Life Of Navin

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Review: PyCon India 2013


The 2013 edition of PyCon India ended yesterday. The event has scaled beautifully over the years, and the level of PyCon India has definitely gone up by a few notches, year over year. Despite a few challenges (mentioned at the end of this post), I personally believe PyCon India has had a strong effect in encouraging Python developers, from newbies to baptized Pythonistas, to work hard, and create awesome stuff. As a volunteer for the event, I had a lot of fun getting to know the who's who of the Indian Python community, meeting old friends, and hanging out with new ones. :)

My favorite talks from PyCon India 2013:
1) Kenneth Reitz's keynote (aka "Python for Humans - Remix"):
Kenneth's keynote was a great talk, focusing on Open Source, and how we, as developers need to work towards developing products that are made FOR developers. Also touching on things that open source contributors and maintainers, need to remember. It was a lovely talk along the lines of "With great power comes great responsibility", and personally very enlightening.

2) "We're Building Skynet and it loves Python" by Dhananjay Sathe:
I couldn't attend the whole talk, but the bits I could attend, I really liked. Dhananjay spoke about cloud robotics, and border-lined on a lot of tech that sci-fi movie makers would be proud of. The guys at RoboEarth are doing a tonne of really cool robotics stuff, and it was super cool to have a glimpse at the stuff they're working on.


3) "Predicting Black Swan Events" by Michael McKerns:
This was a hardcore mathematical talk  by Michael from CalTech, speaking about frameworks such as Pathos and Mystic, and their use to solve real world prediction problems known as Black Swan events (i.e. events whose occurence is rare, but reward on occurrence is very large.). Having moved a little towards multidimensional, unconstrained problems over the last few months, this talk was very very interesting to me.

4) "Experiments in data mining, entity disambiguation and how to think data-structures for designing beautiful algorithms" by Ekta Grover:
Ekta's talk on data mining web scraped data, specifically from LinkedIn, was a real cool talk about the challenges faced during the process of Data Mining. Having worked with some very large datasets in the past, and having had a fair bit of experience in data mining, this talk was helpful for me to clarify lots of things. Though showcasing almost no code, which is something I would have liked, this talk was very interesting

5) "Scrape the web using Scrapy" by Anuvrat Parashar 
The final talk I attended at PyCon India 2013 was the talk by Anuvrat. Scrapy is one of my favorite Python web scraping modules, and Anuvrat had a very entertaining talk on the same. Laced with witty humor, real-life experience and lots of live-coding (Yay! :D), the talk on Scrapy was the cherry on the cake. A well deserved awesome ending to an awesome conference.


Besides the talks, I had a couple of really interesting talks with people from different segments of society, who attended PyCon, ranging from students to industry professionals. Special mention of Ajith Kumar sir, who works with particle accelerators for a day job, and promotes Python with a passion. His concepts of focusing on IT-enabled education, rather than just IT education (i.e using Computer Science as a tool to aid other fields of knowledge) was really practical,and concepts like that go a long way in helping bring Computer Science into the mainstream.

The panel discussion on Python in Education, which was a first of PyCon India was a really live discussion, and brought many topics, which need to be discussed, out in the open. The landmark judgement by CBSE has brought Python to the spotlight, and it's up to each one of us to ensure that all the work that's gone into this doesn't end up going to waste.

Coffee chats with the guys from BlueJeans, and other PyCon India volunteers (which included people from RedHat, Fedora, Apigee, Agiliq, a couple Mozilla Campus reps, and an Oracle employee too :P), and dinner with the guys from Goibibo was a lot of fun, and I personally gained a lot of insight from these small conversations with like-minded hackers. :)


The major challenge I see PyCon India facing is that with more people learning about python, the attendees at PyCon are people ranging from newbies to advanced users, and hence the talks need to be decided in a better manner. I had a few people tell me that they felt the talks this year were too advanced, while others said they were too n00bie-oriented. This is a challenge that has no easy solution, but needs to be looked at. Another issue was the issue of speakers' suggesting one paper during the CFP, and presenting on a completely different topic altogether. Again, this is a very subjective matter, and we need to make sure from our side that presentations don't become too commercial in nature. It is understandable why companies want to use PyCon as a platform to pitch products, but during a talk is not the place to do it. Dhananjay Nene came up with this really thoughtful conference speaker checklist :

* First think of what value the audience is going to get out of it, not the sales value or the bragging rights for the speaker.
* If you are going to talk about how cool your company is, get it done very quickly, in the first couple of minutes.
* Realize the core value the audience seeks. If they are a bunch of python developers don't stick them with a long lecture on consumer psychology. Give them something that they as python developers find useful.
* Do not make the title of the talk much grander than the content. The two need to be consistent
* Keep the title of your talk unambiguous. Else you will have a larger proportion of bored, uninterested audience, who will frequently be walking out of your talk.
* Don't reuse sales collateral blindly. Pass it through the relevance filter
* And please don't just talk about what considerations programs should be written with - show the code.

Overall, PyCon India 2013 was a lot of fun, and I can't wait for the 2014 edition to come by. Until then, import antigravity and keep hacking.

PS Hat-tip to the designers of PyCon India 2013... The banners, tees, etc were all excellent, and easily the best amongst the last few iterations of PyCon India :)

2 comments :

k4rtik said...

The Oracle employee has been (and is) a FOSS supporter and enthusiast for quite a few years now (cf. http://k4rtik.wordpress.com/?s=foss). ;-)

Navin Pai said...

Hehe... I know boss, I know. :) Just casually pulling your leg :P

No offence intended :D