PyCon India 2010 : A report

October 1st, 2010

PyCon India 2010 was the second installment of our very own PyCon. A lot of people worked really hard to make this happen and we tried to learn from the experiences of last year and do a better job. The conference was organised by the Indian Python Software Society and was held at the M.S. Ramaiah institute of technology, Bangalore on the 25tr and 26th of September 2010.

We had around 650 people attending on the first day. On the second day, it dropped to around 300.

There were approximately 60 talks spread across 3 tracks and a special track targeted at scientists and engineers conducted by FOSSEE which contained half a day of lectures and one and a half days of workshops.

Our main sponsors this time were ZeOmega and FOSSEE. We also had support from the Python Software Foundation and had smaller sponsorships from TANDBERG and ProjectPlace. Mahiti helped us out with a lot of the logistical issues and we partnered with Vodex technologies to provide offline copies of the presentations. We partnered with DoAttend to help us with the ticketing so that participants could register online beforehand and shorten the queues.

We were able to get David Goodger to come and be our keynote speaker for the conference thanks to help from our sponsors and the PSF.

Like last time, I was the semi-official leader of the entire project. I’m glad to say that it went reasonably well.

Unlike last time, I am listing below the list of people who actively helped out with the event so that it goes on the record (if I’ve missed your name, please drop me an email).

  • Anand Pillai - Handled Talks and scheduling
  • Anand C. And Abhishek - Webmasters
  • Vijay - Sponsor coordinator
  • Arvind Dixit - Recording and A/V.
  • Kenneth - Handled creation of society and bank account.
  • Santhosh - Handled Records (treasurer)
  • Sree - Swag, Infrastructure, food.
  • Kunal - Banners, id cards, coupons
  • Anil and other student volunteers from MSRIT - Ground support and running around
  • Kunal, Ramki and Vijay - Session chairs

Following is an account of the weekend of the conference.

David arrived on the 22nd. It was his first trip to India and we tried to show him around the place as much as we could.

On the day before the event, there was the looming “threat” of a verdict for a 6 decade old civil case. The local government had initially declared a preemptive curfew on the weekend which would have forced us to cancel/postpone the event. The fear we had is reflected in this blog post. However, the verdict was pushed forward by a week and we were able to conduct the event as scheduled.

Due to work pressure, I was not able to visit the venue on the night before the conference. Sree looked over the place, made sure that everything was working fine. It rained quite heavily the night before the conference. I called all the volunteers who had taken charge of the various aspects and made sure things were in place. The even we were working towards for 6 months was finally going to take place.

The following are my descriptions of the two days. Unlike last year, I wasn’t able to attend too many talks and so it’s mostly just my experiences as a “manager” rather than a delegate.

25 September 2010 - Saturday

I met Anand Pillai at my house at around 600 hours and went to pick David up. We got to the college at around 700 hours and started to get things ready for the keynote. Sree was already there and Anil and his band of student volunteers got things moving quite well. The A/V guys arrived and Arvind took care of doing what was necessary to get them rolling. It started on time without any problems.

Things suffered a little after this. The crowds started pouring in. While Sree, Santhosh and the other volunteers did a great job at the registration desk, a queue did form. People hadn’t taken printouts, they opted for size L and took size XL etc. Some people wanted to register on the spot and started bargaining on the price. The lack of civil sense was… characteristic. However, the queue cleared by around 1100 and things went on.

Wifi was a problem that was reported over and over again. Lack of IP addresses, lack of signal strength and numerous other problems prevented people from using it effectively. This was uncool and we need to figure out a way to do this properly next year. Anand C. had a wireless router which he brought from his house which we set up to help. It did help but wasn’t enough.

Another problem was that one of our halls (the “hitech hall”) was away from the other two halls which were easily accessible. We didn’t stick up maps and the signs were not sufficient. People were wandering around without direction and support at this hall was less than satisfactory. This led to delays and other problems because of which a lot of speakers whose talks were scheduled in this hall suffered. We need to take care of this kind of situation next year. The volunteers Anil had arranged couldn’t all make it since they had placement tests to write and so we were short of people at the venue to help with directions etc.

The caterers messed up with the lunch setup. I don’t like the idea of barking at volunteers since they’re doing the work they are out of their own good will but if we’re paying for something, I expect some amount of professionalism. I was relaxing when Anand told me about the lunch delay. There wasn’t much to be done but they got the tables set up 30 minutes late and the queues grew long and uncomfortable. However, there was still enough time and the afternoon talks didn’t get delayed.

The afternoon sessions went reasonably well. However, there were a few speakers who cancelled their talks without informing us. This messed up our schedules.

I wanted to attend the Zen of Web talk by Anand C. but couldn’t. I missed the celery and twisted talks as well. I missed llvm-py too. I attended part of the ZIO talk by Vijay Kumar and Asim Mittal’s Wii related talk which were both nice. I stayed for Arun R.’s blender talk but was too exhausted and stepped out for a cup of tea. The hardware talks (ZIO and Wii) were well received and I liked the preparedness of the presenters.

We left a little late. I dropped off David and got back home.

26 September 2010 - Sunday

I picked up David in the morning a little late. I had been burning the candle at both ends for longer than is healthy and I was starting to buckle. I reached the venue and saw a significantly lower turnout. My morning talk was postponed to the afternoon since Baiju couldn’t make it due to bad health. I sat in David’s talk for a while in the morning but was too distracted to pay attention. My own talk went okay. Things went mostly well. A few talks were cancelled but we filled in the spots as much as we could.

We ended the day with the first annual general meeting of the Indian Python Software Society. Kenneth chaired it and we had some discussions and motions passed. After that, all of the volunteers headed to a nearby restaurant for a treat and we got back home.

Thoughts

The talk quality was slightly better than last time but it’s still the major sore point (apart from the wifi). We need to be more active with talk screening and give more time to the selected talks so that people can talk better. A separate tutorial day would be good too although that would spill into the weekdays.

I delegated work a lot more than last time. There were large aspects of the conference that I was simply unaware of and completely willing to entrust to the volunteers. This improved the cohesion of our core group of volunteers. That’s a good thing.

During the initial discussions on the mailing list, I put my foot down a few times and that led to some rather bad vibes in the community. In retrospect, I really do sound annoying in that email. This was a bit of learning experience for me. Made me appreciate the kind of balance that real project leaders like Guido and Linus must maintain.

There were quite a few people on the mailing list who brought up completely irrelevant topics during discussions and wasted valuable volunteer time and energy discussing useless topics. This was annoying and it’s taking all the strength I have to stay quiet.

The conference was bigger and better than last years in all respects in my opinion. We didn’t take any steps back but have a lot of steps to take forward. The road is clearer now.

This was a humbling experience for me. To pull something like this off. A foreign keynote speaker, over 600 participants, so many interactions, so many volunteers. I think it went well.

Next years event is slated to be held in Chennai. I will be taking a subordinate role during the event. People are probably fed up of my attitude anyway. :)

See you all there!

Game review : Flashback - The quest for identity

July 28th, 2010

PyCon India 2010 badges

June 29th, 2010

Sherlock Holmes computer games

June 29th, 2010

PyCon India 2010

June 23rd, 2010