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Now accepting Financial Aid applications

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

If you compare the ticket prices that we charged at PyCon 2011 in Atlanta a half-decade ago to our prices today, you will notice something remarkable — that not only have we kept our Individual and Corporate prices stable as the conference has moved into larger and more expensive venues, but we have slashed our Student ticket prices by more than 40% over five years! The Python Software Foundation works to make PyCon affordable for as many users of the Python language as possible.
But PyCon attendees who don’t live in Portland face many expenses beyond simply paying the registration fee. Travel can cost hundreds of dollars from within the United States, and more than a thousand for community members who fly from overseas. Lodging can be an equally weighty expense. And while the conference does provide breakfast and lunch on the three main conference days, that still leaves several meals that the traveler will have to pay for on their own.
Because these registration and travel expenses would make PyCon impossible for some community members, PyCon offers a Financial Assistance program to make it possible for the conference to host a wider cross-section of the Python community than could otherwise attend!
Submit your application by the due date of 2016 March 1 and the volunteers on the Financial Aid committee will see whether the Python Software Foundation can help make PyCon possible for you in 2016!

Talk and Poster proposals are due Sunday — and, PyCon 2016 falls on Memorial Day!

Friday, January 01, 2016

Here are two crucial reminders as we head into the final weekend of our Call For Proposals:

  • Talk and Poster proposals are due this Sunday, January 3rd!

  • The first of PyCon’s three main conference days will fall on Memorial Day this year (May 30th), which we wanted to reiterate in case that affects your plans.

Recall that the dates of PyCon 2016 were a compromise that we faced because of the intense competition for venues in the cities that bid to host the conference. We are working to plan the conference ever farther ahead so that we can select more favorable dates from future cities. In the meantime, the compromise only affected 2016 — we are happy to report that in 2017, PyCon will return to its normal schedule of being a bit earlier in the Spring and also not falling on a national holiday. We do hope that college students will appreciate 2016 as an exception to the normal rule that PyCon falls late in the school year when you are busy with papers and exams!

Become a PyCon 2016 volunteer!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015
A community conference like PyCon is run by volunteers. There are many ways to get involved if you are interested in serving the community as part of the team who makes the conference possible. Here is what the volunteer calendar looks like for PyCon 2016:

The two major opportunities to volunteer before the conference are happening right now — we need volunteers for the two program committees who work to put together PyCon’s schedule!
  • The Talks Program Committee votes on which talk proposals get to become part of the conference schedule. They are currently working on the 300 talk proposals that have already been received, and will probably have several hundred more to evaluate by the time the Call For Proposals ends on Sunday January 3! If you have watched PyCon talks before and you are planning on attending PyCon 2016, then the program committee would love your help. Volunteers get to use the cool new voting app that the committee chair has written to streamline the process this year. To get involved, join the committee mailing list and the welcome message will tell you how to get started!
  • Meanwhile, the Tutorials Program Committee is hard at work evaluating the 100+ proposals that they received before their own Call for Proposals closed back on November 30. It is not too late to help out! If you have experience as a student or instructor and you plan on attending PyCon 2016, simply join the mailing list and ask how you can help.
Either program committee will require hours of your time over both January and February as each process slowly winds its way towards completion. Near the end of February, both efforts finally come to an end as the results are tallied and the conference chairs reveal the official talk and tutorial schedules for PyCon 2016!
Several months then pass before late May, when attendees start to assemble in Portland and the whole world of on-site volunteer opportunities opens up!
  • Swag bag stuffing is a come-as-you-are event on the evening before the conference starts, that transforms piles of brochures and boxes of branded accessories into neatly packed tote bags that are ready to be handed out to attendees.
  • Volunteers are needed during the conference at both the registration desk and at the nearby booth where tote bags are distributed to attendees.
  • Tutorials are supported by tutorial hosts who make sure that instructors and their students have working equipment and get everything they need to learn as effectively as possible.
  • Talks happen thanks to two very busy sets of volunteers. Session runners escort each speaker to the correct room and help make sure their laptop gets hooked up to the projector. Session chairs introduce each speaker at the beginning of their talk and then mediate the question-and-answer period that takes place at the end.
  • Special events like the Young Coders Workshop and the PyLadies Auction have their own dedicated teams of volunteers.

There will be opportunities to sign up for these on-site volunteer roles once the date of the conference is a bit closer — probably starting at the close of Winter. We will announce each sign-up opportunity both on this blog and also on the conference twitter account, so follow along for the chance to volunteer as one of the people who helps put PyCon on for the worldwide Python community!

Your visit to Portland: Controlled substances

Tuesday, December 08, 2015
We know that many of you will want to see more of Portland than just a conference center and the inside of a hotel room. You will walk downtown and visit Powell’s. You will hike mountains and canyons. You will find a cozy bed & breakfast in the Oregon wine country. You will visit the Pacific coast and watch the gray whales swim past on their way back north to Alaska from their breeding grounds off the Baja peninsula.

And some of you are looking forward to the marijuana.

Following the 2014 legalization of recreational marijuana in Oregon, and of direct sales from dispensaries in 2015, Portland has become a popular destination for those who wish to partake. So let’s be specific about what this means for the conference:

  • You can’t consume at PyCon. 
  • Don’t show up at PyCon high, just like you wouldn’t show up drunk. 
Simple enough.

You might expect me, at this point, to quote the Code of Conduct. Or to talk about my own deep pride in the fact that we run a conference where parents feel safe bringing their children, and where employees feel safe inviting their bosses along.

But the issue, really, is out of our hands. The two rules that I listed above are not ours — they are Oregon’s! Check out the site that Oregon has built to explain the new laws:



Wow — I had no idea that a state government could produce such a beautiful web site! Welcome to Oregon, I guess. I am going to be using this site in the future as an example of how sharp web design and careful writing can communicate law to the public. Down in the lower-left-hand box, it says “Public use is illegal.” The Travel Portland site is specific about what that means:
You cannot smoke marijuana or consume marijuana edibles in a public place. This includes the Oregon Convention Center, restaurants, bars, parks, sidewalks. — (What visitors should know)
That part where they say “the Oregon Convention Center”? Yep. That’s PyCon.

It’s not that the convention center is anti-marijuana — they actually hosted the International Cannabis Business Conference in 2014. It’s that Oregon believes that partaking should be a personal experience, undertaken in private where everyone is present by consent and totally comfortable with the fact that you will be high.

We will be protecting your own standing before Oregon law, protecting the Python Software Foundation, and protecting our contract with the venue when we insist that you partake elsewhere than at the conference. Oregon is unusual, among US states, for offering laws within which you can imbibe legally. You’ll best celebrate those laws by consuming within the carefully crafted legal space they have opened up for you!

The Tutorial deadline is here!

Monday, November 30, 2015
Tutorial proposals for PyCon 2016 are due today. The submission form will close once it has passed midnight in every time zone. If you have dreamed of giving an in-depth 3-hour class to your fellow PyCon attendees, it is time to write up a description and get it submitted!

What is a Tutorial?
https://us.pycon.org/2016/speaking/tutorials/

The main CFP.
https://us.pycon.org/2016/speaking/

The “Submit a new proposal” button is on your dashboard.
https://us.pycon.org/2016/dashboard/

Tutorial proposals are due two weeks from today

Monday, November 16, 2015
There are only two weeks left before PyCon tutorial proposals are due! If you have ever dreamed about delivering a valuable 3-hour tutorial in front of dozens of fellow PyCon attendees, you can read more about the proposal process here:

https://us.pycon.org/2016/speaking/tutorials/

You might have been pondering a question as you finished reading my post last week. It celebrated PyCon 2016’s more aggressive schedule, which moves the proposal deadlines closer to the date of the conference. But you might have been puzzled that there are now two separate dates:

  • Tutorial proposals are due: 2015 November 30
  • Talk and poster proposals are due: 2016 January 3

The difference between the two dates is more than a month. Why aren’t talks and tutorial proposals simply due on the same day?

The answer is that the tutorial selection process is not as compressible as the process for talks. To understand the difference, first consider the task faced by the talk committee:

  • Talks are completely free for PyCon attendees. You can walk into a talk, decide that you might be more interested in the one next door, and (quietly!) slip out.
  • Most talks last 30 minutes — a few are given 45 minutes — so a reasonable amount of solid, well-organized material will usually be enough for a talk to make good use of its slot.
  • The primary problem that the talk committee faces is volume. Hundreds of talks are proposed for which there are only about 95 slots available. A large proportion of the proposals are very good ones, and would make great talks if admitted to the conference.

Each talk that the program committee selects is therefore going to be a relatively low-risk choice for the conference as a whole. They will be choosing from among the many proposals that look great, for a time slot that is only a small fraction of the whole conference, and that will not cost you anything if you pop into a talk for a few minutes but it winds up not meeting your expectations based on its description.

And so the talk program committee, equipped with new streamlined review software that replaces the grueling IRC meetings that the committee previously suffered, agreed to try tightening its schedule this year by nearly two months. I am going to do my best to support them!

The tutorials committee, by contrast, faces a quite different situation.

  • Each tutorial costs money for its attendees. Last year the cost was $150 per tutorial for those who signed up ahead of time, and $200 for those who sign up on-site. For many PyCon attendees this is a weighty expense, and therefore a severe blow if they pay for a tutorial but it winds up not meeting their needs.
  • A tutorial lasts a full 3 hours, split into two 1½-hour segments separated by a coffee break. Each tutorial’s material must use this full amount of time effectively, or attendees will feel cheated out of the full three hours of instruction that they were expecting.
  • Each tutorial proposal will cover roughly 6 times the material of a typical talk, which makes for slower reading even if the proposal summarizes their material more briefly.

The tutorial selection process therefore carries higher risk for the conference. Every tutorial needs to deliver something very close to what its description promises — there can’t be any over-the-top claims in the abstract that fail to be delivered in the tutorial itself.

This leads the tutorials committee, burdened as they are by this extra level of trust — PyCon attendees are going to pay for every tutorial they approve! — to adopt a slower and more careful process. One of the volunteer tutorial chairs this year, Ruben D. Orduz, explained it to me this way:
“The number of reviewers is not our bottleneck. The issue is that we don’t accept or deny tutorials outright unless they are truly unsalvageable or already perfect. Instead, we go through each of the proposals, carefully, and we reach out to the authors. The authors are given a week or two to fix things we think will make their proposal even better. Then we go back and re-review them.
“It’s a very time-consuming process, but it helps in selecting the best lineup while making sure every tutorial that had potential was given a fair chance. Compressing the timeline would mean only selecting from the top well-known proposers and forgetting the rest. That would be against our philosophy of giving chances to new instructors and increasing diversity.”
Given these differences in risk and process, I thanked the tutorials committee for being willing to shorten their process from 4 months to 3 months this year, and agreed that they should not try to compress their schedule any further. And so the result is that, for the first time, PyCon talk and tutorial proposals are due on different dates, each as close to the conference as the volunteers on each committee can safely manage.

I think that the difference in dates make sense overall. The January deadline for talks keeps us open for as long as possible to new technology and recent developments in the Python community. The earlier deadline for tutorials reminds us that the best tutorials are likely to be about well-established topics — the subjects that will make safe and productive tutorial topics for PyCon 2016, after all, will probably not depend on software or news that only emerges in December!

Why proposals are due so many months before PyCon

Thursday, November 12, 2015
“Why does PyCon make us submit proposals six whole months before the conference? They expect us to start thinking of topics for PyCon 2016 while it is still 2015!”

To be honest, I used to ask the same question about PyCon myself. Now that I am the conference chair, I have the privilege of working directly with the volunteers who make the conference possible! They have been generous with their time in bringing me up to speed on how each of their committees operate, helping me see the big picture of how the conference schedule is negotiated each year.

And better yet, they have proved willing to accept a challenge: we have made the schedule more aggressive this year, to close some of the gap between the close of the Call for Proposals and the start of the conference itself! I am excited about the results of their hard work:

  • Tutorial proposals are due on 2015 November 30, which is 25 days closer to the conference than the same deadline last year.
  • Talk proposals are due on 2016 January 3, which is 59 days closer to the conference than last year — an improvement of nearly two months!

It would have been less risky to simply repeat the PyCon 2015 schedule over again, so I thank the volunteer chairs for their boldness here. In an upcoming post I will share more details about their process, and about how you can volunteer on their committees to help them achieve this year’s more ambitious schedule!

But, for now, let me introduce the whole subject by answering the question I posed — why does the CFP close so many months before the conference?

Imagine a speaker from another country who wants to give a talk at PyCon. Their salary is low by United States standards. They might have a hard time obtaining a visa. If the Python Software Foundation wants its flagship international conference to be able to welcome speakers from all over the world, what constraints does that place upon the schedule?

Unless we are going to ask speakers to undertake personal financial risk for the mere chance of getting to attend and speak, PyCon will operate under three constraints:

  1. International speakers are one of the constituencies we try to serve through our Financial Aid program, so after we announce PyCon’s schedule of accepted talks, tutorials, and posters, the speaker will need time to turn around and apply for Financial Aid.
  2. We will then need time to complete our Financial Aid process and make award decisions before we expect an applicant to spend money applying for a visa.
  3. It can take more than a month for the government to rule on a visa. Only once a speaker has received a visa — instead of a rejection — can they risk purchasing an airline ticket and making the other financial commitments involved in arranging travel.

If you imagine that each of these three steps takes roughly a month, then you understand why talk and poster proposals are due on 3 January 2015. January and February belong to the program committee process that chooses talks and posters. March is when the financial aid committee receives applications and decides on awards. In April the government will process and (hopefully) accept the speaker’s visa application. If all goes well, that will leave an international speaker with only a bit more than a month to purchase an airplane ticket and travel to the conference!

So the long lead time between the CFP and the conference arises from the PSF’s goal of making PyCon a conference not just for North America, but for the entire world. We make it the one event each year where the Python community sets the stretch goal of not just welcoming people from a single region or continent, but of welcoming everyone. That means we have to close our CFP earlier than any other Python conference — but we believe it’s worth it.
 

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