Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Building a Python community in Colombia: John Roa, 2018 Q4 CSA Recipient

PyCons take place throughout many parts of the world. Each PyCon is different in its own way;  drawing from its own geographical location as well as local history and culture. In 2017 another beautiful country opened its doors to a new PyCon, with the launch of PyCon Colombia. 

PyCon Columbia stands out for its attention to detail, superb planning, and well-curated content. "What struck me about PyCon Colombia was how well thought out and organized it is. Particularly for a fairly new conference, it was exceptional in how carefully and completely things had been organized," says Naomi Ceder, Chair of the PSF Board of Directors, who delivered the keynote at PyCon Colombia 2018. Reflecting this dedication, on the PyCon Colombia website the conference comments that it is one "made with love." Like a ship needs a captain for smooth sailing, a PyCon needs one too. John Rao is that person for PyCon Colombia as he has been the chair of PyCon Colombia since its first edition in 2017. It is for this reason that the Python Software Foundation is pleased to recognize John Roa for the 2018 Q4 Community Service Award:

The Q4 award also went to John Roa for his work as a founder and Conference Chair of PyCon Colombia.

PyCon Colombia: The beginning and challenges

In planning for the future of PyCon Colombia, John shared that the community is looking to:
Naomi speaks of John as a calm and warm ('but professional') person. She notes that he has all the qualities to give shape to and run a successful conference. Even in the preparation for this article, what was evident in the email conversations was his dedication to his team and the community. Lorena Mesa, a Director at the PSF, has worked with John before and describes him as a "wonderful person."  

 In his day job, John is the Director of Engineering at Lendingfront, a fin-tech company based in NYC. He started coding at the age of 15. Initially, John started his engineering career as a Java developer. In his own words, he never chose Python, but "Python chose me." The company he previously worked with, had Java as their primary technology but had a  side project written in Python too. He started working on that and fell in love with the simplicity of the language. 

In 2015 he partnered with his colleagues to reboot the Python community in Medellin, Colombia. This marked the beginning of a new journey, his journey towards the first PyCon Columbia. Since then these Pythonistas have been instrumental in organizing several Python meetups and workshops all over the city.  

Python Bogota and Python Cali started just a bit before John dedicated himself to rebooting the Medellin community, respectively in 2012 and 2014. Colombia had "the talent, the market" and the demand from the local developers to learn the language. There were all the elements for developing larger projects, but there was no place to bring the community together and to help it grow. Therein sparked the interest in starting a national Python conference and John decided to make it happen.

Like other conferences, PyCon Colombia also had its problems. First, in Colombia the native language spoken is Spanish. The local development community has some familiarity with English. But the more significant struggle was with attracting foreign speakers, who could neither speak nor understand Spanish. It was hard to get past the language barrier. To address this problem, they started a social media campaign for PyCon Colombia using both languages. They also took another approach to encourage Columbian speakers to give their talks in English. It was a significant step towards improving their skills and gaining confidence, and also it helped to minimize the language gap.

But according to John, the biggest challenge faced was "organizing volunteers, the difference between ‘I want to’ and ‘I am going to do it’" While organizing community events, many ideas and opinions will be shared, adding difficulties with execution. There are only a few people who do the hard work of actually carrying out all the details and ensuring the event comes to fruition. Moreover, for the volunteers trying to bring the plan forward, it was, "challenging to make room in their schedule to contribute to these projects."  Ultimately, John and his team were victorious and together they held the first PyCon Colombia in 2017. 

PyCon Colombia: Planning for the future

In planning for the future of PyCon Colombia, John shared that the community is looking to:

·  Develop Pycon Colombia into a renowned brand, initially in Latin America
· Reach over 500 attendees in 2021 
· Add other  Colombian cities to host 
· Continue to make the conference more inclusive and diverse.

 In order to reach these goals, the Python Colombia team will need to continue to work together and identify challenges, overcoming them together. This is all possible since as John says about his team "I admire how the co-organizers commit to a final goal and take full ownership of their tasks or responsibilities, they are always thinking on how to make the conference better, how to make a better impact in society with it, how to deliver more value to the participants."

So what is next for PyCon Colombia? PyCon Colombia 2020?
PyCon Colombia 2020 will be held in Medellin for three days starting on Friday, February 7th and ending on Sunday, February 9th.

And if that isn’t enough motivation to attend PyCon Colombia 2020, John shared an inspirational story of 12-year old David Martinez, who contacted the team seeking a scholarship to attend. The team was amazed to know that he is entirely self-taught from Codecademy and Udemy courses. He learned English at school and with Duolingo. He aims to become an AI developer. John says this "is such a great example of hope, for the childhood of this country."

We on behalf of the Python community wish John and PyCon Colombia team a successful PyCon Colombia 2020!