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!


  1. Sudheer 01.10.10 / 10am

    You did a good job. There were few noticeable issues here and there. Overall, the event was a pleasant experience.

    Unfortunately, I had to miss the second day.

  2. Kartik Singhal 01.10.10 / 11am

    I can say only one thing about the conference - a completely volunteer effort of like minded people, who worked hard for it, was a great success.

    I appreciate the things you revealed during your talk “The Road to PyCon 2010″ showing us what goes into making an event like this possible.

    I believe sometimes someone has to take control to keep the things running smoothly. ;)

  3. Asim Mittal 01.10.10 / 12pm

    I thought the conference was really awesome, for a volunteer effort. I would have loved to see the wi-fi up (cuz I know twitter would have gone crazy).

    Having worked on organizing a few conferences myself for AV service provider in Muscat, I know the importance of having a “public broadcast” screen. Simply put, its an electronic message board (a public one at that), that shows you a tonne of things. Twitter’s nature has made it a popular choice, but given the refresh rate and added latencies involved, generally we go out and set up a small server and let attendees tweet their thoughts. The board also shows “who” has walked in and provides real time updates on the status of the other tracks.

    If you’d like to have one setup, do buzz me next year! :D

    I was quite surprised with the food… it was very good and I thought with the staggering number of attendees, the lunch was extremely organized and didn’t leave a mess. Kudos on that front.

    Keep up the good work… and again, congrats on putting out a brilliant PyCon this year

  4. Sayamindu 01.10.10 / 12pm

    Thanks a lot for doing this. I thought the last year’s event was amazing, and I was so happy to see from the various blog posts, tweets, etc that you guys managed to surpass everyone’s expectations this year as well.

  5. Ankur 01.10.10 / 12pm

    “Some people wanted to register on the spot and started bargaining on the price. The lack of civil sense was… characteristic. ”

    lol … now that is very Indian isn’t it … Personally I enjoyed the whole exp of a python focussed conference … ran into ppl who taught me a thing or two in Python I didn’t know and also some freshmen attended my session and two of them are making their final sem project is PyQt and I am mentoring them for fun … great exp …

  6. Noufal 01.10.10 / 12pm

    Asim : Interesting that you’re in Muscat. I grew up there. I was there till ‘94. You’re right about the public page. We probably also needed an old fashioned notice board for announcements. I will speak to you next year.

  7. Anand B Pillai 02.10.10 / 2am

    Noufal,

    You needn’t have brought up that email discussion. Overall I am proud that Pycon India is a conference which has the least heated discussions and people generally have an attitude to get things done and I feel heartened to note that this is a group of coordinators and volunteers with absolutely no ego problems. We have managed to pull off a good conference with pretty good co-ordination and initiative and well, pat yourself on the back for that first!

    Of course minor altercations and stuff happens in the run-up to these events all the time, but as I said this is a group bound by the common goodness of it to not let any such things affect the larger goal. I am also quite happy with the way IPSS is set up and Kenneth has put a lot of thought into its design so that it can’t be taken over by any one person or group, which as we have seen in other cases, is not good for the community, but only helps a select coterie of people.

    We need to plan early for Pycon 2011 and get the branding and venue right very early on (I suggest to finalize these things by 2010 end itself) and plan for exigencies etc early on so as to get the conference running like a well-oiled machine.

    Additionally, looking at the feedback form results makes me feel good since 99% of the feedback is in the positive territory!

    Thanks for the tremendous participation, feedback and support from the Python community in India. Without that, none of these would have been possible.

  8. Asim Mittal 02.10.10 / 3am

    I finished my schooling here in Muscat, and left for my engineering to Pune. Worked in Bangalore for a couple of years and returned here only in 2009. I wanted to come for PyCon 09, but didn’t get leave from work as we were unveiling the Reva NXR at the Frankfurt motor show around that time.

    I’ll be more than happy to help in anyway possible. Is anyone coming for SciPy in December???

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