PyCon India 2009 : A report

PyCon India 2009 was the first developer conference held in India which catered specifically to the Python language and related technologies. It was organised by the Bangalore Python user group and was held at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore on 26 and 27 of September 2009.

Around 350 people attended the event on the first day. On the second, the attendance dropped to around 170 or so.

There were approximately 20 talks including the keynote. A number of lightning talks were also held. Some of them were registered earlier, others were on the spot.

Our main sponsors were ZeOmega and ThoughtWorks. Our Associate sponsors were Dux software, Navisite, TenXperts, Strand life sciences, and Mahiti. We also had help from The Indian Institute of Science and from the Python Software Foundation itself.

I was the first among equals for this whole project and this is my account of the weekend of the event. Since this is a public document, I’m toning down some of my stronger feelings. Those are best brought out during face to face meetings and discussions with relvant people.

This whole event would not have been possible without the help of many volunteers. There are too many to mention and missing out names would be unfair. Hence, I’m going to stay away from mentioning names altogether.

2009-09-25 Fri

I left work after lunch and arrived at the venue to meet some of the other chaps who were involved with the event. We were to make sure that all the paperwork for the venue was taken care of, to make sure that the food providers knew what to do and when, to make sure that some things like banners, posters etc. were in place so that people coming in the next day could easily find the actual halls where the lectures were going to happen and to meet the sysads from Mahiti would would help us set up the wifi and test it out.The banners were the simplest job since it was just a matter of tying/sticking them up. We bought some essentials from the IISc. stationery store (like double sided tape etc.) and put up the banners. We also printed some directional posters so that people would be led to the venue from the gates. The IISc. campus is extremely vast and without some guidance, unfamiliar people will get lost. We decided to put up the posters on the next day since otherwise, rains in the night might spoil themI received an SMS from one of volunteers who was taking care of the T-shirts and swag. The T-shirts had arrived from Tirupur (a city with a large number of textile industries) and the rest of the swag (bags, pens, books etc.) were ready as well. His house was not too far away from the venue and we decided to meet over there early next day around 700 to transport and unpack the stuff. It was about 120 Kg of stuff totally so it promised to be a non-trivial task.

We talked to the registrar and the local security staff about the people who’d come the next day and about the equipment that would be brought in (video cameras, PA systems, wifi routers etc.).

The folks from Mahiti were held up by the rush hour traffic and made it quite late. We got cracking on the wifi immediately but even after an hour or so of hacking, the network was not reliably up. The DHCP servers, the wireless router configs, the laptop routing setup etc. didn’t all work. The staff were getting anxious to close the halls for the night so we decided to convene the next day in the morning and fix things up.

Little details like printing and putting up the talk schedules and getting a list of delegates so that we could tick them off as people paid was deferred to the morning of the next day since our site was down and the site admin was travelling from his native place to the venue and couldn’t access the server from the car.

We left the venue around 2030 in the evening and I got back to my place in about an hour. On the way, I had a minor accident and broke my motorcycles headlight. I’m a bit of a worrier by nature and so the minor problems that will always creep up before any large event got magnified in my head and gave me a rather sleepless night. I live about an hours drive away from the venue and had to be up by 500 to get ready and there by 700 to unpack and arrange the swag.

Thus ended d-day - 1.

2009-09-26 Sat

Although the event officially started at 930, there was some action before that. I’ve put that in a section below called “Pre event setup”

  • Pre event setup
    I didn’t sleep much and was up early on Saturday. Rushed off to the venue and met the chaps helping out with the wifi on the way to the venue. I wanted to buy some batteries for my camera but none of the shops opened that early in the morning so I have no snaps of day 1. I called up the people doing the video recording. They promised to be at the venue by around 800. The keynote was scheduled to start at 930. The wifi guys got cracking and after quickly looking over things, I ran off with a friend to pick up the T-shirts and swag.The whole bundle weighed around 120 Kgs. We had to lug it back around 2 Km or so and got an auto rickshaw to do that.After getting the bundle to the venue, a couple of friends of mine who were registered suddenly showed up to offer help. All of us together setup a crude assembly line and readied around 200 packages for the first few delegates.A sad (although later interesting) thing was that our T-shirt provider misprinted the slogan behind the T. It was supposed to be “I’m not really a wizard. I just use Python”. Instead, we got “I’m not reappy a wizard. I use Python”. This led to a lot of cracks like this and at the end an actual application hacked up in a day.

    The video recording setup was ready by around 900 but the wifi was still not working. Meanwhile, people started showing up and the queue at the registration desk started to increase. I was mostly running around trying to get the final details ready before the keynote started and so didn’t really man the registration desk myself.

  • PyCon India day 1
    The registration queue died out around 1030 and we had an approximate 350 people who came. This was a pretty decent turnout. The total number of people registered on the site was 600 or so and we had absolutely zero media advertising. Everything was completely word of mouth. I think we did quite well with our advertising efforts.We formally had 3 tracks going on in parallel and around 20 or so talks. There were more but a couple of participants pulled out their talks due to various reasons. One track was designated as a ‘tutorial track’ and we tried to keep a marathon tutorial going there. I was personally delivering one piece of a session that was to span the whole 2 days. I don’t know how effective it was but when I was there, the hall was crowded. The other two tracks were supposed to have parallel talks going on each 45 minutes long. The keynote speech was however one hour long and scheduled from 930 to 1030. It didn’t share the time slot with any other talk and was exclusive. The keynote was by Dr. Prabhu Ramachandran, the main developer of the MayaVi scientific visualisation system. It was a personal talk detailing his journey to Python as a programmer and an academic. I couldn’t attend the whole thing since there was a tea break scheduled a little later and I needed to personally meet the caterers to ensure that things were ready. Also, there was the question of wifi which the folks my Mahiti finally got working but was a little flaky.Dr. Prabhu was impressively punctual and the keynote started at the scheduled time (930). It was meant to go on for an hour. I couldn’t completely attend it since there were other tiny things to fix up. The caterers needed to be arranged for the morning tea break and some other things. From the general feedback, I gathered that the keynote went extremely well and if it was anything like the other two talks by Dr. Prabhu which I attended, it must have been really awesome.Immediately after this started our regular tracks. We had two talks. One by Anand Pillai of Harvestman fame and the other by Baiju Muthukadan who is pretty well known in the zope community. I attended the buildout talk and then ran off to the tutorial room where Kenneth was just wrapping up his introduction to Python. I took an hour long session after that which I think went reasonably well.

    After this, the lightning talks started but unfortunately, we didn’t have a session chair and the whole hour or so was hogged by a single talk which thankfully was quite interesting. Still, a lot of people who had talks prepared were not able to speak.

    Lunchbreak followed and I let off some steam and chatted with some of the hackers that had gathered at the lunch area. The food was decent and I hadn’t eaten any breakfast so it was doubly so for me.

    The regular talks resumed after the lunch break and I attended one on TDD in Python by Siddharta of Silver Stripe Software. During the next slot, I had to meet the registrar of IISc. regarding some logistics issues and couldn’t attend any talks.

    I got back and managed to get half of Ramki’s talk on packaging python apps for Fedora. Just after this was Dr. Prabhu and Asokan’s talk on the education project they’re working on. It was quite interesting.

    This ended the first day and there were no serious screw ups. We put all the audio visual equipment into one of the rooms and locked it up. Same with the wifi.

    I got back earlier than I did the day before and after a warm dinner, fell asleep with a smile on my face.

2009-09-27 Sun

This was a more relaxed day that the 27th since most of the infrastructure was already in place and working. I got to the venue around 800 and went off for breakfast with a couple of friends.The overall turnout was considerably lesser than on day one. We had just over 170 people and had talks scheduled only for the morning session. The afternoon was meant for BoF sessions and other unconference style stuff.The morning talk by Dr. Prabhu on Mayavi was wonderful. I attended it and it was quite lively. I was the session chair for the talk and it was so engrossing that I lost track of time.

After that was my own talk on the whole business of organising the first Indian PyCon. There was a talk scheduled by Anand C. on web programming after that which was cancelled since he couldn’t make it.

After this, we started with a series of lightning talks that bracketed the lunch break. There were many one of which introduced the framework insprired by the misspelling on our T-shirt.

This ended the conference. People were either tired or simply eager to leave and except for a meeting by a group of localisation enthusiasts, we were done and all left by around 1600.

Thoughts

It was personally a wonderful experience leading such a enthusiastic group of talented people to conduct such a conference. Given our shoestring budget and very grassroots style management, it was a tremendous success. Now that we have started the whole thing, I think we need to keep the ball rolling and help the computer industry in India to see the value of the Python programming language.To further this aim, we are registering a non profit society tentatively called “Python India” which will serve as a umbrella group for all Python user groups in this country and as the legal entity that can handle things like funds and equipment for events like PyCon India. This will have it’s own site and mailing list. I will be posting the details as soon as we’re done with the paperwork.My own thoughts about being in a managerial role are mixed since I’ve generally been a stereotypical techie who looks daggers at management types. I realise the value of having someone lead the event and I don’t think I’m being immodest if I said that I did a decent job.

The credit for the whole event though belongs to the entire community since everyone pitched in at the right time to keep the whole thing running smoothtly. Give yourselves a hand. :)

I had a presentation at the event which details the actual lessons learnt and the pitfalls. The slides are available here and I will edit this post to point to the video of talk once we upload it.

The next PyCon in this region is PyCon APAC in 2010. I hope to see you all there.

3 Responses to “PyCon India 2009 : A report”

  1. Alex Schroeder Says:

    Congratulations! These things are usually the result of herculean efforts…

  2. Kenneth Gonsalves Says:

    you are too modest - you did a great job. A minor correction: it would be better to say something like ‘the conference was organised by a loose group of volunteers from across the country spearheaded on the spot by the Bangalore Python Users Group’. Some of us were predicting chaos since the whole group organising the show were inexperienced in organising community events - but you proved them wrong. I can already see the impact of the conference in Chennai.

  3. Anony Says:

    Nice to hear that everything went well out there. Congratulations.

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