PyCon Slovakia 2017

Rae Knowler
28 May 2017, 1:54 p.m.

In March 2017, I went to PyCon Slovakia, held in Bratislava at the Slovak University of Technology. This was only the second time PyCon had been held in Slovakia, and I found out about it by accident: while searching for how to do something in Python, I saw a Google ad for early-bird tickets to the conference and was intrigued. It's rare and surprising, but it turns out advertising can work!

This was my first visit to both Bratislava and Slovakia, which was honestly one of the reasons I was attracted to the conference. It only took me two trains to get there from Zürich: one to Vienna, followed by a regional connection to Bratislava. I found it a beautiful and modern city with lots to see — not just historical sites and museums, but also modern art, lots of coffee shops, and a small but growing craft beer scene. I loved hearing the Slovak language spoken all around me and tried to teach myself the very basics while I was there. (Káva s mliekom, prosím. Ďakujem!)

I skipped the first day of talks, Friday 10th March, as they were all in Slovak and my studies were not progressing that fast. On Saturday 11th March, all talks were in English, while on the Sunday there was a mix between the two languages. I thought this was a good way to support both local developers and international attendees. The attendees I spoke to came from all over Europe, but mostly from Slovakia and Czechia.

The first talk I saw on Saturday was "What makes Silicon Valley developers special?" by Pavel Serbajlo. After working and hiring there for four years, he came to the conclusion that the developers themselves are not special, but the culture that's grown there is — openness, diversity and cooperation are valued in SV more than in Europe, partly due to an education system that prioritises group projects higher than rote learning.

It was an interesting perspective. On the other hand, he brought up positive discrimination as a challenge of SV culture: "I fully support [diversity] in the workplace, but if you take it way too far, you may notice that sometimes people get hired not based on their fit for the job, but based on their gender, race, whatever is necessary to showcase better numbers in the quarterly diversity report." I haven't worked in Silicon Valley or in the USA at all, but compared to what I hear from friends who do, this sounded so unlikely to be a real problem that it cast doubt over everything else Pavel said.

Jana Gutierrez Chvalkovska's talk on Sunday, Red Hat - how to build diverse opensource corporate culture, makes a good counterpoint on this topic. She spoke about the importance of diversity both on a global level and specifically at Red Hat Czech. I summarised one of her points that I especially appreciated on Twitter:

My favourite technical talk of the conference was Honza Javorek's "Design APIs for humans and test what you promised" (slides). (He changed the title from the one given in the schedule and the recording.) Despite being shy at public speaking, Honza gave an exciting and persuasive talk about Readme Driven Development and testable documentation, using doctest and Dredd.

Two of the other sessions I especially enjoyed were about contributing to Open Source software. Michal Petrucha gave a motivational talk, "You should contribute to open-source" (slides), that detailed personal and professional reasons to get involved and laid out some good ways to begin. I very much agreed with his argument in the following slide. My team at Liip has made many pull requests to improve libraries we use professionally.

Michal Petrucha: professional reasons to get involved in OSS.

From the OSS maintainer's side, Lasse Schuirmann talked about how coala grew their number of contributors from five to 300 without compromising on quality, in "Open Source Contributor Automation (slides). It was a good talk with a lot of practical lessons for OSS projects of all sizes.

At the end of talks on Sunday afternoon, I went to a local pub to drink Slovak beer with Lasse, Michal, Bhargav Srinivasa Desikan (who had spoken about Gensim) and others. The next day some of us met for breakfast and then Bhargav and I explored the city together, before I caught the train back home.

Of course I had to take a picture in front of the Blue Church of St Elizabeth.

PyCon SK was a fun, smallish conference whose organisers went to a lot of trouble to give attendees a good learning experience. The food and coffee were delicious, the attendees were a very interesting group to mix with, and I learned a lot from several of the talks. On the negative side, the talk quality was not consistently high, and I felt too many sessions were given to employees of sponsors.

Thank you to Liip, who give me an education budget that allowed me to attend PyCon SK! I would go back, depending on the programme, and I wish I could attend PyCon CZ this year, which looks like it will be great. I would also seriously consider moving to Bratislava.