Python is an excellent lingua franca

I just spent 5 days at PyCon 2014 here in Montréal (3 days for the actual conference, 2 days sprinting), and wow, what a great conference that was.

There are many things I want to praise about the whole experience. The venue was great, the organisation was superb, the talks were interesting, the infrastructure was amazing, the atmosphere was friendly… but most of all, I think I want to praise the entire culture of inclusiveness that the Python community is trying to promote.

It is interesting that the only true common thread at the conference was a programming language (and not even that, sometimes, some of the talks were hardly about the Python programming language at all). Python was originally conceived as a programming language that was meant to be as easy as possible to understand. Whether it has succeeded from a purely language-design point of view is hard to say, and not everything about Python is great. The language has its gotchas here and there, just like any other language. And yet, despite not being a perfect language programming language, it’s able to bring together such a diverse group of individuals together to accomplish common goals.

Python is an excellent programming lingua franca for everyone, not just for Unix nerds (witness: Windows support is taken seriously) and not just for programming geeks (witness: Software Carpentry). Just take a look at the wide range of topics covered in the talks. General software development, the benefits of software freedom, cryptography and security (lol, heartbleed)…

Of particular note is that 1/3 of all attendees and speakers were female. Can any other tech conference boast such inclusiveness of the usually tech-neglected half of humankind? Look at all the talks related to gender issues: sexism in rap lyrics via machine learning, being a transgender Python hacker, or how to bring more Python to girls in school.

Now, to be clear, I don’t think that PyCon has eliminated sexism or that we have “won” this battle. As I overheard someone say, PyCon will not be inclusive enough for women unless the lines for the women’s bathroom are as long as the lines for the men’s. And there are still many issues, such as women still being “invisible” and ignored, or as I overheard someone else say, she actually had to say to some guy to look up from her breasts while she was talking to him. It’s not there all the way yet.

This just seems like a good start. I hope next year at PyCon 2015, we’ll be able to get 50% women attendees and speakers!

One thought on “Python is an excellent lingua franca

  1. Hola desde Barcelona!

    I’ve been involved in Pyladies for the last 2 years, first in the US and now here in Barcelona, and I appreciate your support and desire to increase women’s participation in PyCon and the Python community in general.

    Unfortunately I did not attend PyCon this year, but there was some discussion amongst Pyladies who attended challenging the 1/3 participation figure cited during Van Lindberg’s keynote. Unfortunately there is no way to know for sure what the gender ratio really was. The 1/3 figure that was stated during the keynote was based on t-shirt sales (how many of the conference t-shirts were womens’ sizes), which is not necessarily a very accurate figure, but it was the best they had. Several Pyladies in attendance guessed, from what they saw, that the figure was too high. The concern in this is that many people may hear that figure and congratulate themselves/the community about how far we have come, when there is possibly even more than a 17% gap to reach 50% participation.

    I am very pleased however with the progress that has been made – I felt very welcome last year when I attended PyCon for the first time, much more so than at many other tech community gatherings. I don’t mean to diminish that, some great progress has been made and I’m proud to be a part of a community that values that and is working to change it.

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