This past weekend, a few Emma developers made our way down to Atlanta for the annual PyCon conference. We’ve returned with a whole lot of new ideas, education and inspiration to sort through and put into practice. For me, a first-time PyCon attendee, I was impressed by the significant emphasis Python developers put on expanding and improving the community they’ve created. Considering Emma loves a good community, it was encouraging to see similar community in a slightly nerdier context.
Developers who use and contribute to open source projects know that, despite the reputation we have for not being social, there’s great value in the community that evolves out of those contributions. PyCon 2011 was a perfect representation of that community, and not just because we’re the only ones who would laugh at Hilary Mason’s joke about list comprehension. Or even know who Hilary Mason is, for that matter.
Most of the weekend revolved around 30– and 45-minute speaker sessions covering all matter of Python fundamentals and in-depth explorations of particular frameworks and strategies. Sessions like these with several hundred people in attendance seem like they’d be suited to a one-sided presentation rather than a community gathering. But, with the help of some of the social technology we love so much, sidebar conversations were happening in almost every session on Twitter and Convore, a real-time chat web app.
Aside from creating mini-communities surrounding each speaker session, Convore also served as a simple, asynchronous bulletin board. I watched throughout the day as developers organized impromptu meet-ups about everything from technology in music (where I met the Django Reinhardt fan who named the Django web framework) to how to use your hacking skills to promote free speech in countries suffering political unrest.
Convore also served as a way to encourage some charity. On the first morning of the conference, we awoke to news of the earthquake and tsunami damage in Japan. I got online and started asking how developers at PyCon could help with disaster relief over the weekend. Within three hours, we had someone on stage encouraging us to donate to Red Cross and using the #pyconcares hashtag we’d started to promote positive peer pressure at the conference. By the end of the weekend, donations totaling over $2,500 had been tweeted, with developers giving as much as $100 each and the Python Software Foundation chipping in $1,100 of their own. It was impressive how easily the technology we work with every day made a fundraising effort a non-challenge.
But developers also like to give back with their skills in a very real way to enhance the tools we use in our work every day. As I write this, many PyCon attendees are still in Atlanta for a week of “code sprints.” Meeting space in the conference center has been reserved so Python developers can collaborate on fixes and new features to their favorite open-source code bases. It truly was a sight to see how many developers are sacrificing sleep and work time to contribute to the greater good.
There’s a lot of emphasis on community here at Emma, and it was encouraging to see a similar display of excitement and involvement in the Python developer community at PyCon. We’ve come back to the Nashville office with a lot of ideas — not just about how to continue to improve the Emma service, but also how we as developers can contribute in bigger ways.