Jeff’s experiences at #PyConUS2022 @adafruit

jepler has just returned from attending PyCon. Here are their notes about the experience:

As many of you know, I’m a long time user of Python. I actually went to the inaugural PyCon in Washington DC (Georgetown) in 2003. I didn’t have enough professional involvement (or enough personal time off) to return until I started with Adafruit in 2019. As most of you know, the organizers made the difficult (but absolutely correct) decision to cancel in 2020 and 2021 so I had to wait until now to attend in person.

This year, Adafruit was able to pay my way to PyCon (along with my colleagues Kattni and Melissa). I got to attend the main 3 days of the conference and the start of the first day of sprints. We were also joined by community member Tekktrik (Alec), who has been helping us out lately with a bunch of pull requests. I hadn’t met Melissa or Alec in person before, so it was great to get to know them a little better than you can in online meetings.

Even though I had technically attended PyCon before, my experiences were almost 20 years out of date so I donned a “first time attendee” ribbon along with my official lanyard and a custom PyGamer badge and dove in.

The absolute high point for me was the keynote address given on Saturday by Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaborator Sara Issaoun. She talked about the science of black holes, how the EHT collaborators worked together, and of course about the importance of Python to data scientists in general and to EHT in particular. Oh, and expect EHT to be back in the news soon as they are prepared to announce new results about observations of the black hole here in our own galaxy on May 12.

Other talks I attended included:

After the first morning of talks, I mostly shifted gears to less formal situations: The exhibitor hall and the fabled hallway track. These were some of the best conversations and chance meetings of the conference for me, since everyone is so open and excited to talk about how Python intersects with their personal or professional lives—or anything else of interest. I got to be a fly on the wall and hear about some possible upcoming topics of the Real Python Podcast (no spoilers), learned more than I expected to as folks at my breakfast table talked about change in chromosome number through evolution, and of course collected some swag and gave lots of 2-minute overviews of CircuitPython. There weren’t traditional swag bags, but I came home with two water bottles, three T-shirts, two pairs of socks, and a bunch of stickers “for my friend’s kids”. I was barely trying, one participant told me they had picked up 16 shirts and another had acquired something like 9 pairs of socks.

Each afternoon, Adafruit operated an Open Space for two hours, inviting people of all skill levels to drop in and play with a Circuit Playground Bluefruit. Our room, with a capacity of 36 people, was at times on the verge of overflowing. It’s a vicarious thrill to watch people pick up CircuitPython and an Adafruit board for the first time, starting the session by saying how little experience or skill they have, and then by the end of their time they’ve created (say) a theremin-like musical instrument using the board’s light sensor. At the end of the final session, we were able to give away a number of the boards to folks so that they could continue their experimentation at home.

Sadly, I only made it to a few of the Lightning Talks, as the ones in the morning were scheduled to conflict with breakfast and the conversations in the dining area usually kept me firmly in my chair until I’d missed everything. I’m also told that the final keynote by Naomi Ceder was the best talk of the conference, but as we were finishing up the final Open Space I couldn’t attend. I hope it’ll be available to re-watch later.

Finally, there were the evening activities. Two of the nights, it was a small group for dinner: Me, Melissa, Kattni, & Kattni’s partner Rose. On Sunday night, the folks at Noteable invited us out. But the best evening experience was the PyLadies Dinner & Auction on Saturday. The event was sold out, with 210 guests plus our wonderful organizers. I’ve been to charitable events before, but I had never enjoyed such a lively auction. There were some truly amazing pieces donated. I really liked Slime Mold Maze, but it went for several thousand dollars more than all the artwork I’ve ever bought in my life, put together. Adafruit donated a lunchbox filled with a custom assortment of CircuitPython and compatible hardware including items out of stock durring the current chip shortage, which went for a nice multiple of the retail price. I was excited to make some initial small bids on items that were interesting to me, but due to the generosity of my fellow guests I didn’t win anything I bid on.

Throughout, Kattni and Melissa took care to introduce me to their friends and friends of Adafruit, and I’m grateful for that and for the way these new friends drew me out to talk about myself. Next time, I promise I’ll do better at asking about you in return.

I truly appreciate Adafruit for enabling me to attend PyCon US 2022, and for their confidence in me to be one of the public faces of CircuitPython and Adafruit. The chance to meet in person with so many like-minded folks and make instant and meaningful connections was something that many of us have sorely missed over the past few years. I can’t wait to pick up some of those conversations again. Is it too early to start planning to attend in 2023?

To the organizers, sponsors, attendees, exhibitors, venue staff, and anyone else connected with PyCon, I say thank you! You created an awesome event. Now, go home and rest up! You deserve it.

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