I recently attended my first conference, PyCon 2016! Spoiler alert: it went really well.

PyCon is a convention for the Python programming language. A big thank you to Titus for making it possible for me to go. I always learn a lot when I assume the role of a fish out of water, and this was no exception. Also, Portland is a really cool city!

Expectations beforehand

I haven’t been to an academic or tech conference before and didn’t know what to expect, leading to an irrational worry that being less experienced than most attendees would negatively impact my experience, as my background is in chemistry and biology. At some point on the plane ride to Portland, I realized that PyCon is similar to swing dancing workshops I have previously attended: it’s for people at various levels coming together because of a shared passion, and it caters to multiple skill levels.

First Two Days - Tutorials

Before the main conference started, there were two days of tutorials at ranging from novice to advanced. I was a helper for a tutorial on Saturday and one on Sunday:

  1. Creating, Building, and Maintaining a Python Project by Titus Brown, Luiz Irber, and Camille Scott. (video here)

  2. Data Carpentry - Introduction to Python for Data Analysis and Visualization by Tracy Teal (video here Camille and Luiz were also helpers for that).

Bad wifi was a problem for both of these lessons, but overall they went well.

Here’s a picture of the dream team, Luiz, Camille, and Titus, for your enjoyment.

Exploring Portland

Of course, I did the touristy thing and checked out Powell’s Books and only bought three books.

I bought some beautiful artwork from What If Creations from the Saturday market. The purrmaid really spoke to my soul.

At the same market, I saw Fleeting States’ booth. She makes artwork using equations relevant to the subject. Super neat!

I also managed to fit in some swing dancing on Sunday night, and I’m happy to report that Portland lindy hoppers are very friendly and welcoming.

Here are some of my favorite talks I attended (althought there are a few I still plan on watching on YouTube.

  • Git: a peek under the hood by Clara Bennett - This clarified a few concepts for me, and it was interesting to see this method of teaching git. Plus, there are emojis in the slide notes!

  • A Beginner’s Guide to Deep Learning by Irene Chen - This was an AWESOME talk. Irene used a great avocado metaphor for a problem solvable by machine learning (given enough data on the color and squishy-ness of enough avocados, can we determine if an avocado is ripe?), and it’s worth watching just to see how the material was presented. Slides here

  • Bake the Cookies, Wear the Dress: Connecting with Confident Authenticity by Adrienne Lowe - A great talk about being confident in yourself and going against sometimes bad advice. My favorite part was when Adrienne talked about giving her first talk at a PyTennessee and feeling nervous because she was actively documenting her learning process on her blog, https://codingwithkniv.es/- that felt very relatable to me!

  • Machete-mode debugging: Hacking your way out of a tight spot by Ned Batchelder - This was also well presented. I don’t do much heavy Python debugging, but this was an interesting glimpse into that world. Slides and awesome documentation are here.

  • Statistics for Hackers by Jake Vanderplas - This has a deep Dr. Seuss metaphor through the situation examples, which is impressive in itself. Also, this was a good overview of several statistics concepts, and I am always happy to learn more about that. Slides here.

And some noteable lightning talks -

  • Terian Koscik gave a talk on how to create twitter bots that do funny things. Please at least check out how great this website layout is http://www.pineconedoesthings.com/tweetbots.html (I miiiiiiiight be drawing inspiration from that the next time I give my blog design some love)

  • Someone gave a great talk just on python facts! As in the genus. I am pretty sure this is her.

  • Cut up haiku poetry generated by prosaic by Nate Smith. This twitterbot just tweets them.

Software Carpentry Open Space Meet Up

An Open Space is a reserved space for whatever people would like to organize, in this case Software Carpentry. Some people with questions about the organization were able to come and get information. The two questions we couldn’t help with were:

  1. Is there intermediate level teaching material I can use for people who have completed the regular material?

  2. How can I find out about the next round instructor training? The website provides insufficient information on this.

The consensus on the first question was that it is very difficult to run intermediate level workshops, especially to package them in the way that Software Carpentry has. The second question prompted an email to Software Carpentry admin, but I’m not sure what came of this.

On Being a Woman at a Tech Conference

The smaller population of women at the conference was immediately palpable, but after two days of tutorials, I felt pretty comfortable in the venue. I was extremely pleased with the social infrastructure set up by the organizers. The announcement of the Code of Conduct during the opening remarks was met with applause, and it was pretty awesome to see Lorena Barba as the first keynote speaker in front of what appeared to be a sea of the backs of mens’ heads (I know the imagery is strange- but that is what it felt like!).

And maybe PyCon passes the Bechdel test for conferences? (My tweet about Lorena is the one being referred to here.)

I really appreciate the effort that the organizers and greater community puts into making Python a comfortable environment. 40% of the talks were given by women and it was cool to see Guido van Rossum, creator/”Benevolent Dictator” of Python wear a “Python is for Girls” shirt (visible here). I wasn’t able to attend the PyLadies lunch, but I did go to the charity auction (and won a toy for the lab in the raffle!), which was full of awesome people.

It’s difficult to comment on how my gender affected affected social situations because so many factors are involved. I would say people erred slightly on the side of not striking up conversation or being overly polite when I was by myself, but I also had good conversations while flying solo. I never felt intentional friction because of my gender in social situations, so that’s a win in my book.


Again thanks to Titus, and also Luiz and Camille for hanging out with me! I learned a lot, including the art of getting as many free T shirts from company booths as possible, but also a lot about the Python community and things I’ve been meaning to learn about (how machine learning works, more stats). I also learned that it is possible to run a Jupyter Notebook using Microsoft’s Azure hosting service from my cell phone, which is something I made work in order to get a free bar of chocolate.


And of course, I gained a few laptop stickers. Isn’t that the point of going to these things, anyway?