PyCon Canada 2018

This weekend I attended my first PyCon! This year it was held in Toronto, where it was so cold as if it’s November or something; it was even snowing on Saturday morning. Incidentally, the conference swag included pom tuques — quite handy.

I spent most of my time doing the hallway track — something way outside my comfort zone, so I’m very happy to report that I managed to have lots of interesting conversations and a wonderful Saturday dinner with the folks I met. The latter was a self-organized 6-people event because the conference didn’t organize anything officially. Next time I will equip myself with stickers, and also I will try delaying my retreat to the airport till the day after the conference — I think I missed the Sunday outing because I flew out so early.

I do think that making new friends among other programmers is the most important part of any conference. Most conferences put the talks online afterwards anyway… and the recordings, as I realized, can be further used to socialize with colleagues because it’s possible to organize some sort of a “watching group” (analogous with reading groups), where people watch a talk and discuss it afterwards.

Speaking of talks, this year’s rendition of PyCon featured a fairly wide array of important topics, including, but not limited to, machine learning and Russian trolls on Twitter (admittedly, I haven’t spotted a single blockchain talk for some reason — most likely just didn’t look properly). The walrus operator and Guido’s leaving generated the most buzz in the community, and both the talks on the subjects were highly praised by most of the people I met.

As a bit of a detour on the people I met — I kept bumping into vancouverites, which surprised me so much that I developed a strong impression that there is no other place in Canada so swarmed with people from Vancouver but Toronto.

Getting back to talks, the one I anticipated the most was “The landscape of Quantum Computing in Python”. I was curious about the current practical applications of quantum computing, where (if any) can I actually try it out, and where the online communities can be found. I wasn’t disappointed! The speaker briefly described the three kinds of quantum computing, named the companies that utilize and research them, and provided links to some of the projects. After the talk I chatted a bit with the speaker, and he was kind enough to give me some additional resources on the subject. It was fantastic!

Another talk that I liked was given by the manager of the Mozilla release engineering team (I recently started working at Mozilla, and release engineering are our team’s neighbors). He gave a very good overview of the Firefox release pipeline for potential contributors, mentioned the Python projects and the challenges in them. For me, the talk provided a nice summary of Taskcluster in Context and Perspective, and became a bit of an onboarding experience — just as I expected. (Mozilla was a sponsor for the event, by the way.)

If there was a prize for the most fabulous talk, that would go to Holden Karau and her PySpark keynote. It would be enough to say that the slides contained a lot of cat pictures, the speaker stand contained plush pandas, and Holden herself was contained in a coat with flashing lights! She spoke about big data and distributed systems — not exactly what I work with, but it was nevertheless interesting (not to mention entertaining); I plan to watch it again.

All the talks were recorded and will be available online sometime soon. I loved the timings — most talks were 15–20 minutes long, which is long enough to get to the point but short enough to avoid being boring.

That was my PyCon experience, and I am very happy and grateful I had it. I think the best thing about python is that the community is very welcoming and friendly; our local PyLadies meetup is also quite lovely. In other words, the conference is definitely a must-go — I hope to attend again!