Thursday, December 21, 2017

Community is at its Peak at North Bay Python

As I sat in the cool, darkened theater, I reflected on what had brought me to North Bay Python. While I had heard the buzz about a Python conference in Petaluma, it wasn’t until PyLadies Vancouver offered me a free ticket that I decided to attend. A quick flight from Seattle brought me to San Francisco the night before North Bay Python started, allowing me time to partake in one of my favorite hobbies -  navigating public transit to new places. Sitting in the theater I felt lucky. Though I had attended a variety of Geographic Information Systems conferences, this was my first Python conference outside of PyData Seattle and local meetups. I could not wait for what was in store.

Nestled in the heart of wine country in Sonoma County, roughly 40 miles north of San Francisco, sits the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma. Built in 1911 and normally hosting theater and music shows, the theater is not the usual host for a tech conference. Christopher Neugebauer, an organizer of North Bay Python, originally had the idea to hold a conference at the Mystic Theatre earlier this year as he was talking to friends at PyCon. By the end of PyCon 2017 it was decided, and planning had begun for the first annual North Bay Python conference. 

The historic venue wasn’t the only thing special about this conference. Before the talks began, Christopher got on stage and informed us of the code of conduct, photo sensitivity policies, all-gender bathrooms, quiet spaces, and nursing room. We were provided a number to call if at any time during the conference we felt unsafe. Next, Josh Simmons, another organizer, asked the audience, “Who here is attending a technical conference for the first time?” Roughly 40% of the 230 attendees raised their hand, shocking the organizers at the overwhelming percentage of newcomers. Thus the largest developer conference held in Sonoma County was also, perhaps, its most welcoming.

This single-track conference offered a relevant and diverse range of topics including security considerations, using Python to orchestrate libraries written in Fortran and C, demystifying iterators, and developing good leadership practices. Keynote Brandon Rhodes, having received many questions about his PyCon 2017 slides, which he ran completely inside a terminal, gave an overview of why and how he made them. Keynote Carina C. Zona presented a compelling case for 2 Factor Authentication (2FA), as well as guidance on how to make 2FA more user-friendly and inclusive. Some of my favorite talks were those that had the audience in stitches. Melanie Crutchfield’s talk entitled “Stumbling Through Django and How Not To” took us through her process of building a Django application and lessons she learned so that we don’t have to, was full of hilarious analogies and delightful hand-drawn slides. Benno Rice’s talk, “A Young Twitter Bot's Illustrated Primer”, walked us through his adventures with Twitter bots, which was not only informative but peppered with ridiculous bot-generated tweets.

While planning the schedule, Christopher and the other organizers had a shortlist of keynote speakers in mind. "We were lucky enough to get our first two choices!” said Christopher. For the remaining talks, they put together a call for proposals, offering support for those interested in speaking through workshops and feedback sessions. In the end, they ran a blind review process which anonymized proposals to compensate for biases. The organizers were very pleased with the result as Christopher explained, “we ended up with an astonishingly high-quality program that included new speakers and a community representation that we are really proud of."

In terms of networking opportunities, North Bay Python provided a wiki for people to use to gather in Birds of a Feather groups. Others used Twitter to find people to have lunch or dinner with. Additionally, the organizers collaborated with PyLadies San Francisco and PyLadies Silicon Valley to hold a PyLadies lunch on the first day of the conference, free of charge and open to all PyLadies in attendance and their supporters.

Rachel Kelly, a DevOps engineer at and seasoned conference goer noticed many special things about this conference. “I have never seen a nursing room at a conference before”, she said, “and I have been to what are undoubtedly some of the world’s most inclusive conferences.” She went on to say, “the code of conduct was not only a requirement for attendance, it was reinforced at the beginning and touched on throughout the weekend, sometimes personally from the organizers.” The single-track of the conference was also much appreciated, she noted, “I loved being able to focus on and watch every single talk, something we are rarely afforded at technical conferences.”

So will they do it again next year? “Absolutely!” said Christopher, “our first conference felt really special, and we can’t wait to share Petaluma and this experience with even more people in 2018.”

North Bay Python was organized by Christopher Neugebauer, Joshua Simmons, Sam Kitajima-Kimbrel, Andrew Godwin, and Sarah Kuchinsky. The full schedule can be found on their website. Videos from the conference were produced by Next Day Video and every talk is now available for viewing on the North Bay Python YouTube channel.