I believe that this year's Pycon organizers suffered from inexperience
and naivete, because they didn't know that some vendors will ask for
anything just to see how far they can push it. And that it's a
negotiation, that you must push back rather than give in just because
the conference might get some money for it. More importantly, that the
imperative to grow Pycon does not mean "at all costs." I've already
spoken to more than one vendor who was dismayed by the state of
things, so we are not talking about all vendors here by any means.
At first the morning plenary sessions -- where the entire conference
audience was in a single room -- just seemed a bit commercial. But
then I slowly figured out that the so-called "diamond keynotes" were
actually sold to vendors. It must have sounded great to some vendors:
you get to pitch to everyone and nothing else is going on so the
audience is trapped.
But it gets worse. The lightning talks, traditionally the best, newest
and edgiest part of the conference, were also sold like commercial air
time. Vendors were guaranteed first pick on lightning talk slots, and
we in the audience, expectantly looking forward to interesting and
entertaining content, again started to feel like things were awfully
commercial. And what seemed like a good idea, moving lightning talks
into plenary sessions with no competition, began to look like another
way to deliver a captive audience to vendors.
What was supremely frustrating was discovering that the people wanting
to give REAL lightning talks had been pushed off the end of the list
by this guarantee to vendors. We didn't get to see the good stuff, the
real stuff, because that time had been sold.
On top of that, the quality of the presentations was unusually low.
I'd say that 80% were not worth going to -- there were definitely some
good ones, but it was a lot of pain to discover them.
In my opinion, open spaces should have had greater status and billing,
with eyes-forward talks and vendor sessions offered only as possible
alternatives. Especially, vendor sessions should not be presented as
"keynotes" during plenary sessions. I think it took a little while
for people to catch on to the idea that they could have control of
their own experience through the open spaces and that the main
offerings were not the only option.
The worst thing about the whole experience was the feeling that
someone was trying to trick me and control me into watching these
things, presenting them under the guise of real keynotes and real
lightning talks. My trust has been violated. I paid a lot, in both
money and time, to be at this conference just to be herded into a room
and have my eyeballs sold to the highest bidder. And it's going to bug
me, especially when I think about coming back next year. I'm going to
need a lot of reassurance that this isn't going to happen again.
I think a lot of people have been caught up in the idea that we need
to commercialize Python, and ride some kind of wave of publicity the
way that Java and C# and Rails seem to have done. This kind of
thinking leads to bad, impulsive decisions that can have long-lasting
or even permanent negative impacts on the community. Maybe things
don't seem to be happening fast enough in comparison with those
commercial endeavors, but this is a grass-roots movement. It's never
been about moving as fast as you can. It's always been about vision,
not tactics. For many, it's fun and exciting and really important to
"catch the wave," but the wave passes and then you've just exhausted
yourself chasing a brief bump in the water. Python may not have caught
any particular wave, but it's always grown, steadily.
I know what the argument for the results of Pycon 2008 will be: we
needed the money. My answer: it's not worth it. If this is what you
have to do to grow the conference, then don't. If the choice is
between selling my experience to vendors and reducing the size of the
conference, then cut the size of the conference. Keep the quality of
my experience as the primary decision criteria, or I'll stop coming.
> My trust has been violated. I paid a lot, in both money and time, to
> be at this conference just to be herded into a room and have my
> eyeballs sold to the highest bidder.
Conference organisers, past and future, take note: Attention of
attendees is *not* a commodity to be traded. Just because some parties
will pay significant sums for that, it is *not* your place to sell it
Your place as conference organisers, rather, is to provide value to
paying attendees. Their trust is hard earned, and easily lost.
\ "Oh, I realize it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at |
`\ me: I've worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme |
_o__) poverty." -- Groucho Marx |
This was my first time at PyCon and when I went to the Lightning Talks
yesterday, I was also under the impression that they were for
attendees. About half of the ones I saw were commercials. It was weird
and made me wonder if they were always like that.
> On top of that, the quality of the presentations was unusually low.
> I'd say that 80% were not worth going to -- there were definitely some
> good ones, but it was a lot of pain to discover them.
Do you mean the "official" presentations or the lightning talks? I
thought both were kind of bad. Jeff Rush was great in both of the
sessions I saw and the gaming presenters were also good. But I saw a
lot of people who had never presented and were unprepared. In fact,
one didn't have any code whatsoever to share and the other one only
started showing some code during the last 10 minutes of his time.
The sponsor keynotes weren't all bad. I thought the White Oaks guy was
quite sincere and it was cool to hear about Python from the business
side. And the Google rep probably had the slickest presentation I've
ever seen. In retrospect, I'm not sure what it had to do with Python
Ouch. I'm probably one of the few organizers currently paying much
attention to c.l.py -- because I'm also one of the few who's not at
PyCon. We debated this extensively before going ahead, and we decided
it was worth an experiment. If your feedback is at all representative,
this won't happen again, I assure you.
I'm forwarding your post to the semi-private pycon-organizers list
(pretty much anyone can join -- more volunteers are always welcome -- but
you have to join to see the archives) to make sure everyone sees it.
>I believe that this year's Pycon organizers suffered from inexperience
>and naivete, because they didn't know that some vendors will ask for
>anything just to see how far they can push it.
Actually, it was our idea to offer something in return for the
>On top of that, the quality of the presentations was unusually low.
>I'd say that 80% were not worth going to -- there were definitely some
>good ones, but it was a lot of pain to discover them.
Just to make sure, you're talking about the vendor presentations, right?
>I think a lot of people have been caught up in the idea that we need
>to commercialize Python, and ride some kind of wave of publicity the
>way that Java and C# and Rails seem to have done.
Not in my observation. What we were trying to do was to increase
sponsorship to decrease the cost to attendees -- we have NO interest in
pushing the commercialization of Python.
>I know what the argument for the results of Pycon 2008 will be: we
>needed the money. My answer: it's not worth it. If this is what you
>have to do to grow the conference, then don't. If the choice is
>between selling my experience to vendors and reducing the size of the
>conference, then cut the size of the conference. Keep the quality of
>my experience as the primary decision criteria, or I'll stop coming.
That was our intention. Apparently it didn't work for you. I'll wait
for more feedback before I make up my mind about whether your experience
"It is easier to optimize correct code than to correct optimized code."
This is an excellent suggestion and observation. Sold sponsorships
are fine as long as they are billed as such. Labels on the vendor
speeches indicated they were sold as ad space would be great, as well
as more strongly emphasizing the ad hoc discussion spaces.
I have a conflict of interests - coming to PyCon from a sponsor
company and having given a lightning talk. But I *kind* of agree with
you. Most of the sponsor lightning talks were pretty dull. I *hope*
mine was one of the exceptions. (Resolver One demo.) ;-)
This isn't new though. Last year (my only other PyCon) all the
sponsors gave lightning talks. The difference is that there were more
sponsors this year I guess...
Personally I think 'sponsor keynotes' was a mistake. Not a huge
mistake, but nonetheless...
That's a great quote that I had not heard before. :-)
I was one of the 15 or so persons who had a lightning talk that ended
up in overflow for the Saturday talks. At the end of the regular
time, we were all brought forward to be told that we would not do
overflow talks. Standing there in the huddle, I looked around, and
it appeared that we were mostly non-vendors. It was pretty crummy to
see that real PyCon lightning talks had been sacrificed in favor of
subjecting Pythonistas to rather dry vendor presentations. Some of
the vendor presenters even had a tone that sounded like "my boss is
making me do this." PyCon lightning talks are the stuff of legend; I
implore the organizers to learn well from this costly experiment, and
let's not go there again. Ever.
> >On top of that, the quality of the presentations was unusually low.
> >I'd say that 80% were not worth going to -- there were definitely some
> >good ones, but it was a lot of pain to discover them.
> Just to make sure, you're talking about the vendor presentations, right?
I'll step out and say that some of the non-vendor talks were quite
weak. The most severe was a talk on Stackless where the original
speaker was unable to be here and someone got up and clicked through
the slide deck at a very fast pace. I thought the person had stepped
in at the last minute, but later learned that he had volunteered with
a couple of weeks' notice. Additionally, the original speaker had
Andrew Dalke's *exact* slide deck from his Stackless talk last year.
One first-time attendee told me over lunch that he was going to
recommend to his employer that they not pay to send their programmers
to PyCon next year based on what he had seen in this year's talks. I
know that's an unpleasant message, but in the interest of preserving
PyCon's quality, I'm willing to be the jerk of a messenger.
> >I know what the argument for the results of Pycon 2008 will be: we
> >needed the money. My answer: it's not worth it. If this is what you
> >have to do to grow the conference, then don't. If the choice is
> >between selling my experience to vendors and reducing the size of the
> >conference, then cut the size of the conference. Keep the quality of
> >my experience as the primary decision criteria, or I'll stop coming.
> That was our intention. Apparently it didn't work for you. I'll wait
> for more feedback before I make up my mind about whether your experience
> was common.
Hopefully the surveys and this thread will be filled with feedback
from the participants. Also, check http://twitter.com/pycon for some
further anecdotal evidence.
The difference (from my POV as the guy who helped plan and run the
lightning talks this year and last) was that last year the sponsor
talks were at a separate time, and clearly labeled as "Sponsor
Lightning Talks". A *lot* of folks still showed up, and they didn't
feel lied-to when they got product or company pitches.
Thanks for being harsh here, Bruce. I've been responsible for
organizing the lightning talks at PyCon over the past few years and
Saturday's talks -- where a grand total of four community talks were
given between twelve sponsor talks -- was the low point. I volunteer
to run the lightning talks because they're usually by *far* my
favorite time of the conference. Yesterday wasn't.
> What was supremely frustrating was discovering that the people wanting
> to give REAL lightning talks had been pushed off the end of the list
> by this guarantee to vendors. We didn't get to see the good stuff, the
> real stuff, because that time had been sold.
Tell me about it. I felt like crap putting up a sign-up sheet with
four names on it.
Again, thanks for your harsh words, Bruce. Needed to be said.
Add me to the list, then, please. I heard from several people that the
entire first day was a bit wasted, that even the non-vendor talks on
Friday were rather dull and simple.
This is my third PyCon, and I've found a reasonably-sized cadre of
people who come for the hallway conversations plus a Bof or two,
having given up on hearing anything new, useful, or inspiring in the
talks. There are several people I know who would like to see a more
advanced academic track.
> What we were trying to do was to increase sponsorship to decrease
> the cost to attendees -- we have NO interest in pushing the
> commercialization of Python.
Can't fault you for that. But perhaps we're seeing the limit of what
that approach can provide.
> I think a lot of people have been caught up in the idea that we need
> to commercialize Python, and ride some kind of wave of publicity the
> way that Java and C# and Rails seem to have done.
This coming from someone who caught the Java wave and rode it for a
Doesn't that make him better to see the problems with it?
This commodification of "eyeballs" is happening in the Ruby community,
as well. 2008 seems to be the year of Ruby conferences, and both
organizers and attendees have been entirely complicit in the gradual
dilution of interesting, un-biased presentations.
As a result, many of the most innovative members in our community no
longer show up. This is a real shame.
My friends and I decided to stage a grassroots Ruby conference this
summer; it will have no paid sponsors for exactly this reason. We're
trying to change up the typical format as well: it's a single-track
event, no "keynotes", no schills for well-heeled interests. We're even
organizing activities for significant others traveling with conference
attendees so that everyone has a good time.
The response we've gotten to this approach has been curious; many
people totally get why these things are important, and the speaker
list reflects this. However, we've also had a lot of complaints that
our event is too expensive. In fact, they say that it should be free,
like a BarCamp. Just get a bunch of sponsors, and that will be the
ticket. We say bollocks to that.
I'm posting here because even though the Python and Ruby communities
are seen as being in some sort of competition, I personally believe
that we have more in common (and lots to learn from each other) than
we are credited for. For example, the popular Haml template engine is
white-space sensitive, and that's a direct nod towards Python syntax.
Thanks for your post, Bruce. You've given us a huge boost that we're
doing something right, here.
(Disclaimer: I have no idea if that would work for pycon at all or in
part, I'm just posting it because I found it thought-provoking.)
I've been running open spaces conferences for the past few years and I
would suggest you do that instead of an "eyes-forward" conference.
It's not only a lot easier, but it's also a lot more fun. For example,
last week we did the Java Posse Roundup, which is all open-spaces.
The way we've handled "sponsorship" for the Roundup is "swag only." If
sponsors want to send gifts, then we'll give them out, but we don't
take money. Everybody seems pretty happy with that arrangement and it
doesn't feel intrusive in the least. So you might consider that.
Because of requests I've had (before Pycon started) we are planning a
small open-spaces conference on Python, this summer in Crested Butte.
The dates haven't been set yet but I'll announce them on my weblog and
elsewhere. It will follow the format of lightning talks to kick off,
then all open spaces (plus the usual hikes and barbeques). And swag-
only contributions from vendors, although that usually just happens
via people who happen to work for vendors, who are coming as
participants and find out they can contribute something else.
> I'm posting here because even though the Python and Ruby communities
> are seen as being in some sort of competition, I personally believe
> that we have more in common (and lots to learn from each other) than
> we are credited for. For example, the popular Haml template engine is
> white-space sensitive, and that's a direct nod towards Python syntax.
I think Ruby has done a lot to push the idea of dynamic languages for
medium and large scale projects and to help recover from the bad
experience many had when they tried to push Perl too far.
> Thanks for your post, Bruce. You've given us a huge boost that we're
> doing something right, here.
I'm sure your conference will be great because you're making it
> If the following seems unnecessarily harsh, it was even more harsh for
As a relative noob to the Python world, (and lurker to the list :) ) I
can't speak to differences from previous years. However, my impressions
as a first-timer are much in alignment with you Bruce. Many lightening
talk seemed to me to be more about recruiting than selling though.
Whereas I might have been discovering a vendor for the first time in a
lightening talk, it wasn't a particularly good use of my time here. I'll
FIND the commercial vendor, because, if they have a good product, word
will get around, aided by their web presence, and formidable advertising
On the other hand, bleeding edge use of Python in a lab on a distant
continent (just for example) is going to be much harder to both
discover, much less get the added bonus of face-to-face time with the
That said, I thank the organizers, and welcome the new friendships made
at this event, and hope like hell I can come next year!!
Sure, but he dumped C++ (a truly non-commercial language) like a bad
habit for the latest silver bullet ten years ago. Complaints against
Java's commercial nature now ring a bit hollow.
Before starting my rant, I would like to encourage anyone who was at
PyCon but has not provided formal feedback to use the following URLs:
For the conference:
For the tutorials:
In article <5776428b-82b3-4921...@b64g2000hsa.googlegroups.com>,
fumanchu <fuma...@aminus.org> wrote:
>This is my third PyCon, and I've found a reasonably-sized cadre of
>people who come for the hallway conversations plus a Bof or two,
>having given up on hearing anything new, useful, or inspiring in the
>talks. There are several people I know who would like to see a more
>advanced academic track.
Let's leave aside the issue of how sponsor talks were handled: assuming
that there's general agreement that this year was a failed experiment,
fixing it is easy.
What you're bringing up here is a much more difficult issue, and it is,
in the end, not a solvable issue in the general case. For starters,
speaking as someone who has been going to science fiction conventions
for more than twenty years, there will inevitably be plenty of people
like your cadre. I rarely go to organized programming anymore, but I
still have a great time because I'm seeing all my friends. PyCon is a
similar community-oriented event.
Moreover, PyCon's success rests on many legs: tutorials, Open Space,
Lightning Talks, formal presentations, keynotes, and sprinting. That's
aside from the myriad opportunities to network with people.
Finally, trying to satisfy a thousand people is impossible. People who
want to emphasize specific topics (e.g. an academic track) will need to
start organizing other kinds of Python conferences.
Now the rant:
If you did not like the programming this year (aside from the sponsor
talks) and you did not participate in organizing PyCon or in delivering
presentations, it is YOUR FAULT. PERIOD. EXCLAMATION POINT!
PyCon is built on the backs of its volunteers. I personally spent more
than twenty hours just doing Program Committee work. We rejected half
the proposals that we received, simply due to lack of space. We had
difficulty evaluating some proposals because nobody on the PC had subject
None of the speakers received any kind of honorarium. Except for keynote
speakers (e.g. Ivan Krstic), no speakers received free registration
unless they requested financial aid.
There are no requirements for volunteering other than a willingness to
volunteer and a modicum of courtesy in working with people.
PyCon is what YOU make of it. If you want to change PyCon, propose a
presentation or join the conference committee (concom) -- the latter only
requires signing up for the pycon-organizers mailing list.
This doesn't mean that we are uninterested in feedback. We love
feedback. But there are stark limits to what we can do unless people get
involved and push their pet projects.
The same rules apply for most of the other Python conferences, too.
Apologies to Aahz for hijacking his rant, but for anyone interested in
enhancing the EuroPython 2008 experience, the advice is fairly
similar: join the volunteers organising the conference and make what
you want to see actually happen. For EuroPython, start here:
If EuroPython is too remote or not to your taste, help your local
conference or the Python conference which caters to your specific
Constructive feedback is always welcome, but it's better to change
things before your favourite conference so that it remains your
> I would like to encourage anyone who was at PyCon but has not
> provided formal feedback to use the following URLs:
For those who don't like to follow opaque munged URLs from services
that give no indication where you'll end up, here are the actual URLs
you'll arrive at:
> For the conference:
PyCon 2008: Conference Feedback
> For the tutorials:
PyCon 2008: Tutorial Evaluation
Thanks for posting these links, Aahz.
\ "Imagine a world without hypothetical situations." —anonymous |
Sorry, I agree with you -- those URLs were not (and should have been) on
pycon.org, and I just pasted what I got from someone else. Not enough
I haven't been to EuroPython even when it has been fairly nearby
because the entrance fee was to high. But how do you help change
something like that?
I find this insulting, inexcusable, and utter nonsense. If putting the
blame for a failed experiment on the backs of the good folks who paid
good money for travel, lodging, and registration is also an
experiment, you can hereby consider it also failed.
The bottom line is that the people who are providing feedback in this
forum are doing so *voluntarily*, and for the good of future PyCon
events. They were sold a bill of goods, it was ill-comunicated, and
they have taken their time to express that this is not a good idea
moving forward. If it weren't for these people giving feedback, you
would not have a complete experiment, because you would never have
been able to prove or disprove your hypothesis. In fact, the people in
this forum are just as important to the process as those who devised
As an experiment, it would seem that having an event organizer, who is
presumably interested in the future success of the event, talking down
to the people who would also like to see a better event in the future
(and think they can make that happen - otherwise why bother giving
feedback?), is doomed to failure. Of course, I'm only looking at how
the experiment is being carried out. I claim ignorance as to the
The rest of the points in your rant are all pretty commonly known by
now, to most. At the end of the day, the buck has to stop somewhere,
and that somewhere has to be with the organization that were charged
with motivating a volunteer force, and the organization who set the
expectations of the attendees. If you think that PyCon would've been
better had there been more volunteers, then you should feed that back
to the folks in charge of attracting and motivating said force. If you
think it was simply a mis-labeling of the different classes of talks,
feed that back to the folks who are in charge of such things. The
point is that there are endless things that can be done which are more
useful and productive than pointing fingers back at the people who
support the conference by being attendees. They help build the
A conference answers to its attendees, and that should be an
expectation of anyone concerned with conference organization. Period.
Brian K. Jones
Editor in Chief
He said "aside from the sponsor talks", chief.
You need one of these:
Yes, this sucked, and I say that as one of the guys that gave a boring
vendor lightning talk. I felt obligated to take the slot but probably
shouldn't have, or should have talked about something else.
The problem was definition of the sponsorships without carefully
the benefits that would get out of hand when 3X as many sponsorships
sold as expected (which is what happened).
To be fair, I'm not sure I would have foreseen this either.
> I know what the argument for the results of Pycon 2008 will be: we
> needed the money. My answer: it's not worth it. If this is what you
> have to do to grow the conference, then don't. If the choice is
> between selling my experience to vendors and reducing the size of the
> conference, then cut the size of the conference. Keep the quality of
> my experience as the primary decision criteria, or I'll stop coming.
I have to admit, I'll keep coming to PyCon even if all the talks suck
abysmally as long as there's good hallway time, open space, BoFs, and
But, yes, lightning talks are also a critical part of the conf, and
would be a terrible loss.
Since the rubyfringe seems to make also a commitment against the Ruby
mainstream I'm not sure how Open Spaces can help? Self organization is
always an aid for those who are already strong, maintain popular
projects ( Rails, Django... anyone? ) and keep lots of attention. I
certainly wouldn't attend to an Open Space conference if I intended to
make my development and findings public.
Carl Banks writes:
I see no reason why the "fault" for parts of the rest being
sub-optimal, too, must necessarily be on the attendee's side. (Just
hypothetically; I wasn't at PyCon.)
OK, so why not get rid of all the talks and other stuff, and just have
a basically structureless conference, beyond scheduling some open
meetings on various topics? That would be a lot less expensive and a
lot more interesting.
No vendor with integrity will want their advertising to be presented to
attendees as anything but advertising. If vendors won't buy advertising,
then find different ways to fund the conferences.
This sounds like an example of the editorial-content/advertising dilemma
that publishers have wrestled with for a long time. It's basically
impossible for anybody, even for seasoned professionals, to both sell
advertising and set editorial content without bias. In the publishing
business, it is a very big no-no for the same people to both sell
advertising and also set editorial content. When you go high enough in an
organization, it's harder to do, but still a goal.
Perhaps the organizers can therefore learn from the experience of
1) Keep the folks who sell things in an "advertising department". They need
to be different people from the folks who book keynotes and such.
2) Keep the folks who book keynotes and such in a "content department". They
need to be different people from the folks who sell things.
3) Do everything possible to keep the "advertising" and "content"
departments firewalled. This is cultural as much as anything else. Like any
other potential conflict of interest situation, make it honorable for folks
to recuse themselves when they sense a bias in themselves.
You could join in and make your case. There was a more protracted
discussion than usual last year about fees because some people pointed
out the discrepancy between salary and price levels in different parts
of Europe and the need to make the conference more affordable: what
may be relatively inexpensive for some might be relatively expensive
for others, and the organisers felt that it would be foolish to
exclude the latter group, particularly when they may be more likely to
travel to the conference in its present location.
It's hard to say whether the conference is reaching everyone it
should, given the composition of attendees:
But without anyone to pursue a particular cause, and with decisions
needing to be made within certain timeframes (which is often a
struggle, anyway), things often get preserved as they are rather than
being improved. I live in a European country which is either number
one or two on the price scale (depending on whether you include
alcohol prices or not), and I can't say what the right fee level
should be (other than "possibly lower than it is") - it's up to others
to weigh in and give their opinion, I think.
I don't think you can lump the keynotes in with the lightning talks.
I had to go check the schedule to see which keynotes were "diamond"
ones. I wasn't thinking to myself, "oh, this must be a paid keynote"
at the time at all. In fact, the Google one was the most entertaining
of all, judging by audience reaction.
But the vast majority of the vendor lightning talks were a waste of
time, I agree.
>> I haven't been to EuroPython even when it has been fairly nearby
>> because the entrance fee was to high. But how do you help change
>> something like that?
> You could join in and make your case. There was a more protracted
> discussion than usual last year about fees because some people pointed
> out the discrepancy between salary and price levels in different parts
> of Europe and the need to make the conference more affordable: what
> may be relatively inexpensive for some might be relatively expensive
> for others, and the organisers felt that it would be foolish to
> exclude the latter group, particularly when they may be more likely to
> travel to the conference in its present location.
> It's hard to say whether the conference is reaching everyone it
> should, given the composition of attendees:
I did not event think on attending EuroPython in Switzerland due to high
cost of 3-day accomodation there (relatively to my wage these times).
Lithuania seems to be not much more expensive than my home country, so
I'll travel to Vilnius this year too. I thionk it was valid for others
in Poland too, judging from the figures you mention.
> But without anyone to pursue a particular cause, and with decisions
> needing to be made within certain timeframes (which is often a
> struggle, anyway), things often get preserved as they are rather than
> being improved. I live in a European country which is either number
> one or two on the price scale (depending on whether you include
> alcohol prices or not), and I can't say what the right fee level
> should be (other than "possibly lower than it is") - it's up to others
> to weigh in and give their opinion, I think.
EUR 100 does not seem too high as early bird registration fee, so the
most intimidating costs (for me at least) is accomodation and travel. I
mean, lowering the fee would be nice, but not essential to me.
"We read Knuth so you don't have to." (Tim Peters)
Let's suppose you have a group of friends who collectively throw a party.
They invite you to help out organizing it and putting it together, but
you choose not to. If you don't have a good time at the party because it
wasn't what you wanted, I think it's fair to say it was your fault. And
I think exactly the same thing is true for PyCon, albeit on a much larger
It is absolutely critical to the long-term success of PyCon as a
volunteer-run community conference that each attendee take responsibility
for their experience. Science fiction fandom -- the part that holds
volunteer-run events such as Worldcon -- has lots of experience with this
model. It is one reason why such cons make a fuss about attendees being
"members", compared to "purchasing a ticket" (which is what you do for a
commercialized Star Trek con).
Don't think we haven't discussed this. The problem is that some kinds of
talks demand a lot of preparation (and therefore need to be scheduled in
advance), plus plenty of people like some structure. PyCon -- like most
organized human endeavors -- is in many ways about the art of compromise,
trying to figure out how to satisfy as many people as possible and
disappointing as few as possible, keeping in mind that it is almost
impossible to completely satisfy anyone and most people will have some
disappointment (if only because two talks that are ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL to
them are cross-scheduled).
>> I see no reason why the "fault" for parts of the rest being
>> sub-optimal, too, must necessarily be on the attendee's side.
>> (Just hypothetically; I wasn't at PyCon.)
> Let's suppose you have a group of friends who collectively throw a
> party. They invite you to help out organizing it and putting it
> together, but you choose not to. If you don't have a good time at
> the party because it wasn't what you wanted, I think it's fair to
> say it was your fault. And I think exactly the same thing is true
> for PyCon, albeit on a much larger scale.
Fair enough. But then I question the sensibility in saying "it is
XY's fault" at all.
Somebody not involved in organising was not happy with the Con. You
may take the criticism or leave it. The criticism may be justified
or not. But saying that it is "his fault" is useless in my opinion,
it even discourages feedback. It think it's okay to evaluate
something that you didn't help coming into existence. A good point
is a good point no matter who makes it.
I can't speak to your issues with the normal sessions, but your bad
experience with the lightning talks was my fault. And, in apologizing to
you, I hope that all the others on this thread who have expressed
similar sentiments hear me too.
Ultimately, we miscalculated in certain respects. It wasn't any
particular thing, but rather there were a couple of issues that came
1 - We had an incredible amount of sponsorship. Higher than expected by
anyone. This wasn't bad in itself (I think it was very good!), but it
set the stage for some of the issues later.
2 - As part of the sponsor package, we promised the sponsors priority
for a lightning talk. Our thought was that the sponsor lightning talks
from last year were well received, so they probably would be this year
as well. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case - at least
having *that many* was not well received.
3 - We had a very limited time when some of the sponsors would still be
here - basically Friday and Saturday. The major problem on Saturday is
that we *had* to stack the sponsor talks that way or else we would not
fulfill our obligations to our sponsors.
We offered lightning talks this year because a) we didn't know how well
the expo hall would go, and b) that was the only way for the sponsors to
connect with the audience last year - so we assumed that it might be the
same way this year. This was discussed and generally agreed-to in
September. IIRC, the sponsor lightnings were not an issue that was
subject to much debate back then, most people were accustomed to the
generally positive 2007 experience.*
I think that with the success of the expo hall, we can remove the
lightning talks from the sponsor benefits for next year, and at this
point I am in favor of doing so.
Personally, I was *very* disappointed that some of our sponsors didn't
prepare or even show up for their assigned slots. I think that the
sponsors are members of our community, and I expect them to act as such.
Taking slots and not showing up - or not showing up prepared - isn't how
I would hope a community member would act.
*(On the other hand, the Diamond keynotes were the subject of
substantial debate - but I thought those went well; I would like to keep
them for next year.)
You have a lot of good points, Aahz. I was thinking of the talks and
such as a kind of seminar learning event, not a participatory
community event. I went for two reasons:
1) To learn more Plone / Zope
2) To hang out with Python geeks
The first one I didn't really get anywhere with, but I got lots of
time with PyCon attendees, which was cool. I hope I can go next year,
make new friends and maybe present some of my own stuff.
* There's a reason why I labelled it a "rant" ;-)
* You may be misunderstanding the distinction between "fault" and
When there is fault, it is a person's responsibility to correct it.
Blame, OTOH, is about responsibility that *should* have been taken.
We're not telling people that they should volunteer to run PyCon
(although the vast majority of people who help run events like this end
up enjoying them more than people who just show up). But anyone who
complains and doesn't volunteer is at fault -- the only recourse likely
to produce results is to change their volunteer status.
As I said, feedback is welcome. Those of us who volunteer do so because
we care about the Python community and want to put on a successful event
for everyone. But we can rarely make commitments to change anything
unless people step up to fix them.
It's really no different from the people who show up here on c.l.py to
complain about Python: the answer inevitably boils down to "write a
Well understood. Sorry if I implied it was an easy job. I know it
> If you did not like the programming this year (aside from the sponsor
> talks) and you did not participate in organizing PyCon or in delivering
> presentations, it is YOUR FAULT. PERIOD. EXCLAMATION POINT!
This would be true, except that the two talks I proposed last year
were essentially denied because they were too advanced, so I didn't
even bother this year. Perhaps I should have, but the PERIOD needs to
at least be replaced by a COMMA as long as the talk-acceptance
committee continues to reject more advanced talk topics in favor of
HOWTOs and Introduction To Package X.
This was also my first time at PyCon and I thought I'd expand on what
Mike said as I feel pretty much the same way. I also want to provide
some constructive feedback that can hopefully help improve the next
I attended all the keynotes, 15 sessions and two days of the lightning
talks. I was disappointed with about one-third of the keynotes and
sessions. I found only a handful of the lightning talks interesting.
My biggest complaint was the lack of preparation of the speaker:
* in three cases the presenter had a recent problem with their laptop
but had no back-up plan (dead drive, dead power supply, unable to
video out to projector). The presenters didn't have a copy of their
presentation elsewhere (thumb drive, or even a printout) so they
winged it and the presentation was difficult to follow and
When I have presented at conferences in the past, we were required
submit our presentations and materials to the conference at least a
week before so they could make them available on a web site and also
on backup laptops at the conference.
* the PyCon feedback survey doesn't allow for any useful feedback
the presentations. You only get to pick your five favorites. There
should be forms available (hardcopy or online) where we can give
to the presenters themselves. My impression is that many of the
have presented at PyCon before and may do so in the future so this
can help them be more effective. I found it a bit ironic that I
at least three sessions with a strong testing theme that talked
the importance of feedback in the development process and how it
improve the quality of the final product, yet there was no channel
provide feedback to the presenters themselves. It seemed a glaring
omission to me that the PyCon survey had questions about whether I
a room (who cares?) but not about the quality of the presenters and
* As a PyCon first-timer, I was not aware of the open meetings and
discussions while I was there. I feel like I might have missed one
more valuable parts of the conference simply because I was ignorant.
would have been nice to get the word out a bit more - maybe an
each morning at the beginning of the keynotes.
* There has been a lot of discussion about the reservation of
slots to sponsors. What I don't understand is why this wasn't
the conference. I've seen some of the organizers defend the
but no one explain why it wasn't mentioned beforehand. I'm left with
impression that the organizers knew this would be unpopular and
to draw attention to it. I think a lot of this could have been
disclosing this change before the conference took place (in which
community may have pushed back and convinced the organizers to
the decision). Or at least it could have been disclosed at the
so people could have decided to skip the lightning talks and
own ad-hoc meetings or talks. Experimenting isn't bad. But failing
disclose this information was a poor decision - especially at a
that prides itself in openness and community involvement.
* Lastly, I found the technical depth at most talks to be too shallow.
especially surprised at this because I've only been using Python for
years, so I still think I'm a bit of a noob. But if you looked
the conference, you saw a bunch of people who are really into
(so much that many of them were doing it _during_ the talks) so to
the audience isn't capable of following deep technical discussions
is a bit
off the mark. At other conferences I've attended and/or presented
would typically rate presentations as a level 1, 2 or 3. I think
help set people's expectations. That coupled with session-level
help the organizers plan future PyCon sessions that better match the
That said, I did learn a few things at PyCon and found the overall
pretty good. I simply had been hoping for a little more...
Django code lab was fantastic.
Teach me Twisted was a fantastic, innovative, and effective way to teach
a new technology. There was a little bit of difficulty hearing over the
cross-talk, but I just moved up front and had no further troubles (and
better access to the Balvenie single-malt!
Most of the sessions I attended were moderately to highly useful. FWIW,
none of my presenters had laptop troubles, except at teach me twisted,
but we weren't on as much of a time crunch, and we took care of that one
pretty easily and kept going.
The only useless one I attended was actually the most highly technical,
not because it didn't have good information, but because functions were
used without reference to what module they had been imported from and
slides containing 15-20 line functions were left up for about thirty
seconds, and then were gone. I couldn't even finish reading them.
Note to speakers: do not say
x, y = tee(foo)
from itertools import tee
x, y = tee(foo)
or better (for pedagogical purposes)
x, y = itertools.tee(foo)
I don't disagree with the criticisms leveled throughout this thread, but
I do want to say that I think it has been a great conference, and for
me, the problems did not ruin the experience. Heed these criticisms and
it will be even better next year. Ignore them, and it will probably
degrade over time.
I help to organize a community based conference, and we have struggled
with providing value for sponsors as well. I have some suggestions,
which I will offer here and to PyCon organizers. This sounds similar
to what one person described above, regarding how lightning talks were
managed in '07.
At CodeMash, we scheduled a daily slot for vendor sessions and clearly
marked them as such. We were concerned that attendees would simply
avoid the vendor sessions, which would backfire. To mitigate this
risk, we strongly encouraged our vendors to do something "different"
than a sales pitch for vendor sessions, asking them to consider
providing something meaningful for the audience. Talks weren't
reviewed; we just gave them a nudge when we discussed the vendor
sessions with them. They were entitled to choose a pure sales pitch
if they wanted to do so, but we definitely discouraged this activity.
And the sponsors responded with some great talks, and expressed
satisfaction in the entire process! The vendor sessions were well
attended, and it was completely transparent that they WERE vendor
sessions. I had been totally skeptical about providing vendor
sessions ahead of time, yet even *I* was won over. Vendors WANT
people to come to their sessions. Sometimes they, just like speakers,
simply need a little nudge in recognizing what makes a compelling
In my opinion, other speakers suffered from not knowing what makes a
compelling talk as well. I don't know what other talks were proposed,
but those that were on the schedule were often disappointing because
the speaker provided too much "background" and not enough "here's
what's cool" for me. Those were the talks that I walked out of. I
suffer from this same problem as a speaker and I'm trying to fix that
myself. I hope that other speakers are interested in doing the same.
As for the attitude that if you weren't involved with organizing
Pycon, you can't complain about it, that's a bit unfair. Several
people DID engage in the conference onsite, organizing Open Spaces
discussions (Bruce included). I saw Bruce both suggesting Open Spaces
talks and being recruited to convene them (and, in one case, even
reconvene one that had taken place earlier). That's being involved in
the process, and should not be discounted.
Furthermore, in my experience, people don't usually complain about
things that don't matter to them. It's important, IMO, to recognize
that the complaints you see on this group seem to come from the heart,
from a desire to see PyCon flourish and be a conference worth
attending. I certainly feel that way, and I suspect that the vast
majority of people who have offered constructive criticism here do as
I'm bummed about the lightning talks at PyCon from 2008, but I have a
lot of confidence based on what I have read here from Jacob and
others, that things will be different in 2009. Thank you for
listening to the community feedback.
They will! This year's lightning talks[*] were disappointing because
nobody really thought through how having so many more sponsors changed
the dynamic. Now we know, and we'll fix it.
[*] Personally, I thought the Sunday talks -- which featured no
sponsors -- were quite good. I think attendance was spotty because it
was the last day, and because Saturday's talks were so painful.
* Saturday and Sunday were much better than Friday.
* Open-source != Anti-vendor. The vendors are a vital part of the
* Lightning talks should be proportionate to their information
content. The most common vendor message can be done in 45 seconds
while the next speaker is setting-up: "Hi, I'm Raymond from Raymond
Enterprises. We sell Raymond's signature to Raymond's fans. We use
Python to crawl the web for clients wanting his signature. We're
hiring Python programmers with experience in web-crawling. We're
proud to sponsor for PyCon 2009. Good night and good luck.".
* The sole guiding principle for the conference should be whatever
best serves the attendees.
* As the conference gets bigger, lots of previously minor annoyances
will become more irritating. The conference organizers will adapt as
* Vendor/sponsor presentations should not have priority over
Also, lots of things went well:
* Sean stepped-in and fixed-up the wireless for Saturday and Sunday
(but on Friday the third-party wireless setup sucked mightily).
* The conference admin (checkin, schedule posting, etc) was excellent.
* The AV work was great (you'll soon be able to see HD recordings for
* Steve Holden successfully created a new type of talk, "Teach me
* The feedback on the tutorials was excellent, the BoFs seemed to go
well, and the sprints are off to a nice start.
* The conference was close to the airport.
One last thought:
* Most of the conference work is done by volunteers. As the community
grows, more volunteers will be needed (for next year, I plan to help
by reviewing talk proposals).
I agree - the balance wasn't as good. We can all agree that HowTos
and Intros are a necessary part of the conference talks track, but as
Robert pointed out some talks should be of a more advanced nature. I
enjoy those that stretch my brain. Alex M, Pyke and NetworkIO and
Mark Hammond's keynote were among my favorite talks.
Yes, the keynotes were very boring compared to last year. If there's
only one thing ot change, I think sponsorship shouldn't entitle one to
FWIW, tho we sponsored at a Platinum level from Microsoft this year
but we declined to take up on any lightning talks, etc. To me, its
worth sponsoring PyCon (just for Python) irrespective of what we get.
>Note to speakers: do not say
> x, y = tee(foo)
> from itertools import tee
> x, y = tee(foo)
>or better (for pedagogical purposes)
> import itertools
> x, y = itertools.tee(foo)
I was scratching my head over tee() also, in the session where I heard
it. Were you in the "iterators II" session also? I've used itertools
a bit, but never tee(), and so when I thumbed through my copy of PER I
thought, ahh, I've skimmed over but never registered the importance of
that little bugger before... That was one of the more interesting
sessions to me.
If there must diamond 'keynotes' put them at the end of a session or
in a separate track so we can easily avoid them if we wish. But
personally, I don't think keynotes should be for sale at all in any
One problem I faced was that there were sessions that had few talks I
was interested in and other that had several at the same time where I
couldn't attend all that I was interested. It's likely that there is
no good solution to this, but perhaps one could try a new scheme for
scheduling talks by posting the talk list early and letting
registrants select the top n talks they want to see and running some
sort of scheduling optimizer that tries to satisfy most of these
desires (I have no idea if anything like this exists anywhere).
And if you do decide to change how you handle sponsorship don't be
afraid to say publicly how things are going to be different next time.
There could well be many who won't go next time (like me) unless they
have some reasons to believe that things will be different.
We introduced sponsor lighting talks last year. This year it got out
of hand because there were twice as many sponsors. By the time the
Lightning Talk coordinators realized this, the sponsors had already
been promised a priority talk so we couldn't back out of it. So it
was a lack of foresight, not some commercial plot.
Next year we (the Lightning Talk coordinators) have recommended either
not having sponsor lighting talks, or moving them to a separate (non-
plenary) session. The vendor exhibition was much bigger this year,
and I think that's an adequate replacement for sponsor lighting
talks. If there are sufficient Open Space rooms, they can also create
their own session.
> At first the morning plenary sessions -- where the entire conference
> audience was in a single room -- just seemed a bit commercial. But
> then I slowly figured out that the so-called "diamond keynotes" were
> actually sold to vendors. It must have sounded great to some
I liked the mini-keynotes and I don't think they detracted from the
main keynotes. I did know what "diamond" meant so I knew they were
sponsor talks. I guess that should be clearer on the schedule.
> What was supremely frustrating was discovering that the people wanting
> to give REAL lightning talks had been pushed off the end of the list
The worst part of scheduling Lighting Talks is there's always more
interesting speakers than time. This seems to be an insolvable
The main problem I had at PyCon this year was the number of talk I
wanted to see that were scheduled at the same time as other talks I
wanted to see.
The highlight was the number of Open Space rooms and events. I didn't
attend any of these, but they seemed unusually lively this year.
> On top of that, the quality of the presentations was unusually low.
I did feel that. An advanced track would be a good idea. Because you
do need to repeat stuff for the newbies. At least 30% of the
attendees were at PyCon for the first time.
Raymond Hettinger's talk on collections was not only one of my
favorites, it was apparently lots of other people's too--the room was
PACKED. I can't recall seeing any other talk that was even close to
> > On top of that, the quality of the presentations was unusually low.
> I did feel that. An advanced track would be a good idea. Because
> you do need to repeat stuff for the newbies. At least 30% of the
> attendees were at PyCon for the first time.
Not all first-comers are newbies; I attended for the first time too
but I've been using Python for the last four years or so. My overall
(totally unscientific) impression was that most attendants had at
least a decent grasp of the language.
The "Using PyGame and PySight to Create an Interactive Halloween
Activity (#9)" session with Mr. John Harrison was also quite full as
was the one for Pyglet. I think the nose presentation had people
sitting on the floor.
Geeks like games! I know I do!
As I have never attended PyCon, the amount of entertainment already
gleaned from this thread has wildly exceeded my expectations. :) Are
slides or notes from any of the presentations available online? What
was the topic of the well-received presentation from Google?
I'm mostly intrigued by the tantalising hints being dropped regarding
Steve Holden's Teach Me Twisted talk ;)
Seconded. I haven't been at a Python Conf for a long time
but as a former attendee and (not very good) organizer I
have a couple suggestions based on my past experience and
- The conference is too long and it shouldn't be on the weekend.
- Almost all talks should be 10 minutes at most
with prepared slides and extended abstract with references.
- With much shorter talks you should be able to accept just about any
properly prepared talk (with abstract and slides) and this
should reduce the politics and increase the attendance (with
speakers and some colleagues and maybe broader interest).
I don't know about this conference, but in past conferences
I've been frustrated by people who give out a train of
conscience meander including popping in and out of various console
prompts, editors, web pages, guis... without conveying any useful
information (to me) in 30 minutes. If you tell them they have
10 minutes and make them get organized in advanced
they are much more likely to get to the point and
everyone can see something else before they run out of
-- Aaron Watters
bye bye petroleum! good riddance.
For me as first time pycon attendee, i think this would be an absolute
disaster. The talks gave me an opportunity to sit next to new people
and meet people I wouldnt have otherwise if they had simply "put us
out to pasture" to chat it up.
I think for devs that are just meeting each other, having some sort of
subject matter to talk about is a big deal, and the talks forced
that. I agree though that once things get going, the hallway time and
BOF time would be fantastic.
I just read this entire thread to be caught up. I am a first time
PyCon-goer (as my previous post states). Because I have nothing to
compare this year's experience to, I'll give it to you as I saw it.
None of this is intended as a rant, (except maybe the lightning talk
Numero Uno: The Lightning Talks.
The best lightning talk I saw was the one where the guy's code didn't
work and he couldn't believe it or simply move on with his
presentation, it was hilarious but I felt bad for the guy.
I have to be honest, I had heard GREAT things about the lightning
talks and I went to the session expecting to hear something great, or
at least feel the same sense of community I felt when discussing
python in education (i'm a student) or its use in the industry. I
went with a friend who also attended the conference from my school and
sat down expectantly.
I noticed the guy was trying to set up a powerproint (or OOo or
whatever) presentation and I simply couldnt believe it. A powerpoint
presentation? Pictures? text? preparation? That doesn't sound like
lightning at all. It sounds like, "slow-tning" talks. Methodically
prepared sales-pitch presentations on johnny q. coder's latest
commercial triumph. I thought these talks were spur of the moment,
community-delivered and off the cuff?
In my opinion, i don't believe that lightning talks should include the
option of using presentation software, maybe thats too restrictive,
but it seems to me that we'd be treated to much more grassroots or
user-given talks rather than sponsor-given ones.
I could just be ranting.
Number Two: Presenters should be required to post their slides on the
web site / schedule before they are permitted to present.
We want 'em, they've got 'em, and I was in more than one session where
simply having uploaded them to the PyCon schedule would have saved the
presenters bacon when it came time for their laptop to die or
I realize that these presentations are fluid and change (often the
night before!) but a failsafe like this wouldn't hurt anyone.
Number Three: Too much code, not enough concept.
Presenters this one's for you. I can't count the number of
presentations I attended where the presenter would click through three
slides of pycode just to show us a two or three-line snippet that
illustrated their point. Worse yet, it was often at the bottom of the
screen so no one but the front row could see it. This goes for text
two. I saw some great presentations as well, and they had limited
text on each slide. The last thing your audience wants to see is a
slide drenched in text of any kind.
You only have 30 minutes (or less). Show us brief couplets of code
for syntax sake. We don't care about code, we care about the
concept. If it were an hour lecture you could go through pages of
code and itd be great, but when we can't even read the whole slide
before you move on then its too much.
Number Four: What's a BOF?
Noob here. My first pycon and I didnt know the terminology. Shocker
huh? Heh, well i figured it out into the first day, but still didn't
quite get the concept. Around day two or three i started attending
these and learned just how cool they are.
With the RAPID growth pycon has shown over the last few years, perhaps
a little session at the beginning to help the newcomers or a
"Terminology" page in the handbook would be helpful?
As a student attending his first pycon, i must say it was AWESOME.
Depending on the sessions i chose to attend, i learned all KINDS of
useful stuff. Pyglet, Stackless (i'm willing to give it a chance
despite the mediocre presentation), RE, pysight and more.
Coming from a small school out west, the experience of visiting a
convention where a community actually existed was an incredible
experience. That was probably the best part of the conference was
seeing that there truly was a programming community and meeting other
like-minded people and being able to finally discuss things of
programming importance with them. I guess thats what we had hoped to
see more of in the lightning talks.
We enjoyed the EXPO as well and a couple of our graduating attendees
have nabbed phone interviews with companies that were represented
I am definitely planning on returning to pycon next year, if only to
rub shoulders with other python programmers again and *hopefully*
attend a conference that has learned from any mistakes this year and
become an even better event for 2009.