PyConAu Deconstructed

For me, PyConAu was a phenomenal mix of travel, new faces, frazzled nerves and fun! I had a wonderful time and learned a lot of truly interesting things.

The first of which is that the Python community is super welcoming, even to someone from the other side of the world who has only touched their toes into the great Python waters!

Despite the Delta stramash and long flight, I arrived in Melbourne on Thursday all full of beans and ready to expect the unexpected! Which was great, because I got lost almost immediately. When I managed to find it, my hotel was a nice set of rooms about 10 minutes away from the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. I wish I had realized that I could do my registration on Thursday night - it  would have been great to get that out of the way and meet some people in the process. Instead of doing that, I wandered around the city a little and found something for dinner.

Friday I was up early and looking forward to the MiniConfs - particularly the Python in Education Seminar! After registration I was happy to bump into one of the organizers, Chris Neugebauer, who gave me a warm welcome. Then I was off to see the Internet of Things miniconf keynote Scripting The Internet of Things by Damien George. It was really interesting and inspiring to hear about his experiences getting started with Micro Python. It was a really compelling talk bursting with information. After that, I jumped tracks to hear Bruce Fuda’s talk Teaching Python: Ten+ Years of Successes, Trials and Tribulations about his experiences teaching Python to children. I learned a lot about the Australian education system and picked up some teaching tips along the way. After that, I was super happy to catch Noah Kantrowitz’s Behind Closed Doors: Managing Passwords in a Dangerous World. I missed it at Open Source Bridge this year. Noah covered a ton of material but the brisk pacing added to my excitement about the subject. It’s great to hear about security from an entirely different perspective, and it’s important for me as a security professional to keep up to date with the struggles that developers experience when implementing security within an application. Next up was Jim Mussared talking about Micro Python, Embedded Programming for Everyone. I had not heard of the BBC MicroBit before his talk, but now I’m determined to get one and learn ways to make it do fantastic things!

After lunch, I was super excited to hear Markus Holtermann’s talk Integrating 2 Factor Authentication Into Your Project. Markus was really knowledgeable and explained the topic very well, especially the dangers of using SMS as part of a 2FA solution. My last talk of the day was Nick Moore’s The Internet of Not Great Things. I knew that there were problems with security in the IoT world, but I didn’t really realize the extent. His talk was illuminating and has certainly given me pause regarding my smart home plans. By this point, my brain was a little worn out and jet lag was starting to hit pretty hard.  I was super tired but I -had- to stay awake so I ended up at the Melbourne aquarium, which was a fun way to meet some of the local sea life.

Saturday morning I woke up early and attended the PyLadies Breakfast. It was a great chance to meet other women at the conference. On Friday, it didn’t seem like there were many women attending the conference at all, but seeing everyone gathered in one place was a really wonderful experience. Everyone was so warm and friendly. The food was really good too! I really appreciate Brianna Laugher’s efforts to organize such a great event.

Going to the main keynote of a conference always feels me with a sense of awe and excitement - and PyConAU proved no different. It was awesome to come into the main hall and join this mass of people (500+ people attended the conference, I believe) all seeking to join together in one purpose and learn. It’s the same buzz I felt the first day of uni. Damien George’s keynote speech MicroPython: A Journey From Kickstarter to Space was a great start to the conference proper and really illustrated the wonderful things that people can do when they put their mind to something. After the keynote, I hid in one of the quiet rooms (loved this feature) and did last-minute tweaks to the slides for my talk Security Starts With You: Social Engineering.

I was super excited to have been chosen to join so many talented people and of course, a little nervous - the room was a lot bigger than the last time I spoke and there were a lot more people in it. Everyone was super friendly during set up and I was able to settle a little. After my talk, I had intended to see Rachel Bunder’s I Wish I Learnt That Earlier! - however, I ended up chatting away to a group of lovely people about security instead. It was great to have been so well received and I caught Rachel’s talk on YouTube after the conference (You can too, all the PyConAU talks are available on YouTube). After the gab, I saw Bianca Gibson talk about Imposter Syndrome and I would highly recommend the video. For me there was a long break and then five minute lightning talks. I’ve never attended lightening talks before but they were Super awesome - super informative and educational. The talks ranged from technical to social in nature. Afterwards was the conference dinner which was also amazing. I sat at table 42, because of Reasons.

Sunday kicked off with Python All the Things, by Russell Keith-Magee. This was a great insight into the possibilities ahead for the Python language. After that, I was off to see Lauren Bernauer talk about her experiences learning Python in From Humanities to Tech: How a Religion PhD Came to be Learning Python. I really enjoyed hearing about her journey into the programming field. It reinforced my belief that it is important that programmers come from diverse backgrounds, which will better represent their customer base. VMBrasseur’s Have It Your Way: Maximizing Drive-Thru Contributions was next; there was some brilliant information in this talk, including that an open source project community is built on contributors. I followed Vicky’s amazing talk with a talk on how Python is being used and taught in an unexpected field by attending Damien Mannion’s Teaching Programming in Undergraduate Psychology. It was fascinating to hear about the tools being crated with Python to study the mind. Mental health was a theme for the rest of the afternoon as I played sleeping tigers in Mental Health in Development by Ducky and attended the closing keynote speaker Jackson Fairchild’s Hitting the Wall and How to Get Up Again - Tackling Burnout and Strategies for Self Care. This talk really hit close to home on a lot of points. Please, for your own sake - watch it. I followed this up with another round of super awesome lightning talks.

Monday and Tuesday were Sprint Days. I wish I had the skills to be more involved and more useful in collaborative open source projects like those featured during these two days. As it was, I had -just- gotten my laptop back from the shop before I flew out and I had yet to install Git or Python on my system. I spent half a day trying to get that sorted while looking at the documentation of the BeeWare project, however in the end I was unable to contribute much. Being a part of PyConAu has really made me want to be part of this community, and has solidified my determination to be able to write proficiently in Python. Now I even have a deadline - PyConAu 2017.

I did not sit idle after leaving the sprint however - I felt that it was just as important for me to see at least some of Melbourne as it was to attend the conference and try to help at the sprint  - and Boy Did I! I visited the Melbourne Museum and among their many interesting displays, I was thrilled to see and learn about CISRAC, the oldest surviving first-generation electronic computer. This machine was the size of my living room and I took far more pictures of it than I’d like to admit. This was followed by a trip to the State Library Victoria to see Ned Kelly’s armour, who appears to have been a divisive character indeed. Leaving the Library, I had done a lot of walking and was in dire need of a cocktail and in the attempt to seek one out, I found myself lost. I was lucky, though, as I looked around, I sighted a dapper young sales clerk and asked if he could point me in the direction of a decent (read strong) cocktail. With a imp-like grin and excited flourish he explained that he moonlights as a bartender and produced a list of his own favorite cocktail spots on the back of a till receipt. We chatted and off I toddled, reinvigorated to explore the city. My first stop was the easily miss-able, down an alley and around a corner Eau De Vie. It was worth the work to find as their staff created probably the best Old Cuban I’ve ever had. To drink it in such opulent surroundings styled after the speakeasies of 1930s America made the drink even better and I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole time I was there. I would have lingered, however I had a list to experience. Next up was a few blocks away, a bar called Hihou. Entirely unmarked and looking to be a maintenance access door, the entrance to Hihou is a plain black door recessed into the side of an office block. I pushed the buzzer next to it and waited with baited breath until a very friendly lass opened the door and ushered me in. I was early enough to have the space to myself and I enjoyed a sweet cocktail called a Hihou Slipper. It was so smooth yet slightly tart - I could have drank them all night. Instead, I realized how tired I was when a yawn overtook me and headed for sleep. The next day was planned to be a long one.  

Tuesday, I was up early and took a two hour plus trip out to see the countryside and visit the Healesville Sanctuary. It was magnificent. Koalas, kangaroos and platypuses - oh my! The highlight, the absolute highlight of the trip was getting to fulfill a long held bucket list item and cuddle a wombat. Her name was Maggie and I hated to let go when my time was up. I miss my wombat.

As a closing note, I would like to thank the organizers, volunteers, fellow speakers and attendees of PyConAu for creating the wonderful experiences I had. You are all fantastic. For readers who were unable to attend, I'd like to repeat that all talks from the 2016 event (and those previous) are available on the PyConAu YouTube channel, I highly encourage you to watch them. I also want to thank the City of Melbourne and anyone who was kind enough to provide advice or assistance to this daft tourist - especially you, dapper bartender. I may not have visited all your suggestions, but the list is safely stored for my next visit.

Tiberius Hefflin

Portland, Oregon 97204