50 Year Plan for PuPPy
A quote for New Years — “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,” Winston Churchill
For those unfamiliar with the words of wans sui, man se, or banzei, may find a 50 year plan impractical in actual practice. My title may trouble software professionals practicing a craft that uses sprints to deliver work product. I am not presenting a prescriptive plan with precise tactics for deployment over a literal 50 years. The three terms I cite are from Chinese, Korean, and Japanese and actually derive from the same Chinese characters — 萬歲. Amongst these East Asian cultures, there’s some minute differences in usage, but all these cultures use the term to suggest creating something that endures for a duration beyond an individual’s lifespan. What I intend to convey with my title is a hope that PuPPy outlasts my participation in the group I founded with Dusty Phillips.
I was born with an ambition unmatched by my natural talent. Also my parents who were children of war were ill-suited to help me develop my deficient talent to match my overarching ambition. I floundered in life seeking purpose chasing new goals with inadequate preparation. Took me a lifetime to find a my mission. PuPPy and all of you as constituents of our community gave me mission. My purpose is to help each of you become great. I know every one of you have the potential to be giants in this world. Whatever help I lacked to develop my talent, I want to be here to give you the help I never got.
Adrian Holovaty was a journalist when he created Django with Simon Willison. They wanted a better way to publish online their employer’s newspaper the Lawrence Journal-World. When Adrian first approached my friend Brian Ray for advice about Django, my friend suggested he should consider contributing to an existing web framework instead of creating a new one. Adrian chugged along ignoring this advice on a path to deliver the Python web framework with most visibility amongst the lay public. I believe any PuPPy member with the right resolve and support could create the next Django. I would love if PuPPy became the home where one of you launched an open source project that commanded global attention.
I am living to die. Please don’t read this with sadness. Also far as I know, I’m not afflicted with any terminal illness. Understanding that my wick is burning close to the end adds urgency to my days. PuPPy is my last swing at posterity. I have no human children, only dogs who will mourn me sincerely but without any capacity to write a humanly understandable transcript.
However for PuPPy to persist past the span of my life, we need a common community culture that’s understandable internally and for viewers from without. Currently we have an attitude and a taste set into motion by Dusty Phillips, Larry Hastings, Yannick Gingras, and me. Also the global Python community steers us. A tangible example of the global Python community included in PuPPy’s attitude is our Code of Conduct taken from the PyCon example. Our one stated rule is that our community is about inclusion. Though I want make a clear disclaimer that all that’s good with PuPPy is thanks to the preceding people and the global community we’re all a part of and all mistakes are mine to own.
Currently we have a fine staff of organizers who care very much about PuPPy’s community. But for us to share a meaningful culture, it requires each of you to step forward and add something of yourself into the mix. Though you already have demands that require your scarce time, I promise what you give of yourself will be returned to you with an appreciable amount of karmic %[interest]. Only with including a part of you will we build a sustainable culture.
During our second anniversary hosted by Facebook in August, I shared some thoughts on what I think PuPPy is about. Understand my clear caveat that I am prepared to surrender my thoughts for any culture that results that includes your contributions. At the meeting, I said we’re not about Python and that Python just happens to be a programming language we like. What our room that we constitute during our 2nd Wednesday meetings, our Programming Nights, and our Slack, what it’s really about is creating the room where I hope you may find your best friend. I found my best friend in the room Brian Ray created with ChiPy. Turned out it was the creator of that group.
For your chosen craft, many of those who care about you don’t get it. Many also make assumptions about your craft. I shared in the past a story about Brian Ray and a prior girlfriend of his. She claimed that since her craft is journalism and Brian codes, that she is the creative one and Brian’s the techie. I bristled at this characterization. The reason I became involved in the Python community through ChiPy and later launched PuPPy is I believe that the most imaginative and intelligent people alive today express creativity in work product written in code. Past few years I have involved many friends with no prior experience with any software language in PyCon. This past year this effort included bringing in SpotHero founder Jeremy Smith and journalist Jason Rowley onto my team that runs Startup Row for PyCon. My friends brought into the PyCon fold remark how they meet incredibly interesting and smart people at the conference. Selfishly, I am here to be in the room with the smartest and most creative people I know.
If you have attended a PuPPy 2nd Wednesday talk format meeting, you may have seen Alan Vezina serving as MC. Alan MCs most of our events. Sometimes I spell him. Out of a b2b startup accelerator I participated in, only Alan and Stuart Axelbrooke speaking at our January 17th meeting actively supported PuPPy with consistent participation. Alan beginning from our third ever meeting started volunteering to help and continues one of our most active organizers. I rely on Alan for sober counsel. If you have need for good advice, Alan can deliver good value for the price of a few beers. Of our organizers, I meet one-on-one with Alan the most.
One day I was meeting him at Ba Bar on 12th Avenue. Waiting for Alan to finish work, I sat at a shared table with other customers in the restaurant’s bar. They have a pretty good happy hour served only in the bar area. Next to me were a pair of men. Seated in very close proximity to my tablemates, I would have needed headphones on to avoid eavesdropping on my fellow happy-hourists’ conversation.
I discerned the men were named Eli and Daniel. I noted Eli’s story as relevant for what I’ve been thinking about when pondering what my concept of 10:1 means in a practical application. Eli was sharing with his counterpart a friend had returned to Seattle for a visit after previously living in Seattle. He mocked the visiting friends’s earnestness to meet, “Why’s he making so much of an effort, it’s not like we keep in touch after he moved away.” Next utterance was about how this Eli who blew-off the friend wished he had a friend to call up just whenever to do whatever. He continued to share in the developing conversation that he felt lonely. I concluded based on this glimpse of Eli’s life that this loneliness was the result of this man’s unwillingness to invest sincerely in relationships. The irony of this story seemed to miss Eli’s analysis. Seems he can’t see the the best prescription for his loneliness is to make a genuine effort with connecting with people.
A conjecture I ponder is that humans that run on an electrical charge have a form of wifi that tunes at a subconscious level with the people around us. Our wifi signal seeks out compatible frequencies in the people we meet. Perhaps Eli simply needs a room to find somebody with personal wifi synced to his own. PuPPy is about making it easier for you to connect with like-minded people or people with wifi tuned to a compatible channel.
Past spring, I attempted a lightning talk trilogy that would attempt to convey my thoughts on a proposed mission statement for PuPPy. The quality of my trilogy was poor due to a lack of preparation. Amidst my preparation for my series of talks over two of our 2nd Wednesday meetings, my dog Barbar died at 14 years old. He treated for cancer for about half a year prior to dying April 10th. My partner Elizabeth also took this loss very hard. Since I lost my father in 2010, I tried my best to remember the sensations I experienced then to help Liz with her grief. Riding the time machine of my memory hurt me. My father’s funeral included an attempt by those who misunderstand me from speaking at father’s funeral. Under the cloud of my dog’s death, my partner’s grief, and remembering some of the most painful events in my life, I poorly communicated my 10:1 concept.
Originally when Dusty and I launched PuPPy, we had set out four pillars for our user group: 1) improving diversity in tech professions; 2) professional development; 3) improving Python skills; and 4) supporting Python-consuming startups. Oftentimes in explaining PuPPy, I’d forget one of these four precepts. I thought if I can’t remember it, what PuPPy member even knows these four pillars. This set me to think about how to convey PuPPy’s purpose that was in line with the original sentiment of connection we hoped to foster in a pithy statement. This led to my experimentation with trying to explain our core purpose in a ratio of 10:1.
I believe if you give yourself freely to the world, you will receive a return for your generosity. Our community PuPPy will return to you as much as you put into it. For some this may be showing up regularly for meetings. Others have benefited from contributing as volunteers or organizers. Often we think of only of our effort or individual struggle and miss the fact we get much more good from the world than we give to it. Because of this stilted vision I think all us may suffer, I decided that if I consciously strive to give 10 fold of whatever I think I got of one from the world, I may pay back the sum of all the little kindnesses I have received from my fellow humans. Only by making a deliberate decision to contribute freely to our community can I pay the invoice I owe all of you.
Even with this, I know I may always carry a deficit on my personal balance sheet.
Don’t want to devolve into a bromide, but mistakes I have made many. As I write this message, I calculated that in a dollar amount, I have wiped out about $20m in enterprise value during my lifetime in different business ventures. Start inventorying my personal relationship failures, and I’ll need stop writing because the embarrassment this exercise stimulates prompts in me a catatonic state.
My greatest regret is the time I have wasted trying to protect my vanity. In high school I was voted by my graduating class the most likely to go to jail. Think a survey of my classmates would result in a determination I counted amongst the cool kids. I worked hard for this reputation. This was the priority for a deprecated version of me. I associated a cynical view of people with appearing formidable to others. But living most of my life as a cynic prevented me from connecting meaningfully with a lot of people who deserved my attention. Though I judged my tablemate in Ba Bar, I behaved most of life just as Eli does.
I remain incomplete of my goals; I am still not the person I want to be. I hate networking because I still feel foolish explaining what I do to the uninitiated. At Galvanize’s opening party to celebrate its launch, a fellow attendee said to me, “People are still proud of running a user group.” This immature person’s remark still tickled me with embarrassment. Though I look askance at an aspect of Korean culture where a person’s identity is defined by employer and job title, I inherited vestiges of this attitude as result of an upbringing of Chinese and Korean.
I’ve decide now with the armor of your support, with the warmth of our community, to be openly foolish. I decided I will declare my pride in what I’ve accomplished with building our community to our current juncture. I ask you also to consider being foolish and risk yourself for anything that matters to you. Hopefully you’ll include being a part of our PuPPy community amongst your priorities.
I know I am being selfish. I ask you to contribute to my life mission. PuPPy may still need to prove to you it deserves your attention. Perhaps you only attend our meetings to hear the best speakers in Python. Also we have often plentiful food and beer. PuPPy’s entertainment value may also be your entryway to belong though. Our road to last as a community beyond my participation in PuPPy though depends on your contribution becoming in sync with your selfishness. If your contribution to the greater whole fulfills your own goals, we will have a culture that fulfills a “50 Year Plan for PuPPy.” Consider joining me in being foolish.
PuPPy is only meaningful with you.