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PyGotham 2015

When Python met the Cookie Monster

Thanks to the NYC Women in Machine Learning & Data Science meetup group, I was able to attend this year’s PyGotham conference on a weekend in late August. With PyGotham being a fairly young conference (it was started in 2011 as an “eclectic Py-centric tech conference”), I had not heard of it before and did not quite know what to expect – and I was positively surprised by the breadth of inspiring talks and the number of enthusiastic Pythonistas I met that weekend.

Day One started bright and early with a 9am keynote by Nick Coghlan of Red Hat, who gave an insightful talk about the challenges of making open source development sustainable. He pointed out that a number of open source projects were handed over to the community where contributors would be happy to add new exciting features, but maintenance and bug fixes were expected to be carried out by “magic internet pixies”. His mention of the importance of work-life balance for open source contributors in particular struck a note with me, since this is something that is often overlooked when talking about getting involved in the open source community.

After a short break to rearrange the rooms, the day continued with a series of thirty minute talks. As a data insights engineer, I was particularly interested in learning more about the tools of the trade, and potentially also hear about some relevant technologies and frameworks that I might not come in touch with on a daily basis. I attended a presentation by Jeff Uthaichai and Chris Becker, who gave an excellent introduction to Docker, a tool that supports software deployment by allowing users to create a “container” which contains an application along with all its dependencies. The main focus of the talk was a series of recorded demos that showed how easy (or not…) it is to deploy a Docker container to different cloud hosting services. After a short break, the morning session continued with a talk by another excellent speaker, Jeremiah Malina of ChatID, who demonstrated how to set up a real-time analytics services using InfluxDB, a distributed time series database, using an easy to understand example of counting site visits associated with a referral ID.

Of course, attending talks at conferences is only half of the fun – the other half is meeting new people with similar interests, and so I spent most of the breaks in the breakout area outside the conference rooms, filling up on coffee, snacking on cookies, chatting with other attendees, and swapping business cards. One of my highlights of the weekend was my attempt to roll around the breakout area on a self-balancing scooter – think small Segway without anything to hold on to! – which the team from SinglePlatform had brought along.

After lunch, I attended a non-Python talk, which happened to be one of my favorites of the day. Thomas Ballinger, also known as the “Terminal Whisperer”, gave us a whirlwind tour of everything you’ve never thought of doing with your terminal, but you wouldn’t want to miss now that you know how to do it – from replacing existing text and changing text colors to blinking text and advice on how to create blinking git commit messages, Thomas’ talk provided plenty of inspiration on how to make command line interfaces more user-friendly. My final talk of the day was Jarret Petrillo’s excellent introduction to building a data aggregation app in Flask, a Python web framework, or self-proclaimed “microframework”, that can be seen as a lightweight alternative to the popular Django framework.

Day Two of PyGotham started with an engaging keynote talk by Jessica McKellar, a former Director for the Python Software Foundation, who asked us to imagine the Python community as a company which faces issues of sustainability and accessibility. She highlighted a few problems, such as the difficulties of running Python on Windows computers, which basically prohibits its uptake in schools that make heavy use of Windows PCs, and will continue to do so in the near future. Jessica concluded her talk with a very specific call to action to address Python’s accessibility for beginners as a first step to improving the position of “Python, Inc”.

Jessica’s keynote was followed by talk on code reviews by Amy Hanlon, a Hacker School (now Recurse Center) graduate and software engineer at Venmo who I had known since she gave a brilliant demo on overwriting builtin Python functions with Harry Potter spells at a PyLadies meetup in 2014. Amy gave another excellent and insightful presentation, listing some guidelines for code authors and reviewers, and explaining how reducing the amount of ground work a reviewer needs to do (understanding the code, spotting bugs, …) frees up time to get more valuable feedback on your code. After an extended break, I managed to catch the end of Sven Kreiss’ talk on pysparkling, a Python implementation of Spark’s Resilient Distributed Dataset (RDD) interface, had some exciting conversations with attendees from as far as the Dominican Republic over lunch, and met fellow female Pythonistas at the PyLadies NYC mingling session.

The next talk turned out to be another highlight of the weekend: SQLAlchemy ORM as demonstrated through the power of cookies. Jason Myers presented a wonderfully humorous step-by-step demo of setting up a cookie ordering system with SQLAlchemy ORM, a SQL abstraction toolkit that allows users to interacts with relational data as objects by abstracting from the underlying database layer. Jason’s talk was followed by an interesting, though mildly worrying, presentation by Ashwini Oruganti, an Eventbrite engineer and director of the Python Software Foundation, who gave an introduction to HTTPS and pointed out some of the common security flaws in OpenSSL. The final session of this afternoon block was yet another excellent live demo by A. Jesse Jiryu Davis of MongoDB, who walked us through the setup of an application using asynchronous node.js style “coroutines” in Python’s asyncio module.

And with that, my weekend at PyGotham came to a close – a great little conference full of passionate Pythonistas and enthusiastic newcomers, which I will happily attend again in 2016.

Check out my Storify collection of my tweets from the conference!