Tuesday, 18 February 2014

My students write about their first Python conference

Last week I wrote about my impressions from my first Open Source Software conference (OSS): https://djangoweekend.org/

It was an awesome conference but the highlight for me was seeing 3 of my students take full advantage of the event. I asked Matt, Alex and James to write a bit of a guest post for this blog about their experiences:

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Here's what Matt had to say:

"Having never been to a conference like this before, and with only a few months of coding experience under my belt, I had no idea what to expect from Django Weekend Cardiff. Despite this I had an incredible weekend. Everyone that I met and talked to was friendly and more than willing to answer my questions. 

While some of the talks went a little over my head, the clinics were very helpful in getting me started with Django. I even felt confident enough to give a lightning talk, that gave me the chance to voice my opinion on computing with regards to education, and how it had helped me over the few months I was leaning it as part of my undergraduate course for maths.


Overall I had a great time, and will definitely be keeping an eye out for Django Weekend Cardiff 2015."

Matt's lightning talk was recorded so as soon as it's online I will be post about it. He did an awesome job.

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Here's what +Alex Carney had to say:

"I first became aware of the open source scene when I was in Year 7 and my dad installed Ubuntu 7.10 on my ancient laptop in a bid to keep it usable. I slowly became more and more fascinated on what software I was able to download for free and have a play with, from creating animations with Blender to messing around in GIMP and to hear him say that it was made by normal people such as ourselves I was blown away thinking how on Earth could people like my dad and myself create such wonders?

Well needless to say it reignited my desire to learn programming, I had dabbled with Pascal and BASIC beforehand but I couldn't get much further than a series of print statements and lost interest. But then to discover Python, a language with syntax that was actually readable to someone just starting secondary school was amazing, slowly I was able to teach myself parts of it in short bursts over the years, before dropping it when I was in Year 11, to learn C++ mostly forgetting about Python.

Fast forward to September 2013, when I started my Maths degree at Cardiff Uni, and I finding out that I would be taught Python as part of the course was like being reunited with an old friend. But this time there was a major difference I was actually using Python. Back when I was teaching myself I never had any concrete goals or deadlines, I would follow one example before swiftly moving on to the next without stopping to apply what I had learnt. So naturally it was hard to maintain focus and I never produced anything worthwhile. 

However being set tasks to complete was great as I was finally applying my knowledge I had gained over the years and was able to appreciate how useful being able to program is, once you start thinking like a programmer the only limit is your imagination - Oh! and of course how powerful your computer is...

I can't thank Vince and the School of Mathematics at Cardiff enough for sponsoring me to go to the conference because it made me realise a lot of things. Firstly is that there really is a thriving welcoming community on the open source scene. I was always vaguely aware that it existed as I trawled through forums and mailing lists looking for solutions to problems I was having, but something always stopped me from joining in. I was thinking that even though it was open there was some mystical entry barrier that you had to pass before you would be accepted.

However by going to the conference I was shown the complete opposite. Nobody so much batted an eyelid when they saw me, some student only just able to scratch the surface of Python's power and knowing absolutely nothing about Django. Moreover they wanted to speak to me, they wanted to hear about it from a beginner's perspective, they wanted to know what it was like learning Django for the first time, what could they do to make it easier for me to learn? While having a chat with one of the core Django developers I pointed out that I didn't find certain steps in a tutorial that clear and afterwards he went away and amended the tutorial clearing up the confusion that I had!

It was incredibly interesting to hear how other people have used Python in their work and I was blown away at the power of not only the programming language itself but the community as well. An example from a particular talk was the Astronomy community, how Python was able to help the community create a common standard for sharing data and how all the tools developed by individuals went on to benefit the community as a whole. Leaving researchers able to concentrate more on the science than the technical difficulties and headaches of having to deal with fragmented standards and datasets.

I want to finish by saying how truly inspired attending the conference made me and I not only want to thank Vince and the School of Mathematics for giving me the opportunity, but to thank Daniele Procida for making the conference a reality in the first place. I will definitely want to attend next year's and I'm even thinking of going to  PyConUK in September. I am yet to contribute to an open source project but I'm hoping that's an issue I can fix sooner rather than later."

Alex was one of the students in the class with the most starting knowledge; in fact he helped me win a bet with +Jason Young (that I would be able to get a student to use Vim before the end of the year: Alex used Vim from the start...). It's really nice to read that he found the whole conference interesting and more importantly inspiring.

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The final post is from +James Campbell but he has his own blog that I'd really recommend you taking a look at (James is also a rugby referee so he blogs about that as well). Here's the post he wrote about the conference: http://www.jamescampbell.org.uk/?p=417

If it's too much effort to click over to there here's a bit I stole:

"Today they were working on fixing bugs and reviewing code for the upcoming Django 1.7 release. However, despite how busy they were, whenever I needed a hand someone was happy to help. At one point I had Django core developers discussing the best way to solve one of my problems. These guys are some of the best in the world at what they do, yet they still found time to help a complete newcomer, and I’m really grateful to all those who did so."