My First PyCon (US)

6 minute read

I was initially going to attend PyCon Korea first. But then the current PyCon Korea website hasn’t even been updated to 2021. So I thought, maybe I should attend PyCon in other countries. Then I got to know that there’s PyCon US happening from May 12 to 18. What’s more, it’s 100% virtual and the ticket was quite affordable (50 USD for a student)! I bought the ticket and even signed up for a tutorial host, which was one of the volunteer roles.

These were the event dates:

  • Tutorials: May 12 - 13, 2021
  • Conference: May 14 - 15, 2021
  • Job Fair: May 16, 2021
  • Sprints: May 16 - 18, 2021

Tutorial Host Experience

Before PyCon started, I had to attend a mandatory Q&A-ish meeting for all the volunteers at PyCon. I asked a lot of questions there (Should I remind attendees that the tutorial will be recorded?, Should I also accommodate people who are visually and hearing impaired?, and so on), as I had no clue whether it’d be really okay for me to volunteer in my first PyCon. Thankfully, the staff provided us a write-up for tutorial hosts and it was very helpful to check if there was anything I missed out on.

I got assigned to the tutorial “HANDS-ON REGULAR EXPRESSIONS IN PYTHON” by Trey Hunner. What I did as a Tutorial Host was basically hosting the meeting. I set up Zoom, opened up the meeting about 30 minutes prior to the start time, discussed things with Trey such as how to handle Q&A (Should I read the questions aloud? Will the speaker address questions, like, every 15 minutes, etc.) and when the breaks will be (how we can remind attendees about it in the chat). Some other miscellaneous things before the tutorial I needed to do was to make the tutorial presenter co-host and assign the live captioner with the role.

When the session started, I added participants in the waiting room to the meeting. Then, I reminded people that the session would be recorded and introduced PyCon’s code of conduct. Apparently, PyCon was “one of the first computer programming conferences to develop and adhere to a code of conduct” according to Wikipedia. So interesting. After I made it clear that I’d record the meeting, I hit the record button. The tutorial was 2 and a half hour long.

As its name indicates, the tutorial was about regular expressions (or “Regex”) in Python. I had heard of what they are, but I have never used them before. Regex is, apparently, like a mini programming language. Since I was the meeting host, I didn’t even want to follow the demo being worried if doing so would interrupt the meeting in any way. So, I will see the recording that’s saved on my laptop and do the exercises on my own either today or tomorrow. For that, I’ll write another post!

When the tutorial was about to end, I reminded the speaker of it and recommended moving to Lounge on Hubilo (which was the main platform for PyCon). For people who wanted to do additional Q&A, we moved there. Overall, it was very good experience. I even got a Python Morsels redemption code which lets me try exercises on Python Morsels for free (Thanks so much, Trey!).

Extra $50 per tutorial?

As a broke college student, paying $50 just to buy the ticket was enough. But it turned out that PyCon attendees need to pre-register for the tutorials they want to see and pay 50 more dollars for each. 🤯 Someone I talked to on Lounge told me that at in-person PyCon, it’s drinks and beverages that are super expensive. I really wanted to attend a tutorial about how to write a good documentation but I couldn’t. Maybe when I get a full-time job, I’ll be willing to pay more $$$ for such stuff. So what I mostly did at PyCon was to talk to people in networking booths and lounges. But because of the time difference, I always needed to stay up really late to be active at PyCon. I attended a lot of booths at several companies, and people at Microsoft appreciated that I was the first (and probably the only) one to attend their postgreSQL session. They first asked if I like command line and I said I enjoy doing command line stuff. And they were like, “Oh then you’ll love postgreSQL.” The session sounded quite complicated but I enjoyed it. But I don’t remember anything about it lol.

Finding Snake Eyes Contest

There were a few contests at PyCon including Finding Snake Eyes. That’s the only one I participated in. At some sponsor companies’ booths, snake eyes were hidden by the companies’ people. I was only able to find the ones at Microsoft, Bloomberg, Google, Blackfire.io, Facebook/Instagram but missed out on the rest of them. It was fun! I wonder if there was a winner and if there was, if they got some sort of prize.

Sprints

I got to know something called sprints, where I could contribute to open source in a team. But since I was already so exhausted (Remember I was attending PyCon US from South Korea!) I decided to get some rest instead of going there.

Interesting things I learned

I met a lot of people from a lot of companies including Python Software Foundation (PSF), LinkedIn, Red Hat, Bloomberg, Netflix, Microsoft, and Google. I also talked to people who teach Python professionally, just like Trey (the speaker at the tutorial I volunteered for). It was so interesting to hear about what kind of work people are doing. Some memorable things I learned through many conversations are:

  1. The importance of contributing to open-source projects

  2. What makes you a “senior” engineer is knowing how to effectively communicate your ideas and vision with people (because this is what’s really difficult), although everything and all problems look technical when you’re just starting out (like me).

  3. The language that’s being used extensively at Amazon is Java. But quite a lot of people told me that it’s good that I took Data Structures in Python because taking it in Python lets people focus more on the concepts not on the syntax and stuff.

  4. People working at Netflix also do pay for Netflix??!?!?!?! 😲

    This is what an engineer at Netflix told me. I asked them a silly question which was whether people at Netflix generally enjoy watching Netflix, and they told me about this. I got curious about it and googled and I found out a relevant answer on Quora:

    The reason for the change was that Netflix wanted employees to experience the service as a customer does (increasing empathy).

    Actually this was the most interesting to learn at PyCon for me after Regex

Conclusion

I just got to meet a lot of people and talked about random things (mostly about Python, obviously). It was just my first experience of attending a conference. Not only did I expand my network, it was also motivating to see and interact with Pythonistas! I’m planning to attend more seminars and conferences for developers from now on. The next post will probably be about the Regex, which I learned in the tutorial. I’ll first work on the exercises watching the recorded meeting and try to write an informational post!

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