PyCon Italia 2017

Rae Knowler
10 Sep 2017, 2:39 p.m.

This April, I travelled to Florence for the eighth PyCon Italia, to give my talk about Python, Unicode and Localisation. I ended up making friends at one of the most memorable conferences I've enjoyed so far.

PyCon Italia was held in the Grand Hotel Mediterraneo—just next to the River Arno and in walking distance of most of this beautiful city. After settling in on my first night there, I headed west along the river to meet up with a pubfull of DjangoCon Europe people. I'd originally submitted my talk to DjangoCon, but it had been accepted by PyCon. Luckily, because the two conferences were held one after the other, there was a lot of overlap in attendance and I could catch up with most of my DjangoCon friends over delicious local beer and pizza from a nearby restaurant.

The next day, the talks began! One of the first I saw was Lilly Ryan's informative and very funny Scientific Hooliganism: Lessons From the First Hack in History (video). Lilly drew us into the story of the hack on Guglielmo Marconi, in his intended moment of triumph, with her beautiful slides (and graphs!) and used it as a parable to impart some necessary wisdom about tech security.

I really enjoyed Chris Adam's talk on Planet Friendly Web Development With Django (video). Chris showed us the impact of data centres, wireless networks, and page bloat on carbon emissions and made suggestions on the current best ways to improve things. There is hope here, since reducing energy usage correlates with saving money, a more persuasive metric for large companies.

I also particularly enjoyed Alessandro Amici's mind-bending talk on solving the SIZECON code-shortening problem with Python 3 (video), and Manoj Pandey's Attack of Pythons: Gotchas and Landmines in Python (video). Manoj is still a student and he's given multiple international conference talks! He will definitely go far.

The two Saturday keynotes—Alicia Carr on becoming an iOS developer at 51, as a black American woman (video), and Anna Ravenscroft on Overcoming Cognitive Bias (video)—complemented each other wonderfully. Alicia not only told her own story but compellingly showed the potential the tech world is missing out on, in allowing racist, ageist and sexist bias to direct who it hires and caters to. Anna then gave my favourite talk of the conference, a practical and scientific approach to deliberately combatting this kind of bias.

My talk on Unicode and localisation went well (video here). It's a topic I love to talk about and I've found one of the best things about speaking at conferences is the conversations you get to have with other attendees afterwards. This time someone came up to me afterwards to tell me their experiences of making military translation software in the 90s and—of course—running into all manner of character encoding issues. Somebody else took the time to tell me about Farsi, which is written in Arabic script and also has contextual forms, but includes additional letters.

PyCon Italia had made a huge effort to have speakers and attendees from around the world, which had a very positive effect on the experience of the conference. At every meal and coffee break, I had conversations with groups from multiple countries—about programming, data science, career paths, gender, information security, our different cultures and everything in between. On the Friday, a group of us were given the stage for a panel on diversity: Alicia Carr, Anna Makarudze of DjangoGirls Harare, Marlene Mhangami of ZimboPy, Lilly Ryan, Flavio Percoco of OpenStack and me (because of my involvement in Trans*Code).

It was my first panel ever and I was very nervous, as well as honoured to be on stage with this extremely qualified group! I thoroughly recommend listening to what they have to say. Anna and Marlene's explanation of why they work with girls in Zimbabwe was particularly interesting, and so was Flavio's discussion of the issues that arise when working with remote, international team members. The hour went by incredibly quickly; we could easily have filled two. (In particular, I wanted to talk more about disability and neurodiversity.)

Marlene has since become a 2017 member of the PSF Board of Directors. She, Anna and Humphrey Butau (who I also met at PyCon Italia) were some of the organisers of PyCon Zimbabwe this year. Check out the ZimboPy website to see the great work they're doing to help Zimbabwean girls get into technology, and contribute to help them do it!

I had a wonderful time at PyCon Italia: a huge range of talk topics, great conversations and delicious food in an amazing location. I very much hope to go back again, as well as to get to PyCon Zimbabwe 2018.