplicate what they're looking for.

If we didn't have documentation for winreg.OpenKey and I told you to read the source, would you know it's a C file in PC\winreg.c of a source checkout that you likely don't have? No. He's got a valid point, but I would recommend everyone does take a look at the code they're importing and using at some point. It doesn't have to be a black box and you could learn a thing or two along the way.

Mind Reading

Perhaps the most egregious claim in this post is that someone should be working on the points this author just wrote about. For one, in order for something to be fixed it must first be determined that it is broken. We tend to do that through the use of bug reports. http://bugs.python.org is open for business 24/7.

I think the author does bring up some valid points about documentation that could use a discussion, so hopefully they are submitted. We don't know about them until you report them. What's obvious to one may not even register to others, so there surely can't be any effort underway when not everyone is on the same page.

Keep in mind that it takes effort to get things fixed in an all volunteer project. It takes some effort to engage in a discussion, and it takes a lot more to complete the changes.

However, I must say that I don't have high hopes for changes in this area if the reporter isn't interested in helping. Changing open source software isn't a drive-thru experience. Sometimes you have to get behind the grill and flip your own burger if it's not being served fast enough.

The demand to "make it happen" was particularly funny to me, reminding me of Guido's "make it so" comment in his response to approving PEP 414 (if you don't get why this is funny, Guido created Python). This right here simply doesn't work, especially ending it with "that's what developers do." The author could stand to learn a thing or two about respect, given again that an all volunteer workforce isn't exactly waiting at the beck and call of everyone with a blog.

A lot of the developers of Python work on things they want to work on in areas they're interested in. An overwhelming majority of us put in these efforts off the clock, hacking in the evenings or on the weekends, in order to contribute to a project that we like. Knowledge of that will hopefully result in a better tone moving forward (it's pretty much required).


In conclusion, I think what could have been said in a bug report or two became an unfair smear of the Python community. For me, the good points were mostly marred by trying to fill up a rant post, and I'm not optimistic that anything positive will come out of it. That's a bummer because we could always use some help.

Growth in Diversity
Posted: 2013-01-16 09:00


Tarek Ziadé recently announced the schedule for the Python track at FOSDEM 2013, where he’s one of the organizers. They have some interesting talks lined up by some excellent speakers, so if you’re going to FOSDEM, be sure to check them out.

The bigger part of the post is about a complete lack of women speakers. Namely, it’s about how I edited his blog post before publishing it on the PyCon blog.

Jumping ahead to the last sentence in his post gets to the answer of why I did what I did. With PyCon, we’ve diversified our speaker list through a lot of effort, and a great set of allies.

There’s a reason we went from one woman on the PyCon 2011 schedule to six in 2012. There’s also a reason we went from six to at least 22 for 2013. We didn’t do it through words, but through actions.

We experienced that growth thanks in part to the proliferation of women’s technology groups and the relationships we’ve built with them. By reaching out and involving these groups, we’ve seen not only a rise in women on stage, but a noticeable increase in women in the audience.

Rather than saying “everyone is welcome, specifically women”, we’re trying to achieve an environment that is fair and equal. To do that, PyCon has been consistent in targeting an audience that includes everyone. I went back through many pages of posts on the PyCon blog, to early 2011, and we’ve stuck to this stance.

Even though 22 speakers sounds so much better than 6, read that again, only with more detail: 22 women on a schedule of 114 talks and 32 tutorials.

That really sucks. We’re not going to see that number increase to 35, 40, 45, or hopefully higher in 2014 by mentioning “women, too”. We’re going to see that growth by ensuring women feel like first class citizens in our community. That goes for within PyCon, Python, all of technology, and on and on.

On one hand, it’s great that we’ve seen this growth in PyCon. I’m happy for what the community has done to welcome this growth, and I’m happy for the people who helped achieve this growth. Most of all, I’m happy for the individuals who are a part of this growth.

On the other hand, what the hell is wrong with us that we can only get 22 women on the schedule? The answer has roots in a lot of stuff far away from and a lot earlier in the process than conferences come in, but we can and will do better.

We will continue to push for diversity by engaging groups that work with underrepresented areas of our community. As these partnerships blossom and new groups sprout, we will continue to engage them in hopes of realizing further growth. All the while, we will continue to market our conference to everyone.

I think I speak for the organizers in stating that while we’re happy with the growth trends we’re seeing, we’re not going to be satisfied until we’ve reached and maintain equality. Our community deserves it.


One thing I will apologize for is that I did not notify Tarek of the change to his post. I did it on my own because I had that change made to my posts years ago, and I’ve learned what I think are better ways to reach and incorporate women. I should have communicated my thoughts and worked with Tarek, but I did not. For that, I’m sorry.

The Year of the Snake
Posted: 2013-01-02 09:00


If you know your Chinese Zodiac calendar like I do, you know that 2013 is the year of the snake. While they don't specify the type of snake, I think they mean Python.

2012 was a pretty good year around the Python community. It was fun while it lasted, but 2013, the year of the snake, is going to be even better.

Python 3 continues to grow, conferences continue to grow, and diversity continues to grow. These three things are topics I hope we all have a chance to be involved in for 2013.

Python 3

Python 3 adoption is moving along swiftly, and I'm looking forward to another year of increased usage, contribution, and conversation. You don't have to look too far to see that Python 3 is growing. The website formerly known as the "Python 3 Wall of Shame" recently became "Python 3 Wall of Superpowers" as the projects it tracks hit 50% with support for 3.x.

The "Who's on Python 3?" page uses additional knowledge to show projects with support under way, and it claims that 74% of the top 50 downloaded packages have 3.x support. When you include the in-progress projects, e.g., Django, that number becomes 78%.

Georg Brandl's tracking of Python 3 packages on PyPI shows strong growth, as 2011 ended with around 600 packages showing support for Python 3, and 2012 ended around 1,400. While that only puts us around 6% of all packages, it's an imperfect metric. Many projects don't even specify that they support Python 2, and known Python 3 projects don't specify their support either. It's still nice to see that the support is at least doubled. (PSA: Please accurately set the trove classifiers on your PyPI packages!)

Note

The following uses Windows download counts from http://python.org/webstats, as parsed by https://bitbucket.org/briancurtin/pydotorg_webstats. These are probably the only reliable numbers we can get since most platforms receive Python in some other way, e.g., package managers.

Downloads for all Python versions saw a boost in 2012 to just under 2,000,000 downloads per month (we hovered around 1.7M/month in years ending 2009-2011). December closed out the year as the single largest month ever for Python 3 downloads at 666,884 for Python 3.3. Those 3.3 downloads contributed to a total of 850,399 downloads across all 3.x versions, the highest monthly total to date. In the same period 2.7 saw 903,605 downloads, the lowest count since February, adding up to 1.2M for all 2.x versions.

http://i.imgur.com/XeOAt.png

We saw immediate growth at the initial release of 3.0 back in December 2008, then a settling shortly after, but it looks like we're back into a growth period thanks to a few big months following the 3.3 release in September.

3.x downloads in 2012 were up around 15% compared to 2011, and I think the success of Python 3.3 will continue. The outlook for Python 3.4 is even better than that of 3.3, and we're still early in the cycle. Even though the final release won't come until early 2014, the release will be feature complete by year's end, per PEP 429.

Overall, I like where we're heading. There are several big projects with progress on Python 3 support, such as Django and Twisted. On the PSF board, we recently funded two projects, Kivy and NLTK, to complete their porting to Python 3. Even my day job at Canonical is going to get back into Python 3, as I'll need to complete the port of our SSO client which was started in the fall.

Conferences

Another year means another set of conferences, and 2012 saw a lot of growth here. Not only were there several first time conferences, several established conferences saw attendance increases.

The increase in regional conferences really is a great thing, as they get more people involved in sharing and education, they're generally more affordable than the bigger events, and they expose more people to the fun of a Python conference. I know of five new events that sprouted in 2012:

I hope to see more of these regional conferences in 2013. I'm going to try and make it to at least one of the smaller conferences this year - maybe PyOhio.

As for attendance growth, it's not something most conferences end up mentioning, but I'm aware of it through my work with the Python Software Foundation's board of directors. In 2012 we sponsored 18 conferences, and we figure out our grant amounts based on attendance estimates. We work with organizers that we trust, and most of them mentioned increased attendance estimates, often making their funding requests after pre-sales, so they've had data to support the requests.

The one conference I know for sure had attendance growth was PyCon US, which actually over shot the estimates and opened the conference to 2,317 attendees, up from 1,380 in 2011. In 2013 we're capping the attendance at 2,500, and we're expecting another sell out for the last year in Santa Clara before heading to Montreal.

I'm really looking forward to expansion in the regional conference scene, as I think it'll bring Python to a lot more people. When you consider the download rates from earlier and the increasing attendance at these events, there are a lot of people to be reached in 2013.

Diversity

I certainly can't quantify this, but I've really felt the increasing presence of the various groups in our community that target and involve women. PyLadies and CodeChix saw expansion in 2012, and LadyCoders was created in 2012. Women Who Code joined the aforementioned groups in sponsoring PyCon, and they held over 100 meetings throughout the year. These groups and others were involved in a number of workshops, meetups, sprints, and other efforts to involve women in computing. This is awesome.

At PyCon 2012, several women's groups had booths in the expo hall, and at least one of them hosted a party on one of the evenings. Since PyCon doesn't track attendee genders, there is again no way to quantify this, but in my talks with some of the women at the booths as well as other attendees, PyCon had noticeably more women in attendance than in past years. This is awesome.

Several of these groups held meetups to brainstorm ideas for conference proposals, in an effort to help their members get presentations into conferences like PyCon. PyCon 2011 had one female on the schedule of tutorials and talks. PyCon 2012 had six females on the schedule. PyCon 2013 has 22. This is awesome.

These outreach groups really are working, and I hope to see continued growth because 16.5% of the schedule being women is way too low. It's a great effort on their part, in fact I couldn't be any happier with these groups for what they've done to diversify our community, but we need more. However, what I think we need comes more from everyone else. The women are doing their part.

Whether it's grant programs or the codes of conduct that many events are now implementing, creating a more welcoming environment for everyone will enable more of this growth that the groups are building. From conferences to user group meetings to mailing lists, I hope everyone can think about what we can do to involve more women and tip the scales toward equality.


Overall, I'm really excited about this year. I think it'll be a big year for Python 3, we're going to see some great conferences, and hopefully we're able to get more people involved in Python activities.

I'm also looking forward to putting in more development work on CPython, and I'm looking forward to another great year of working with the PSF. I'm looking forward to more heavy lifting in the gym, doing a Tough Mudder, and having another successful season umpiring college baseball.

Contents © 2014 Brian Curtin