Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking at my first PyTexas conference. I’d never been to PyTexas before, but I’ve been to it’s Ruby relative, Lone Star Ruby a bunch of times. In a lot of ways it was similar (the local crowd, lots of enthusiasts, two tracks of talks), but in some ways, very different…
The first and most notable thing to mention about PyTexas is that it’s held at the Memorial Student Center at Texas A&M University, which is in College Station. That means the conference is two hours from Austin and Houston, and three hours from San Antonio and Dallas/Fort Worth. This isn’t a complaint, it’s a nice facility, but it explains something about PyTexas: It’s not and will never be a large programming conference, simply due to being too far from the Texas programmer population. That being said, it’s impressive how many people they’ve pulled in, and is a testament to the Texas Python community that so many people (about 100 folks the day I was there) made the trip.
The tradeoff for the drive is that the event (being hosted by the A&M School of Architecture) is really inexpensive ($25 early bird, $50 regular). I would have thought that would have meant there would have been a big student turnout, but that didn’t seem to be the case. School hadn’t started yet, so that may be one reason. There were a lot of interested, engaged professionals there, and a lot of people doing serious day to day work with python. I saw a couple of Rackers, and though there wasn’t anyone else I knew from HP Cloud, there was some OpenStack talk in the halls.
My wife has been getting into python recently, and since I wasn’t planning on spending the night away from home (2 year old daughter + 7 months pregnant wife = at home at night), I talked her into coming with me for the day. Registration was well organized, and there were good snacks. The event had a few sponsors I wasn’t familiar with, including MapMyFitness, which tracks exercise metrics for folks, and StormPulse, which provides weather forecasts for businesses. It’s always nice to see businesses showing how they’re using a language for real. The Lone Star Ruby conference companies tend towards web startups and Rails.
The gender balance was about what you’d expect, maybe 10:1. If it was a little bigger there might be a more organized outreach, but right now it’s just word of mouth. I did hear about it on the PyLadies ATX list, and there may have been more women on the tutorial day.
I think there were some challenges on the organization side of the conference. Speakers didn’t seem to get into the registration system, and two of the speakers didn’t show up. That’d be easier to compensate for at a bigger conference, but when there are only two tracks it really shows. Unfortunately one of the no-shows was Thomas Hatch of SaltStack, whose talk I was really looking forward to. Maybe it’s online somewhere.
I’d proposed two talks, but only had time to prepare one, so I ended up spending 50 minutes talking the audience through building two simple Bottle applications. One of the apps serves as an API service, the other as a web-exposed UI. The code for both, built step by step with comments, is up on GitHub. I’ll link to the video of the talk whenever they post it.
Walker Hale from the Baylor College of Medicine down in Houston spoke before me, talking about Bottle’s sister microframework Flask. Flask and Bottle are really, really, really similar, so he stole a bit of my thunder, but I think the audience enjoyed the live coding I did (with paper diffs!), and I got some good feedback. Unfortunately the Memorial Students Center is a no-hat building (out of respect for the Aggies who’ve given their lives in defense of the country), so the audience had to endure my out of control mop.
There were a couple of lightning talks at the end of the day, including Barbara Shaurette of PyLadies Austin talking about her interesting new initiative to connect professional programmers with high school computer classrooms. No set of lightning talks would be complete without the next big thing, Docker.io, so of course there were two (!) of those. Docker’s going to take over the world, believe me.
PyTexas was a fun little conference, though driving down in the morning and back in the evening was really exhausting. It’s small, and isn’t as slick as some larger conferences, but it has a nice raw charm. The love the attendees and speakers have for python really shows through. If it’s easy for you to get to, and you aren’t busy, I recommend it. If they moved it to Austin or San Antonio, I’d go for the whole thing and I think the conference would be at least three times as big. (Speaking of Texas python conferences, if you haven’t signed the Austin PyCon 2016/2017 petition, please do!)