PyCon Au particulars: 10 elements of a quality conference
It’s been about two years since I made my entrance into the wonderful world of software development conferences by attending PyCon Australia Sydney 2011.
Over the past few days I have been enjoying my second PyCon Au, this time in Hobart, and taken some time to reflect on what makes the conference unique and how I’ve grown as a developer since the Sydney event.
At my first PyCon Au I had no other conference experiences with which to compare but I recognised I had stumbled on something worthwhile and blogged about the five major benefits of attending a coding conference.
Two years on, I have attended quite a few conferences and even been privileged to speak at a couple.
In fact, a couple of people I ran into at PyCon Au this year were surprised to see me there as they had met me previously in a different context.
I have stayed true to the intention I expressed in my very first post on this blog, to expand my coding horizons by extending the limits of my language, and that has led me to become a part of multiple programming language communities. I believe each community has something to offer and — especially as someone seeking to foster women in tech — I think there is great benefit in being involved in many of them.
Looking through the lens of my experiences over the past couple of years at conferences and other events focused on a variety of languages, I can now discern that there are many things PyCon Au does particularly well.
Here are my 10 favourite features of PyCon Australia:
- Inclusion of enthusiasts. I met a lot of software engineers at this year’s PyCon Au, but I also met folks from completely different professions who just enjoy dabbling with Python. There were also many students and people from a variety of vocations wanting to learn to program to make their jobs easier. The conference schedule included talks suitable for beginners, so there was something for everyone. It was wonderful to see that people with a variety of professional backgrounds felt comfortable to attend and were warmly welcomed.
- Commitment to diversity. The IT industry is struggling with gender (and other) diversity issues, but I’ve never felt out of place as a woman at PyCon Au. It really is an inclusive event, as outlined in its Code of Conduct, and attracts quite a number of women (enough that you don’t feel like the odd one out in the crowd). Special effort is made to make sure women feel welcome with the inclusion a PyLadies breakfast on the program, which men can also attend provided they are invited by a female attendee.
- Financial aid program. When it comes to the aforementioned two points, the conference puts its money where its mouth is. Its generous financial aid program helps students, teachers and members of groups that encourage diversity to attend the conference, as well as funding presenters and other community representatives.
- Open-source sprints. The main conference event is followed by two days of sprints, where delegates come together to hack on open source code. Core developers from some of the Python ecosystem’s key projects are on hand to help out and give the support and encouragement required for attendees to be able to submit a patch with confidence. This event helps to upskill developers and documenters, and garners valuable contributions to the community.
- Prioritisation of lightning talks. Many conferences have lightning talks, but I don’t think any I have attended have given them as much space as PyCon Australia. There was an hour set aside for lightning talks on each day of PyCon Au this year, which was one of my favourite parts of the day. The delegates responded to the call for talks with gusto, delivering informative and entertaining five-minute presentations. It was nice to have so many different voices on stage.
- CodeWars. This is an event held ahead of the conference that isn’t quite like anything I’ve experienced elsewhere. Teams compete in a coding tournament described as “Seriously technical, seriously irreverent, and seriously fun”. The challenges aren’t your standard coding problems; much work goes into creating puzzles that stretch the imagination and engage the audience.
- Sit-down conference dinner. There’s something really lovely about actually sitting down and having a proper meal with your fellow delegates. The PyCon Au organisers always make sure there is plenty of good food and beverages to go along with the good company. This year there was also a brilliant keynote by MooresCloud CEO Mark Pesce during the dinner.
- Job board. PyCon Au hosts a large whiteboard where attendees can record if their companies are hiring, or if they are looking for work. It’s a simple idea but a very effective means of facilitating this valuable delegate communication.
- Next day video. All of the conference tracks were recorded this year and the videos are all expected to go live this week, with some already released. Having this assurance that recordings will be available so quickly makes it much easier when you’re agonising over which presentation to attend.
- Miniconfs. One-day Django and OpenStack events were held ahead of the main conference. The miniconfs were a new addition this year, but by all accounts they made a significant contribution to the conference experience.
Although it won’t be a regular fixture of PyCon Au, special mention should also go to the amazing setting this year’s conference had in Hobart, Tasmania.
The conference team organised a phenomenal venue, with stunning views of the harbour and Mount Wellington.
The 2013 conference was the biggest yet, attracting 310 delegates from as far afield as the United States, Europe and Asia.
Coordinator Christopher Neugebauer announced at the conference close that PyCon Au 2014 and 2015 will be held in Brisbane, so the challenge is there for us Queenslanders to make sure the next couple of years hold even bigger and better things for this excellent event.
View of Mount Wellington from inside the conference venue.
Sunrise over the harbour, as seen from the Hobart hotel hosting PyCon Au.
Functional frock: A dress fit for a Lambda Lady
Do I want to look geeky or girly today?
It’s the question I face every morning when I peer into my wardrobe. I pick out a cute dress or a programming-themed T-shirt — and in the latter case perhaps slip on my binary watch — and then get on with the rest of my day.
The trouble is, sometimes I don’t want to be forced to choose; I want to express both my geekiness and my femininity in the one outfit.
It was this desire that prompted me to start scouring the web for geeky dresses. However, to my chagrin, I didn’t find much that appealed to me. I spotted a few phenomenal Cosplay outfits, but they weren’t really my style, or the sort of thing I could wear to work without raising eyebrows.
Frustrated, I started searching for custom dress manufacturers. Again, the results were pretty disappointing. While dozens of vendors will let you create a custom T-shirt, websites offering dresses or skirts for which you can select the style and material are few and far between. I couldn’t find any offering a choice of style and the option to supply your own fabric design.
I did, however, find several websites offering custom material at a reasonable price. Determined to get my hands on a work-appropriate girl geek dress, I started dreaming up plans to learn to sew. A few minutes later I came to my senses and decided the easiest way to get what I wanted this decade was to find a dressmaker on Etsy who would happily use custom fabric.
My time spent swing dancing has given me a deep appreciation for all things vintage (1940s/1950s), so I searched for someone creating vintage-inspired couture and found the woman who would finally make my girl geek dress dream a reality, Tracy McElfresh of the aptly named Custom Dress Shop.
I designed my material print in Inkscape and uploaded the SVG to Spoonflower; it features six spirals of Haskell code expressing sorting algorithms (quick, merge, selection, bubble, insertion and cocktail) encircling a lambda, on a purple background, of course (I may be a little obsessed with purple, as anyone who has seen my hair recently will know).
I figured out the best way to size and print the design (a half-drop makes a layout that is not perfectly symmetrical look much better!) and had the fabric shipped to my wonderful dressmaker, Tracy. Within a few weeks she had created my functional frock, as well as a skirt made from the same material.
I’m not sure how unusual I am to have wanted this dress — software engineering women are a minority and of course everyone has different preferences on what they like to wear — but there may well be a market for this sort of custom girl-geekwear. At the very least, I think there would be demand for a website offering completely custom dresses (not necessarily geeky ones — any custom print) at a reasonable price. It wasn’t cheap to produce my dress, so if there are any entrepreneurs out there who would like to streamline the manufacturing process, I’d be delighted to be a product tester.
Here are some pictures of my dress and skirt from when they were being made, as well as the final results. I’m sure they’re not to everyone’s taste but I’m pretty happy with how they turned out. I don’t think having this new girl-geekwear will really make my morning wardrobe decision-making all that much easier (taking a long time to get ready is my prerogative as a woman, right :) ?), but it’s nice to have them there. Now I have an option for those days when I want to show the world I’m proud to be both a vintage-dress-loving woman and a computer geek.
Fixing flashing Fedora: Linux boot issue solution
I installed a bunch of development tools and packages today on a Linux laptop running Fedora 18 and when I restarted the machine I was only able to boot into single-user mode.
It’s not the first time that has happened to me, but the fix for this particular issue came from asking one of my kernel hacker colleagues for a bit of direction, so I thought I should document it for anyone else who might get stuck.
When the machine booted, it got to a point and then the display started flashing on and off. It would show the start-up logging, then go to black, then about two seconds later come back again — and repeat. The log output was no longer progressing.
I booted into single-user mode and had a look at the logs. I found that /var/log/messages included repeated blocks of output like this:
localhost systemd: lightdm.service: main process exited, code=exited, status=1/FAILURE
localhost systemd: Unit lightdm.service entered failed state
localhost systemd: lightdm.service holdoff time over, scheduling restart.
localhost systemd: Stopping Light Display Manager...
localhost systemd: Starting Light Display Manager...
localhost systemd: Started Light Display Manager.
This was as much detail as was provided, so I went to /var/log/lightdm to have a look at the LightDM logs.
The lightdm.log file pointed me to a failure with Greeter, but didn’t give any further details. The relevant Greeter log file finally gave me the error I was hunting for:
lightdm-gtk-greeter symbol lookup error /lib/libGL.so.1 undefined symbol _glapi_tls_Dispatch
A Google search gave me no results for this error. Before I attempted to delve any deeper myself, I asked a kernel hacker colleague, and he knew off the top of his head the packages involved and what the problem was likely to be. He advised me to check that all my Mesa packages were the same version:
rpm -qa | grep mesa
I’m not sure how or why they got that way, but the mesa-* packages were indeed from two different versions.
I updated all the Mesa packages so the versions aligned (I had to start NetworkManager first as by default there is no network access in single-user mode):
yum update mesa* -y
Problem solved. I hope this helps someone else who perhaps isn’t fortunate enough to work alongside someone like my knowledgeable colleague.