In this interview, we discuss how Ewa started her tech journey, how COVID-19 affected the PSF, plans for PyCon US 2021, her love of hiking and lifting weights, and much more.
Ricky: Thank you for joining me, Ewa. You’ve been at the PSF for over nine years at this point, first as the events coordinator, then as the director of operations, and now as the executive director. I’m curious to know a little about your background, how you found your way in the PSF, and why you’re so passionate about Python.
Ewa: That is a great question—and not one I get asked often!
I was first introduced to PyCon through my previous employer, where I was a meeting planner, account manager, and eventually a software engineer! We were contracted in 2008 to help out in several ways: We helped with logistical conference planning and eventually built a registration site for PyCon and managed hotel reservations. Back then, we were programming using PHP and Informix 4GL.
I implemented many first-time registration functionalities, such as how people signed up for tutorials! Of course, PyCon has its own system now, but the flow of it is still based on what was created for PyCon 2009.
Going to PyCon in 2008 and 2009 inspired me to get my CS degree through night school. Even though it didn’t offer any Python courses, it helped uncover more of the tech scene for me.
In 2011 I left my previous employer to adventure around Europe for a couple of years, and the PSF offered me a part-time position to work on PyCon! By June of 2012 I was offered full-time employment since PyCon really took off when it was in Santa Clara, California. A couple months later, the PSF’s part-time administrator left, and that responsibility was added to my role.
Through that role I received a lot of exposure to what the PSF did outside of PyCon and our wonderful community. From that time, the PSF really began to flourish, and the support we provided (and continue to provide) to the Python community continued to evolve.
The board realized that employing one full-time employee (me) and one half-time employee (Kurt B. Kaiser) was not enough and we needed to improve our bus factor. I was promoted to director of operations and became in charge of hiring and managing our staff. Fast-forward several years and the PSF and its staff continue to grow, and my role with the PSF has evolved along with it.
Stealing bits of Brett Cannon’s motto, I can say that I came from PyCon, but I stayed for the community 😉
Ricky: The unfortunate cancellation of PyCon US 2020 (which was subsequently moved to a virtual event) last year was a tremendous blow to the PSF from a funding point of view. But with the announcement that PyCon US 2021 will also be virtual, what are your hopes for this year’s PyCon, and what can attendees look forward to? How has the continued impact of the global pandemic affected the day-to-day of the PSF?
Ewa: Python itself continues to evolve, and so do the needs of our community. My wish for this year is for people to tune in to those changes and stay up to date with new features and learn what people have been doing with Python lately. My wish is for people to come to PyCon US and work together on something that will help our open source community! Also, my ambition for PyCon US is to provide some hope for our community.
Attending an in-person PyCon provides so much fulfillment and allows us to see our Python family. That fulfillment has been missing this past year. I hope that seeing each other, even if in chat, will provide some joy. I hear from so many that folks are burned out from virtual events and I totally understand that feeling—it’s just not the same.
But I do hope that this year’s PyCon fills us with a bit of joy and gets us even more excited about PyCon US 2022 in Salt Lake City (fingers crossed). We all need something fun to look forward to!
PyCon US is the PSF’s largest fundraiser, so hosting it even virtually is vital to funding current operations. Even if we are researching ways to diversify our revenues, PyCon US continues to be our largest program. We hope that folks register and attend the event. I am sure there will be great quality tutorials and talks and many opportunities to engage virtually.
Ricky: The PSF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and relies on the support and contributions of the community, in addition to its financial partners, to keep the lights on. Aside from donations, what ways can the reader help support the PSF to ensure Python has another successful thirty-plus years?
Ewa: A nonprofit needs support and involvement from all stakeholders to be successful. Donations from individuals are important. Sponsorships from companies are important. Incoming grants are important.
In March of this year, the PSF will have a director of resource development starting to help us spearhead all these types of fundraising. Our staff is also working on ways we can diversify our revenue, knowing we need to be less reliant on PyCon US’s revenue.
Volunteers are just as important! I created a page a couple years back that lists other ways people can get involved. It helps to have a variety of involvement, but I know time and money always need to be taken into consideration. I am happy even if someone just follows us on Twitter or subscribes to our newsletter.
Readers can help by advocating the PSF to their employer networks, and this even explains why it is important to fund our nonprofit. The PSF is in this crucial growth point where it not only needs to fund itself as is, but it needs more funding to do more since the demand is there from CPython and Packaging.
If you know someone from an organization (contacts from tech departments, open source offices, recruiting, etc.) that can help us fund some work, make a connection. I love meeting with company representatives and getting to know their needs.
Readers can help by volunteering! For example, board elections will be in June of this year. If you know of anyone that may be interested, help them with their nomination when the time comes. Nomination period will start May 6.
Readers can help by becoming members! We are also holding a membership drive for the whole month of March to celebrate Python’s 30th anniversary. We need a voting membership that represents the global use of Python. Sign up today: Managing/Contributing, Supporting, or Basic!
Through a mix of all of the above, we can continue to sustain the PSF and, more importantly, continue to support our community.
Ricky: What’s the biggest challenge you see in the future for the PSF or the community on the whole? And how can the community help to get ahead of it?
Ewa: I wish funding wasn’t the answer, but it is. It will be many years until it isn’t our biggest challenge. There are so many ways we can put funding to work, and of course prioritizing how we spend funding is also important.
One big challenge is going to be to ensure our finances are stable for us to hire more people. It’s crucial for the PSF to continue to grow its staff so we have an appropriate structure in place to support community needs. We want to continue to receive grants for off projects, so we will need the staff to manage that work.
If we want to hire more help with CPython or even a project manager for Packaging (which I can tell you, we want to do!), we will need the structure to manage those new roles. We now have seven employees, so we have come a long way, but there is still more we need to do to ensure our staff and programs are supported.
I really appreciate that the PSF has grown from the ground up, and our current successes are largely attributed to us having the staff to make our programs successful. The same applies for any additional programs we want to provide for our community.
Funding a full-time person and providing them with an environment where they can succeed (and to make sure their needs are met, like insurance, etc.) is not a small dollar amount.
Ricky: Now just a few last questions. What else do you get up to in your spare time? What other hobbies and interests do you have aside from Python?
Ewa: As the ED, my day-to-day involves zero coding (haven’t coded in my day job for more than ten years now, kinda sad about that!). But I do love to jump into bits here and there!
My hobbies change depending on the season. Around this time in Chicago, the winter is winding down, and I begin working on my garden! This year I am germinating avocado trees (for indoor use), beets, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, corn, sunflowers, flowers, and many herbs. By June, my garden is like a jungle 😀
In the winter months, I love reading and baking! Even taking some weekend courses—currently learning about machine learning! And throughout the year, I love being active. I love going on hikes with our dog, lifting heavy weights, and running.
Ricky: Thank you for joining me, Ewa. It was a pleasure. And good luck with the March members drive.
If you’d like to help support the PSF to ensure that Python stays relevant for years to come, then head over to Python.org and become a member or upgrade or renew your existing membership.
If there’s someone in the Python community that you’d like me to interview, then leave a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter. Happy coding!