After 2 years in Sydney, the PyCon Australia conference shipped off to Hobart for 2012. TL;DR: It… was… awesome!
Many people know of my penchant for raving about how good Tasmania is. Although there’s an apparent tendency for geeks to prefer the great indoors, I didn’t hesitate to recommend getting out of the building for a look. Highlights from my previous 2 trips (both circa New Years Eve) include Hobart, Freycinet, Falls Festival (loose units FTW), Falls Festival again (media pass FTW), the Overland Track, the South Coast Track and lots in between.
For this trip, C and I took a little road trip after the conference to take in the sights of Robertson, Oatlands, St Helens, Bay of Fires, Bicheno, Coles Bay, Freycinet and MONA. It was a nice quick break and a worthy addition to a growing collection of happy Tassie travel memories, along with the conference itself…
The first item on the agenda was CodeWars. I coerced some smart looking people into having a crack at the first problem with me. Some sprightly laptop work with shell commands, arcane python libraries and prime number detection (mostly from my team-mates) saw us qualify 2nd for the semi-finals. In our semi-final we were met with a file containing a file-system containing a Visual Basic (6?) project. Both teams set about brute force porting to python. We got close, but were pipped by the other team, and it wasn’t until Sunday that I learned that we hadn’t converted twips (remember those?) to pixels. To Josh Deprez, the puzzle master, well played Sir.
The main conference programme had a good combination of talks at various levels. As a first time presenter at a larger event like this, I appreciated the strategy of accepting a range of speakers. Whilst the talks were all generally of a very high level, I and others might have benefited from practising more on each other or a similar audience in advance. Getting the content right for the audience and presenting it in a meaningful and timely way is really hard. My talk on continuous deployment (video) attempted to cover a huge topic in 30mins and the big picture was paramount (9Mb animated SVG, YMMV), so I had to be brutal in cutting out peripheral or detailed concepts whilst remaining relevant. I know I’ve got plenty to improve upon, but feedback is always welcome.
Some (hopefully obvious) suggestions to consider, ironically presented as an unordered list with lots of text:
- Don’t present slides or terminals full of code in small type if that’s where your key points are hiding. Fortunately this was rare (usually short snippets, large fonts), but I noticed that most people tuned out when it happened and some never came back. By all means include it for people’s reference later, ideally highlighting or commenting on relevant points or structures.
- Frame the topics. Some of the most brilliant content assumed knowledge significantly beyond that of most of the audience. Usually some “what” and “why” before the “how” is all that it takes. Talk abstracts can better cover this in advance too.
- Practice, practice, practice. Know your talk inside out so that you aren’t using slides as a crutch and timing isn’t a problem. If 100 people see your talk, the return on time invested here is huge.
This was the first time I’d attended a sprint, and wished I could have stayed for the whole thing. Before rushing off after half a day I was up to my elbows in the Django codebase (something I should have done more of sooner), getting heaps of help from people and submitting a patch.
The venue, dinner, catering, logistics etc, all good. Great job, nuff said. A special mention for the coffee… the African Swallow was damn good and the beans I brought home are going down a treat. I plan to do it all again next year (but better, of course).
I met and re-met a lot of people. Whether you’re an organiser, speaker, room-mate, early morning jogger, core developer/BDFL/advocate, drinking buddy, non-drinking buddy, fellow dinner guest, devil’s advocate, hacker and/or overall font of knowledge and support, I thank you all for adding to my experience and I hope I did and will continue to do the same.