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A recap of PyCon 2009

Hello! I’m John DeRosa. I live in Seattle, and I’ve been using open source (nee free software) for years. My current interests include Python, web frameworks, and Content Management Systems. I’m excited about Open Source Bridge, and I’m helping spread the word about it among the Seattle tech crowd.

This past week, I attended PyCon 2009, which is the premier US conference devoted to the Python programming language. Held in Chicago, it was two days of tutorials, three days of talks (formal, lightning, and “open-space” unconference meetings), and four days of sprints. I attended the tutorials and talks, and also took the opportunity to advertise Open Source Bridge to the attendees.

Here’s some news from the conference that may be interesting to the the open source community:

PyCon had 943 attendees this year, which was a decrease of 10% from last year. The attendees discussed this a bit, and “the economy” was the only plausible cause that any of us could think of.

Are other conferences seeing the same year-to-year decline? If you know the attendance stats for another conference, please reply here with the numbers.

Mercurial was selected as the next VCS for the Python code base. Distributed VCS tools like Mercurial are today’s development zeitgeist, and with some good reason for large distributed projects. Python, like many projects, has used Subversion for some time, and the consensus was that it was time to move it to a distributed VCS.

The finalists were Mercurial, git, and Bazaar. Git was the first of the three to be rejected. Guido van Rossum, Python’s Benevolent Dictator for Life, made the final call to choose Mercurial. He hopes the pool will be switched over before the summer. (BTW, Mercurial and Bazaar are both implemented in Python.)

More Twittering as conference backchannel. At last year’s PyCon, IRC was used for all the backchannel communications. This year, Twitter moved into the backchannel turf — I observed a 40/60 Twitter/IRC split during the conference.

I found Twitter to be clumsy for conference chatting. My Twitter followers chose to follow me after appraising my tweets’ content and frequency. (Does John tweet about technical topics? About personal topics? Once a minute, or once an hour?) To suddenly change my behavior, and inundate them with meaningless messages, wouldn’t be cool.

OTOH, an IRC message is seen only by those in the channel when the message is sent. Yes, you can search for a message in IRC logs, but you’ve got to admit that reading old tweets associated with a hashtag is much easier.

So, it seems reasonable to tweet important announcements during a conference. Because they could be interesting to a broader technical community, and someone “dialing in” later can easily review them. But I didn’t care for those using Twitter for discussions and mundane announcements on the #pycon hashtag, nor the Twitter waterfalls displayed on the ballroom screen before the morning and afternoon sessions. (I already have Twitterific on my laptop, so I didn’t need to also see tweets displayed up on the big screen!)

Have you seen a change in Twitter use in the conferences you attend?

Regarding Python development, Guido will move out of the BDFL role over the next 5 – 10 years. Guido spoke for a few minutes about why we’ll be seeing this, and stressed that this should be seen as a natural result of the Python community’s growth. I think everyone was fine with this announcement, and I didn’t sense any undercurrent of concern in the attendees. He’s going to facilitate a succession in the language’s leadership, details TBD, so that one or more individuals can pick up the reins from him over time.

Guido has been the Python community’s technical, cultural, and organizational leader since he created the language. Time will tell how the shifting of responsibilities plays out, but I’m very optimistic the language community will continue to grow and thrive.

Also re: Python, expect less language development, and more development in stuff surrounding the language. Guido observed that the core language was now fairly refined, and suggested that new development energy would be better spent on technology surrounding the language. For example, on packaging and distribution technologies. In fact, Python packaging was a topic frequently discussed during the conference; everyone agrees that it ought to be easier, and a few ideas are percolating on how to streamline it.

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