I got back from PyCon about a week ago. This was the first software conference I have gone to (I haven’t gone to a conference since attending math conferences in grad school). I have been splitting my time fairly equally between IDL and Python recently and the conference really helped me feel more comfortable in Python and the Python scientific community. The conference was more about the Python community than Python itself, but I still got a lot of Python tips out of it.

Peter Wang of Enthought giving a demo of chaco

Here are the some thoughts on the major activities of the conference:

  1. The tutorials before the conference were great. I took a session on optimization and one on the “idioms” of Python. As a newcomer to Python, seeing the idioms that experienced Python programmers used to do common operations was extremely valuable.
  2. The keynotes had an educational theme (except for Guido’s talk about Python 3000). I especially enjoyed Robert M. “r0ml” Lefkowitz’s talk about “Computer Literacy” (he defines it in quite a different way than in most uses of the term). As someone who freaks out when I hear about school children learning to make PowerPoint presentations, this was great.
  3. There were a three sessions of talks going all day long. There were a few geared specifically to science, but there were many general purpose talks about topics that I will need to use and many more about ideas that I might need to use.
  4. There were “birds of a feather” sessions where people interested in a particular topic get together and discuss their area. These are usually held at night after the talks.
  5. I didn’t go to a lot of the lightning talks sessions because I usually went to dinner about then. (Lightning talks are limited to five minutes and are selected in a much more informal manner than the main talks.) The two sessions I went to were pretty good though.
  6. I went to several vendor demos by Enthought. They showed off their tools pretty well. I am definitely thinking about using their traits package with VTK (and maybe dumping matplotlib for their chaco too). I need Qt bindings for their stuff to do that, though. All kinds of ideas pop into my mind at this point.
  7. I think for most of the participants, the main advantage is meeting people in person that they may have interacted with online extensively. Since I just lurk on the mailing lists and usenet group so far, I didn’t really “know” anyone, but I had seen a lot of peoples names before. I also met several people from Boulder.
  8. I didn’t participate in the sprints at the end of the conference. Sprints allow developers to concentrate their efforts for a few days on solving some issue in an environment where they can get people together face-to-face.

There is definitely a community in the open source software community. So many of the activities were geared towards community participation, especially the birds of a feather sessions and the sprints. People with a common need frequently collaborate to create a project that will satisfy the need.

One final thought: it seemed like every company represented was hiring Python programmers. It was a running joke throughout the conference.