Monday, March 17, 2008

Back from PyCon

PyCon08 is over. It's been an enjoyable experience, but a crowded one, with more than 1,000 people in attendance. The testing tutorial that Titus and I gave on Thursday went well. We tried to have it a bit more interactive than in the last 2 years, so we asked for people to send us their Web apps so we can test them 'in real time'. As it turned out, we only got back a handful of replies and almost no apps, but Christian Long sent me an app that I used to show some nifty Ajax testing with Selenium. We took a lot of questions from the audience on real problems they were facing, and I think we came up with some satisfactory answers/solutions. We need to think of what format we'll choose for next year (if any). Steve Holden and Doug Napoleone were happy with what they got out of the tutorial, Mike Pirnat was not because he had seen the same material last year. I think we did show some new techniques with the same tools that we've been showing for the last 3 years. But the overall content of the tutorial hasn't changed much. If you have any ideas of what you'd like to see next year, drop us a note.

If you read Planet Python or comp.lang.python, you know there's been a whirlwind of discussions around Bruce Eckel's "Pycon disappointment" post. My take on the commercialization of PyCon is that it hasn't been as bad as Bruce makes it sound. The vendor area was very isolated, in a corner room, and you could have easily missed it if you didn't see the people pouring out of there with all kinds of swag. And everybody was hiring! This is a good thing, people! Getting paid to work with your favorite programming language is a privilege that not many people are enjoying.

The other controversial aspect this year was the vendor involvement in the lightning talks. That was indeed highly annoying, and hopefully it won't happen again. I think the solution the organizers found last year -- separating the vendor-sponsored lightning talks from the regular ones -- worked pretty well. I didn't go to all the lightning talk sessions this year, but the one on Sunday was very enjoyable (once the sponsored ones were over). I liked the one on bitsyblog (a minimalist approach to building blog software), and the one by Martin v. Loewis on using Roundup for various non-bugtrack-related projects such as homework assignments. I also found out that Larry Hastings from Facebook is leading an effort to switch Facebook from PHP to a more enlightened language (you know which one), and also that, which offers what is apparently one of the most (if not THE most) popular Facebook apps, is using Python throughout its development process.

The technical talks were a mixed bag, just like at every other PyCon I participated in. No big surprise here, you can't make everybody happy no matter how hard you try (and the PyCon commitee tried hard, believe me). The critics have a point though, in that we need more advanced topics. Maybe we need a beginner track, an intermediate track and an advanced track. Also, 4 tracks is too much, I think 3 is a better number. My top 3 favorite talks were, in chronological order: "Supervisor as a platform" by Chris McDonough and Mike Naberezny, "Managing complexity (and testing)" by Matt Harrison, and "Introducing agile testing techniques to the OLPC project" by Titus Brown (I hope Titus will make good on his promise of putting together a screencast of the demo he showed, since it's mighty cool).

But the best part of PyCon is always meeting people. It's great to put a face to a name, especially when you're familiar with that person's work or blog. It's great to meet with people you met the previous years too. If nothing else, the socializing alone makes it worth attending PyCon. Think about it: where else would you meet Zed Shaw and have a chance to experience his colorful language and personality, and also hear him rant a bit about the ways in which Python sucks (although I hasten to add that he likes it a lot and he's starting to hack seriously in it). Can't wait to use one of Zed's first contributions to the Python world, a nifty utility called easy_f__ing_uninstall (feel free to fill in the blanks :-)

Whatever the critics say, I know I'll be back in Chicago next year for sure. I just want better network connectivity (why is it so hard to ensure decent wireless connectivity at PyCon year after year? it's a mystery) and better food.


Mike Pirnat said...

If you don't mind me clarifying a bit now that 24 hours have passed, my disappointment with the testing tutorial was mainly with having seen Titus's material before. (I'm pretty sure they were the same slides as his testing talk.) I hadn't seen the Selenium bits before, and in retrospect I was simply too tired from having been going all day for the new stuff to sink in.

That's not to say that the material Titus was presenting wasn't really good, or wasn't valuable--far from it! Titus is a great speaker, and it's a really solid, interesting, and valuable presentation; I just happened to have already seen it. I'd been hoping that a tutorial session would get much more in depth and hands-on.

Really, though, you guys are doing a great job of getting the message out and getting people test infected, so please keep it up!

Grig Gheorghiu said...

Hi, Mike -- thanks for the clarification. It's hard to have both depth and width in 3 hours (as long a time as that may seem), so we chose to present a wide array of tools, so that people have something to choose from. We also tried to show practical applications for each tool. But you're right that it would be nice to go more in-depth on these topics -- maybe a sprint next year on testing real apps would be better.