Tuesday, 11 September 2012 10:47

All wrapped up in Python's embrace

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Organising a conference is hard work. That's one reason why there are as yet no formal bids to host the Australian national Linux conference in 2014.

And the one group said to be putting together a bid, a group from Perth, is looking for a professional body to take over the organising.

But despite the time it takes, and the lack of any financial reward, organising conferences does tend to grow on some people. One of those is Christopher Neugebauer (aobve), a young FOSS developer from Tasmania, who last month was lead organiser for the third Australian Python conference.

Neugebauer is a regular at the annual LCA; he is on the papers committee for the upcoming LCA in January. But even if he has no official role, he is always there, willing to help in any way possible.

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His recent experience with the Python event has, if anything, made him more enthusiastic - he is planning to do a repeat next year, probably in August.

Neugebauer sees three main benefits for the local community, in this case the Python community, from such a conference.

"It gives Australian Python developers a chance to meet each other, and share their own experiences using Python," he told iTWire.

Secondly, "we get an opportunity to invite experts in from overseas to present at the conference – this helps link the Australian Python community to the global Python community.

And thirdly, "through the post-conference development sprints, we give developers a chance to work on important Open Source Python projects in a face-to-face setting (which is a rather rare opportunity)."

Asked whether a conference should have a broad range of subjects or be confined to just one, Neugebauer said that if the community can sustain a stand-alone conference, then it was a good idea.

"In the case of Python, it's allowed our community to gather in the one place, and present on much more in-depth and detailed Python topics," he said. "Previously, our community was scattered amongst various conferences (OSDC (the annual open source developers conference) and LCA to name but two), and we weren't presenting (in) nearly as much detail.

"That said, there are still Python talks happening at both OSDC and LCA, but they're far more generalist, which is how it should be."


Linux Australia, the umbrella organisation for Linux user groups in the country, provides support for the Python conference which takes place under its aegis.

"We've been working on it intermittently since April 2011 (when we started putting the bid together), but the majority of the hard work has been in the last few months - handling registrations, dealing with higher than expected attendance," Neugebauer said.

As for the budget, he is not in a position to confirm how much the conference ended up costing, or the income. But it is generally the case that no conference of this kind runs at a loss.

While some conferences have issues with less people than expected showing up, Neugebauer did not encounter this problem - 240 people registered, and 230 showed up.

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"It was definitely worth it – we brought together Python developers from all around Australia, as well as New Zealand, Japan, India and the United States, and they all shared valuable knowledge and experience in all aspects of the Python ecosystem," he said.

Many conference regulars see the face-to-face interaction that these events offer as being the biggest reason for holding them. Neugebauer agrees.

"Absolutely. This is why our conference consists both of talks (for the first two days), and sprints (for the next two days)," he said.

"Our development sprints allow developers, who are normally geographically dispersed, to work together at the same location, and it helps a project get new developer talent on board – having someone experienced walk a new developer through an unfamiliar codebase can be invaluable.

"As for the conference days, it gives people a chance to talk to the developers of software they use in their day-to-day work, ask them difficult questions, and learn about things they otherwise wouldn't have looked into.

"And for many developers, some of whom may be the only Python developers in their workplace, it gives them a chance to interact with other Python developers, and to meet people with shared interests in their work. All in all, these things completely justify the effort of running a conference."


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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