Our PyCon 2019 Story

Andrew Knight

Python is a high-level programming language that can do just about anything. It is wildly popular for data science, web development, and automation. At PrecisionLender, we use Python for the bulk of our data analytics. For example, Python powers the intelligence behind Andi ®, our virtual insights analyst. Our Applied Banking Insights flywheel also relies on Python.

Many of us at PrecisionLender wanted to get more involved in the Python community to learn and to grow our skills. We decided to attend PyCon, the largest worldwide conference for Python users. Our minds were blown, and our hearts were inspired. Here’s our PyCon 2019 story!

Conference Details

PyCon is the seminal event for the Python community every year. PyCon 2019 happened from May 1-9 in Cleveland, OH. About 3,200 people attended from around the world, including five of us from PrecisionLender.

During the talks, dozens of companies such as Microsoft, Google, and even the Pokémon Company occupied the expo hall to meet people, talk about what they do, and hand out swag. At the same time, attendees can self-organize “open spaces” in available conference rooms to deep dive on any topics of their choosing. And, of course, the “hallway track” happens whenever people make connections arbitrarily outside of main events.

What We Did

Even though each one of us attended the conference together for several days, we each pursued our own "tracks."

It was incredible to see just how many companies use Python in big ways. John Rafferty, Software Engineer at PrecisionLender, said, "It's clear that Python is widely used, but it wasn't apparent how many companies use it as an integral part of their applications and development workflows. Dropbox had multiple talks where they went deep into their architecture and even though the information was only a Google search away, I'd never considered that their entire desktop application was entirely written in Python (this really shows the power of cross platform compatibility when using a language like Python). It was also interesting meeting Microsoft employees who don't touch C# in their typical workday. Python is widely used on Windows (and within Microsoft products), but there isn't too much community involvement by those users; seeing a bigger commitment to the language (and open-source community) by Microsoft helps solidify that Python is headed in the right direction and piques my interest in learning more."

Not only was PyCon a place to be inspired by monumental achievements, but also to learn finer details of Python development. Joe Jarriel, Software Engineer at PrecisionLender, said his favorite part of the conference was learning about common patterns and optimizations used at scale that we could follow in our own projects. "There were some very interesting talks where engineers from companies like Pinterest, Dropbox, and Spotify went into great detail about how they used Python to solve real engineering problems like source-to-source transformations in large code bases, effectively testing asynchronous code, and easing the pains of dependency management. I think this sort of engineering retrospective is extremely valuable."

While attendees crammed the venue halls, some folks like Adam Rosier, Software Engineer at PrecisionLender, stepped away from the hustle-and-bustle to dig deep into the new things they had just learned. "As interesting as the tutorials and the talks were, and as jam-packed as my schedule was, the biggest take-away from PyCon 2019 for me was simply the motivation it provided. After virtually every talk or encounter with someone at the event, I found myself inspired to take all of the ideas swimming in my head and try to make something tangible out of them. It proved to be a valuable learning experience as I spent a significant amount of time learning the ropes of new libraries and tools frequently used in data science."

PrecisionLender also got a few minutes of fame! On Saturday afternoon, I gave a short talk in front of at least a thousand people in the main exhibit hall. My talk was entitled, "3 Quick Tips for Software Blogging," and I shared high-level advice based on my experiences writing articles for AutomationPanda.com. 

We all agreed that one of the most special parts of PyCon was meeting other people in the community. Conference friends become real friends. Henry Royal arrived a day before the talks began and ended up volunteering his afternoon to filling 'swag bags' with other conference attendees. "Bagging conference goodies was a fun time. The friendliness, work-ethic, and humor of that group really embodied the spirit which has made the Python community so great.”

Our Biggest Takeaways

All five of us who went to PyCon 2019 came back tired but inspired. We each have a backlog of things to learn, including cool data science frameworks, optimization tutorials, and Adafruit kits using CircuitPython. We also brought a bunch of swag back to the PrecisionLender office to share - those Pokémon cards and Azure stickers went quickly!

We loved our experiences at PyCon so much that we decided that we'd like to start a regional Python conference here in the Carolinas. We even met a number of others in the Python community from the Carolinas who are also interested in starting such a conference. Hopefully, we can all make it happen!

Many thanks go to PrecisionLender for sponsoring our trip to PyCon 2019. We are all incredibly grateful for the opportunity to go, learn, and do.

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