PyCon UK 2014: The Happening

Someone I meet only in Coventry mentioned in the hallway in this year’s PyCon UK that I’d not written about anything this year which he could comment on when he met me there. And indeed I was surprised to realise that my last post on this blog was about last year’s PyCon UK! I know I’d had several ideas for what to blog about, but clearly those ideas never became a reality.

As I pointed out in that year-ago post, every PyCon UK charts its own course for me each year. This year I was heavily involved in the Education & Kids’ tracks across the road in the Simulation Centre. In fact, apart from quick visits to the dining hall for food, I hardly interacted with the main conference at all throughout Friday and Saturday. As I tweeted at the time, the first talk I attended at the conference proper was the one I was giving first thing on Sunday morning!

Others have already done so, but I’d like to give tons of credit to Nicholas Tollervey who organised and ran the Education and Kids’ track (as well as giving a talk at the conference proper on turning footfall data into music). This involved liaising with schools and teachers for over 30 teachers to be able to attend PyCon UK as part of their Professional Development, in some cases assisted by money (generously provided by the Bank of America) to help pay for classroom cover. The Bank of America also paid for the venue, while the Python Software Foundation provided money to cover travel & accommodation. And then there’s the job of organising for 70 kids to come and have some experience of programming in a supportive environment. Those who only know Nicholas as a developer and organiser-in-chief of the monthly London Python Code Dojo may not be aware that he was a professional tuba player and, significantly here, a Secondary School teacher. This (I assume) gives him an insight into what will give the most benefit to the teachers and youngsters attending.

I hope to write a separate blog post on the Education slice of the conference on Friday. (If only to ensure that I have at least two blog posts to my name this year!). The Saturday event for children was certainly well-attended. We were over there not long after 7am setting up chairs, tables, RPis, keyboards, mice, screens and a *lot* of power cables to keep 70 youngsters occupied. Because of the numbers, activities were split over two large rooms plus two smaller rooms for specific activities. There were guided sessions on Minecraft, using the Pi camera module, and using PyGame plus a fair amount of freeflow action, mostly involving Minecraft. At the end was a show-and-tell where at least some of the various projects were showcased.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation Educational Outreach Team (or whatever they’re called) were there on both days, and in fact throughout the conference including the sprints on Monday. As well as running workshops in the Education track, they also provided a Model B+ Raspberry Pi for each of the youngsters attending, and gave talks and keynotes speeches at the main conference.

I attended relatively few of the talks at the main conference. I did like the gov.uk team’s presentation on their approach to using Flask to implement wizard-style forms (a project codenamed “Gandalf” apparently!) and which they hope to be able to open-source. The lightning talks I did get to see (ably compered as usual by Lightning Talk Man) were interesting; and one of them was even using my active_directory module. Another blog post from me in the making there, I hope.

The one very obvious aspect of the PyCon UK this year was the numbers. And, as a result, the queues, especially in the dining hall. Even my own talk – on the fairly niche subject of Core Python Development on Windows – was fully attended, presumably as a result of refugees who couldn’t fit into other talks and were desperate for somewhere they could at least sit down. It’s nice problem to have: to be too popular; but I imagine the organisers are looking hard at arrangements for next year.

I stayed for the sprints on Monday and so was looking for somewhere to eat on Sunday evening, traditionally the least organised of the PyCon UK evenings. I went looking with Conor & Ben for somewhere to eat in Coventry on a Sunday evening. With limited success. (We did eventually find somewhere open). I spent a pleasantly quiet rest of the evening with a pot of tea in the hotel bar, and chatting to Giacomo about this and that.

Monday was sprints, and although I was available to help people get started on core dev work, I was actually sprinting on my own Screenful of Python idea, of which more in a later post.

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