PyCon 2019 review

published by Ben Allen

PyCon conference badge for Ben Allen. Twitter handle @benjaminallen

PyCon is a special event. I say this in the broadest possible context. It's not just a great programming language conference. It's an amazing event in the context of all events I might consider going to.

PyCon 2019 was my second time attending PyCon and it was the 2nd year that the event was held in Cleveland, OH, USA.

What makes PyCon so great?

There are many things:

  • The people. It's great to meet people with a similar interest. Everyone I engaged with was really nice and happy to share their experience.
  • The diversity. This is not a programming conference full of white men. PyCon is a diverse crowd and that diversity of thought improves Python and PyCon. The atmosphere is super-inclusive.
  • The events. There are loads of things to do. Obviously there are talks, but that's the tip of the iceberg. Open spaces, an Education Summit, an opening reception, a newcomer orientation, a fun run, charity dinners and auctions, mentored Sprints, and the list goes on.
  • The conference setup. There's a child care option, a quiet room, loads of space to sit down and chat with people or get work done. The conference is accessible. All talks have live captions and are available on YouTube a few days after the event.

Things I did differently at PyCon 2019

While I enjoyed PyCon 2018, I wanted to try new things during my second visit to PyCon.

Education Summit

I went to the Education Summit on the Thursday prior to the main conference. I'm passionate about Computer Science education and teaching others computer programming so this seemed like a great fit. Also, it was free to attend!

The Education Summit was a relatively small event with approximately 60-75 people. Attendees came from a wide range of backgrounds: teachers, volunteer teachers, teaching consultants, university lecturers, researchers, and interested parents like myself.

The morning had a few talks, and the afternoon had lightning talks and mini-sprints. There were a few themes in the talks: programming pedagogy, the role of Python certification within education, and open education resources.

During the mini-sprints I took part in a pair programming research exercise. The question under consideration was "does pair programming help the learning experience?". I paired with a local Cleveland teacher and we solved some toy problems in Python. Pair programming was really fun and I can definitely see pros and cons of using this technique in the classroom.

Overall, the Education Summit was a great learning experience and I'd definitely do it again.

Open spaces & Circuit Playground Express

One of the items that was top of my to-do list for my second PyCon was Open Spaces. Open Spaces are like mini-meetups. At the start of the conference there is a blank Open Spaces board. Attendees interested in running an Open Space add a topic to the board, and folks interested in attending an Open Space review the board and then show up at the designated room at the designated time. Topics covered during Open Spaces can vary from Python Security to knitting. There was even a Game of Thrones open space!

I went to the Circuit Playground Express Open Space. I went on Saturday and enjoyed it so much that I went again on Sunday. Everyone at PyCon got a Circuit Playground Express within their swag bag so the open space was a great opportunity to learn how to use it.

Front and back of the Circuit Playground Express

Pythonistas can program the Circuit Playground Express using CircuitPython. The CircuitPython team were running the Open Space and provided worksheets so that folks could learn more about Circuit Playground Express and CircuitPython. The exercises were fun and I learnt a lot.

I've heard about the power of "physical computing" to engage those new to programming but until this Open Space I had never experienced it for myself. After 5 minutes of playing with Circuit Playground Express I totally got the concept. There is an indescribable sense of satisfaction you get from writing code to make a LED blink. I'm looking forward to playing with Circuit Playground Express and CircuitPython a lot more.

So, Open Spaces, super cool and I'd do more again.

Preserving energy

Multi-day conferences are a marathon, not a sprint. You need to be careful not to burn out. I did a couple of things differently this year to keep my energy and engagement high.

Ben's socks with Python and VS Code logos.

First, I gave myself permission to miss talks, even talks I wanted to see. PyCon talks are available on YouTube shortly after the conference. If you miss a talk at the conference then you can always catch up on YouTube. If I wasn't 100% excited about a talk or if I knew I was struggling with energy then I didn't attend a talk.

In addition to missing talks, I made sure to book a day off work after PyCon. I used the day to catch up on life and say "Hi!" to my wife who had kindly looked after the family while I was having a great time at PyCon. This was also a great time to recharge batteries and reconnect with the real world.

Other highlights

Adafruit Box 6. A lunchbox full of electronics.
  • I got to meet tons of interesting people. A couple with a strong connection to my home town, Reading, UK.
  • The expo hall was great. Great chatting with Michael Kennedy and Brian Okken from Python Bytes, and it was fun to see and play with Anvil .
  • Sha Wallace-Stepter's keynote on the role programming can play to those in incarceration was thought provoking and shone a light on an important topic for discussion.
  • Being able to say "thank you" to open source contributors who build products I use and love.


PyCon 2019 in Cleveland was awesome. The organizers of the event did an amazing job and I was fortunate to live in Cleveland as the event was passing through. I'm looking forward to PyCon 2020 in Pittsburgh 🐍👍.

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