How to Get the Most Out of PyCon

Real Python at PyCon US 2019

by Ricky White Jul 15, 2019 community
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There are many PyCons all over the world each year, but the biggest of them all is PyCon US (United States). This year, over 3000 Pythonistas descended on Cleveland, Ohio, to learn, collaborate, contribute, and meet old and new friends alike. I’m sure many of you are already aware of what PyCon US is, but if not, then I would suggest reading our guide to PyCon to learn more.

Our First PyCon Together

This year, Real Python was afforded the opportunity to join other content creators at the PyCharm Content Creators booth, where we got to spend some time meeting readers and members of the Real Python community. Oh, and we gave out a ton of Real Python stickers, and we ran out of stock completely! Did you get yours?

Real Python Team Photo at PyCon 2019

The team was also excited for our authors Geir Arne Hjelle and Anthony Shaw, who were also there as speakers. You can catch the recordings of their talks on Plugins: Adding Flexibility to Your Apps and Wily Python: Writing simpler and more maintainable Python on the PyCon YouTube channel.

We were also lucky enough to be able to arrange a Real Python open space at PyCon for our readers. We had a phenomenal turnout, with 30 people in attendance.

It was a great opportunity for us to not only get to shake your hands and thank you for helping us with your encouragement and feedback but also to make sure we can continue to push and produce better and better content. Listening to the feedback from those who attended was an amazing experience, and we will be taking some of the ideas generated going forward to help us deliver a better reading and learning experience to you.

Despite the daily conversation in the member and staff Slack groups, most of the Real Python team had never met each other in person. Meeting my colleagues face to face and sharing a meal or beer with them was definitely one of the highlights of the whole conference for me personally.

But I decided to ask the rest of the team about their experience, in hopes that we could come up with some helpful advice or actionable tips for you in case you have yet to attend your first PyCon.

I asked the same three questions to a few of the team members who attended PyCon and collated their answers below. The questions were:

  1. Can you briefly tell us who you are and what you do, in and out of Real Python? Was this your first PyCon? If so, what made 2019 the year you decided to go for the first time?
  2. What were the highlights of your PyCon? What memories will you have of PyCon 2019?
  3. There is so much to do at PyCon that it’s impossible to do everything. What was something you didn’t get the chance to do but wish you had?

Welcome to Cleveland PyCon 2019

Team Interviews

Without further ado, let’s see what they had to say.

Jim Anderson

Jim Anderson

I’m Jim Anderson, and I’m an embedded firmware developer by day, mainly working in C++ to produce video security cameras. I get to do a bit of Python at work as well. At Real Python, I’m an author and a technical reviewer, generally tending towards articles that are either low-level, tool related, or general CS topics.

This was my first PyCon. I finally decided to go just due to the excitement I was seeing about it in the Real Python community. Folks that I knew who had been previously talked it up so much. They were right.

There were so many highlights! Getting to finally meet some of my Real Python co-workers was very cool, of course, as was hanging out in the content-creators section of the PyCharm booth. (Thanks, JetBrains!)

I’d say that the best memory I have, the one that really solidified the atmosphere in my mind, was seeing a friend from PythonistaCafe and PyCon talking with someone who was working the venue cleaning up. She was so taken by the friendliness of the conference that she was asking about it and figuring out how she could be a part of it next year. Maybe we’ll get to see her in Pittsburgh.

There was a talk that I had scheduled to go to and just blew the timing and missed. It was Building an Open Source Artificial Pancreas, and I’m still disappointed I didn’t make it. It’s a great topic and a great talk.

Geir Arne Hjelle

Geir Arne Hjelle

My name is Geir Arne Hjelle, and I grew up in a small village in the north of Norway. Currently, I live in Oslo where I work with different data science and machine learning projects. Most of the time, I get to use Python and the excellent data science stack built on top of numpy.

I have been writing for Real Python since the spring of 2018, mostly about general Python packages and concepts. My first article was about the pathlib package, and I’m currently working on one about how imports work. In addition, I support other authors by doing reviews of their articles, both outline reviews and technical reviews.

This year was my first PyCon US. I live in Norway, so I mainly attend conferences in Europe. This fall, I will be at EuroSciPy for the fifth time. However, after joining the Real Python team, I was really tempted by the opportunity to meet some of my new friends and colleagues out in the wild.

James and I managed to meet up last summer, but otherwise I mainly knew the team by their Slack avatars. Meeting and hanging out with the rest of the Real Python gang, and nerding out over some of the reviews we’ve done for each other are great memories I’ll treasure for a long time.

There is so much happening at PyCon. I went all in and stayed for the tutorials, the main conference, and parts of the sprints. I really enjoyed all of it.

The tutorials were great, including David Beazley’s deep dive into lambda calculus. (Yay, math!) I was lucky enough to get to give a talk during the conference, which was a lot of fun. I was very well taken care of before my presentation: I think this is the first time I’ve had my own room for preparations, and someone walking me over to the presentation room.

Afterwards, I got some very nice and interesting questions. During the sprints, I got to help out a little on the new importlib.metadata library Jason Coombs and Barry Warsaw are putting together for Python 3.8. It was great to see first-hand how some of the core developers are working.

I had so many great experiences in Cleveland that it’s hard to think of things I didn’t have a chance to do. Although, I’ll admit that at this PyCon, I was quite focused on myself (especially with my talk being during the last session of the conference).

Next time, I’ll set aside some time for volunteering and make sure to support the running of the conference more than I did this time around. It was great to see how everybody chipped in: I was welcomed and checked in by Ernest W. Durbin III, who was also the chair of the whole conference.

James Mertz

James Mertz

I’m James Mertz, and I’m a Software Assurance Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). I’m currently working on the Europa Clipper project, which is a satellite that will be orbiting around Jupiter and making very close trips near the moon Europa. I’ve been writing for Real Python for about a year now with topics ranging from documenting Python to how to get the most out of PyCon.

This is my fourth year at PyCon, so I’m starting to get to know my way around the conference, although each year it’s different enough to keep bringing me back. This year was by far the best for me for two reasons: volunteering and meeting up with the Real Python gang (both the authors and the readers).

In my guide on How to Get the Most Out of PyCon, I really put a focus on volunteering at PyCon. I realized that, while I had done some things in years past, I hadn’t really practiced what I was preaching. I decided to fully embrace this and tried to help in every way I could.

By the end of the conference, I had:

  • Been a tutorial “bouncer” for David Beazley’s deep dive into lambda Calculus
  • Helped with registration check-in and even got to check in Michael Kennedy from Python Bytes and Talk Python to Me
  • Done the swag bag stuffing line dance DJ-ed by Larry Hastings
  • Been a session staff runner (the person who makes sure the speaker is in the room on time)
  • Been a session staff chair (the person who introduces the speaker)

Through it all, I made some really amazing connections and felt great being able to contribute a little to the community that I love so much.

Speaking of community, meeting up with the Real Python community was another big highlight. As authors, we really don’t get many chances to meet with each other face to face. Therefore, to finally meet up with some of the people that I’ve come to know so well digitally, in the physical world, was a surreal experience. What made it better was that, even though we were all from different places in the world with different life experiences, we were able to quickly build a team spirit.

Perhaps even better than meeting my other Real Python team members, was meeting you, the readers. We held our first Real Python open space, where many of you stopped by to chat. As an author for a digital publisher, it’s hard sometimes to connect with the people that you’re writing for, but for me, that has become easier.

All attendees of the Real Python Open Space seated at PyCon

This year’s PyCon experience was overall fairly balanced as I got to do a lot of networking, seeing talks and tutorials, and even volunteering. The only thing that I could think that I wish I could’ve done was to give a presentation of some sort. That’s what next year is for though.

Dan Bader

Dan Bader

Hey I’m Dan Bader, and I’m the owner and editor-in-chief here at Real Python. I also do all of the back-end and front-end development for the Django-based CMS and other infrastructure that realpython.com runs on.

I’m a long-time Pythonista and super passionate about teaching Python. Publishing my own Python programming book was a lifelong dream and getting to run Real Python together with an awesome team now is the icing on the cake!

This year was my fifth PyCon, and it won’t be the last, that’s for sure…

My personal highlights were hanging out with the Real Python tutorial team and meeting many of them in person for the first time. That just made my heart jump! We went out for food and drinks a couple of nights, and one random memory that I’ll probably never forget is finding out how much Logan loves the Golden Girls TV show : - D

During the day, the nice folks at JetBrains gave us some space at their PyCharm booth, so we all got to wear our Real Python swag and chat with readers as well as hand out stickers and pins. That was super fun!

Another great memory is the Real Python open space we organized where several dozen readers and members showed up to say “hi.” That just blew my mind and was one of my favorite PyCon experiences so far!

I felt pretty burned out when I first arrived at PyCon after working non-stop for a couple of months on the launch of our video subscriptions feature, and seeing this massive turnout felt amazing. I didn’t really know what to say at first! Thanks everybody for stopping by :)

This year was also the second time we hosted an open-space meetup for the PythonistaCafe forum, and it was super cool to see how this wacky little project has sparked such a tightly knit and awesome community now.

All attendees of the Real Python Open Space at PyCon

Another highlight was recording a live episode of the Talk Python podcast together with Mike Kennedy. Always a treat hanging out with this guy :)

I wish I would’ve had more time to go to talks. I was super impressed with the talks that Geir Arne and Anthony from the Real Python Tutorial Team gave. Be sure to check out the recordings when you have the chance.

Happy Pythoning, and see you next year!


Summary

Ricky White holding a Python themed staff

Regardless of the location, a PyCon is a joyous experience. Whether you are meeting colleagues, online friends, or strangers who share a passion other than Python, it’s the people that make the experience special. The old saying, “came for the language, but stayed for the community” never rings more true than at PyCon US.

No two Pythonistas are the same, and there is something for everyone in the diversity of the events, talks, and tutorials taking place. Personally, I’m looking forward to next year’s PyCon already. Schedule permitting, I’ll make every effort to join the sprints in 2020. But even if I don’t get to tick that off my list, I already know that next year I’ll be excited to meet you and many others in spite of my introversion.

If you were at PyCon US and came to say “hi,” or joined us for the Real Python or PythonistaCafe open spaces, then leave a comment below and let us know what your favorite part of PyCon was. What’s your one tip you would give someone who will be attending any PyCon for the first time next year? Happy coding!

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About Ricky White

Ricky White

Ricky is a Python Developer and Writer who has a tendency to refer to himself in the third person. By day he is a stay-at-home dad, and by night he's a crime-fighting ninja. He can often be found in a local coffee shop, or at rickywhite.dev.

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