Simon Willison’s Weblog

PyCon observations

I’m back from my two week stint in the US, and currently suffering from vicious jet-lag (my body wants me to go to sleep at 5am and wake up just past noon). Herewith some observations on PyCon, SxSW and the differences between the two.

PyCon 2005 was a great conference, and a very different one from SxSW Interactive the week before. While SxSW was one big social party with panels thrown in to fill the gaps, the sessions in PyCon were the main event and the social stuff (with the exception of the sprints, which I didn’t really experience) was much less prominent. For the first day of the conference I actually found it quite hard to spark up conversations with strangers, something I’d been doing for pretty much the whole of SxSW. Things got better on the second and third days, but the lack of any organised social events and more reserved atmosphere meant I didn’t have nearly as many random social experiences as at SxSW.

The PyCon sessions really were excellent: three great keynotes (the IronPython keynote was my favourite), an excellent web track and a whole smorgasbord of interesting topics spread over the three days. I have only one big complaint: all sessions apart from the keynotes were half an hour in length. For most sessions this worked fine, but some of the more experienced presenters were obviously shackled by the half hour requirement. Bruce Eckel’s presentation was the most noticable in this regard—I love the stuff he covered, but it’s obvious he could have gone on for a lot longer without losing the attention of the crowd (he obviously thought the same).

My suggestion for next year would be to keep most of the sessions at half an hour, but schedule a small number of 45 minute sessions for presenters who are obvious candidates for longer talks. I talked to Steve Holden (this year’s organiser) briefly about this and he mentioned that 45 minute sessions lead to scheduling difficulties, particularly with respect to coordinating the different tracks. I personally think that the benefits of longer sessions for certain key topics would outweigh the scheduling disadvantages.

A few other PyCon observations:

  • There were over 400 attendees, at least a hundred more than last year. This slightly exceeded the capacity of the conference center, and they’ll be mobing to a larger (as yet undecided) venue for 2006.
  • I only attended one of the two lightning talk sessions, but it was great fun and a refreshing change from the regular panels. The highlight for me was the guy who strapped a computer to the back of his motorcycle and drove 7,000 miles across America... with Python to coordinate all of the pieces. You can read more on his site, or in this article on Py.
  • The two (sometimes three) tracks were well arranged, with few clashes between things that I wanted to see. This was in contrast to SxSW’s 5 tracks which had serious clashes pretty much all the time.
  • Everyone was hiring! The conference package we got was stacked with job brochures from the conference sponsors, and the whiteboard by the registration desk had new jobs added to it every day. Sure-fire evidence that Python is finally starting to gain significance in the job market.
  • The lunches, included in the conference price, were excellent. The price itself was great value too—early bird for students was $125, and $175 for regular attendees. Even late registration was only (from memory) $275.
  • The largest venue at the center, used for the keynotes, had no WiFi! Coverage throughout the rest of the conference was good however.
  • I finally got to join Ted Leung and friends in a SubEthaEdit session during the Python at Google keynote. It was an electrifying experience watching each slide transcribed in to the notes within seconds of it appearing on screen, with multiple lines developing at the same time. The results of our labour can be seen here. Someone really needs to put together a screencast of this kind of thing so the rest of the world knows what they’re missing.
  • Despite my observations about the less social nature of the conference above, I met some very interesting people and had a really great time.

It seems to me that Python and SxSW could learn some tricks from each other. Lightning talks and Birds-of-a-feather sessions would be a great addition to the SxSW lineup, while PyCon really does need some more thought put in to the social side of the conference. I hope to attend both again next year.

This is PyCon observations by Simon Willison, posted on 28th March 2005.

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