PloneConf/PyCon Brasil recap
tl;dr Training and talks, meeting old friends, Plone getting a new burst of momentum.
Last week I was in Brasilia for the joined-up Plone Conference 2013 and Python Conference Brasil. Below is a trip report.
At first I was surprised. Giuseppe Romagnoli invited me to give a keynote at the conference and I had some reluctance. I've been out of the loop for a while. Would I have anything useful to say? Well, that's never stopped me before, so I said yes.
I then had, of course, a visa issue. Last time I went, in 2002, you just strolled up to the embassy and got your visa. Since then, the good ol' US of A has apparently "enhanced" its treatment of Brazilians. Turnabout's fair play, so in return, getting a visa there was a ten-business-day process involving your passport. Thanks to Ana Maria Amorim, a wonderful woman whose husband was recently the ambassador to the US, I dodged a bullet.
I also signed up for a two-day Pyramid training course and a "State of Pyramid" talk. Since I was giving the training course two weeks earlier in Cambridge UK, I thought I was in good shape. Alas, I couldn't resist the urge to tinker, so I was frantically creating material all the way up to the last moment.
The flight was uneventful and actually, fun…I got on the Atlanta->Brasilia hop and heard Chrissy Wainwright from Six Feet Up call out my name. Yay! Hanging out with Chrissy was one of the treats of the conference. She's a superb traveler.
The hotel for the speakers was directly on the Brasilia equivalent of the "Mall" in Washington…a long strip of open space with government buildings lining each side. Though the training venue required a bus ride, the conference venue was only a sub-kilometer walk.
The first night before the training I got to have dinner with Chrissy, Vitória Vasconcelos, and my longtime dear friend Luciano Ramalho.
Over the years I've developed a certain approach for training. I break a course into a series of bite-sized chunks, each on a specific topic that students want/need to learn. I make a LOT of these sections. For two days, over 30 in my "Python 3 Web Development with Pyramid."
More later on how I do the tutorials, but for now: it was a lot of fun. I enjoy getting feedback and improving the material. I also enjoy doing my little part to push Python 3, as it is the first-class citizen for the tutorials.
Our hotel had a nice restaurant, fancy outside deck, nice handsome staff, modern music, and a nice menu.
Around the corner was a parking lot where, for the last 18 years, a local entrepreneur brought a portable grill and served kabobs, a rice dish, and beers. You would sit on little plastic stools underneath a string of lights powered by an electric cord going across the street. Each item was around $2, paid on the honor system.
We went there every night.
This was a real highlight of the conference. Authentic food, fantastic conversation. Under mango trees that the gentleman planted himself many years ago.
It's been a while since I hung around with the Plone folks for a sustained period. Two things really jumped out at me:
- The new generation of Plone leadership is really, REALLY good. From all over the world, a refreshing new viewpoint on what things to do and how, and a tangible feeling of joy and purpose.
- Plone itself seems to have a new dose of momentum. Certainly having the President of Brazil launch a new Plone-powered website for the Brazilian government is a notable sign. But there's more to it. The Plonistas seem to be making some serious steps forward.
There were four simultaneous tracks as well as two keynotes per day in a ginormous (2,500 person) auditorium. The conference sold 500 tickets but I suspect the high-water mark on attendance was 400 on a single day. Probably 3/4 of the talks were in Portuguese, which seemed like a very good idea. On both the Python side and Plone side, new generations of Brazilian free software developers were being minted quickly (as the entrance fee was kept very low.)
Lots of good talks on the Plone side, plus a mini-track for Pyramid. I alas didn't see too many talks. The first day was spent tweaking (i.e. writing) my State of Pyramid talk. I also decided, late on the first day, to rewrite my keynote. Sigh. Bad Paulie.
In particular, I liked Mikko's talk. He helped poke at some questions and thinking that I wanted to get my brain wrapped around, and let's face it, he is a very hilarious and quite charismatic speaker.
Érico Andrei was quite a force at the conference, both from a Brazilian side and a Plone side. He has a lot of leadership qualities. It's fun to see him in action. Ditto for Paul Roeland, who several people noted to me in private has a real gift for bringing the various forces together in the world of Plone.
Getting to see Alan Runyan, Sidnei da Silva, and Matt Hamilton again after quite some time was worth the trip, just for that. To think how long we've all known each other and everything we've gotten to work on together…it's quite neat.
State of Pyramid
On the afternoon of the first day, I usurped Chris McDonough's throne and gave a past/present/future talk on Pyramid. Typical Paulie presentation, all sauce, no steak. Lot of fun, though.
I got a lot out of it, I must say. I listened to some of the feedback to learn more about how people see Pyramid in the continuum of Python web frameworks. Our marketing message of "The Start Fast, Finish Big, Stay Finished Framework" seems to match what people are looking for, as well as were they have slotted Pyramid in their heads. I also gave a demo of Substance D (demo.substanced.net), Chris's content framework atop Pyramid.
What Pyramid means for the world of Plone was an undercurrent of the conference. I tried to keep my mouth shut and my ears open, so this was a useful aspect to attending.
The second day I gave a keynote that was a series of funny stories masquerading as lessons learned. It was intended to be, largely, the same talk I gave at PyCon DE in Leipzig, 2011. However, the afternoon before the talk I got a bug up my ass and decided, well hell, why not just rewrite it. Which was risky due to the stage layout: I wound up with 82 slides and no presenter mode to see the next slide (to time the jokes), and had to ask Luciano to be on stage and press "next".
Which meant I had to memorize all 82 slides. I'm no Randy Pausch, Paul Graham, Eben Upton, Paul Hildebrandt, or any of the other extremely smart keynoters with important things to say. Sitting in their keynotes is always a humbling experience…even if I tried really hard, I know I couldn't match them.
Lately, though, I've tossed out my "just wing it" approach and actually prepared and rehearsed. It's not fair to far-travelling audiences to put in a weak effort. Also, for the topic of this talk, I think there are some experiences that we in the Python/Zope/Plone world went through that are worth imparting.
I wouldn't mind giving the talk again. I already know some changes to the material I'd like to make and some work I should do on the delivery. Anybody need an above-average-funny, below-average-profundity speechifier?
Paul Hildebrandt's Keynote
This was my first time meeting Paul, a senior software engineer at Walt Disney Animation Studios. We hung out together at the meat-on-a-stick soiree the first night. What a wonderful person, very smart but quite human and with a heart most certainly in the right place. (More below.)
He gave a deeply enjoyable keynote called "Under the Hat" which, alas, wasn't recorded. My 7th grade son would have flipped out if he could have seen it. Not just a talk on how technology can enable creativity. Not just a talk on the pervasiveness of our little child Python in the digital entertainment business. But also, the human side of building organizations that actually value people.
The evening of the second day saw an official party on the lake at the Navy base outside Brasilia. Well done, conference folks! Time flew by as people ate, drank, and even danced until the wee hours. 60 people from probably 20 countries.
At the risk of leaving out so many other memorable moments, one seemed to capture the real spirit of this event.
During my talk I made reference to the legendary Castle Sprint (must…write…blog post…) and, as analysis-in-hindsight, wondered what prompted underpaid people from 30 countries to travel to Austria and work for free on software given away to others. Sure the beer was good, but that's quite a thing to do.
In the talk I concluded that there was a social element going on that I hadn't understood. Most of these developers were probably the smartest person in their little town. Too smart for the others to really appreciate. They got out of school and maybe got a decent job at some soul-sucking enterprise.
Then, they go online, peek their head in the Plone/Python world, and discover…a whole bunch of people just like them, from wonderful places across the globe. Not only that, but these people valued them, understood them, and in fact, wanted them to come join the fun. Go to Austria, soak in some high-octane thinking, hang around for once with people who get me? Sure, sign me up!
After that talk a young man from Brazil came up and told me that was indeed his story, and here he was at a Python event in Brazil, getting to be a part for the first time of something big. But even more…he always wanted to be a digital animator, and unbelievably, the conference had The Disney Guy! He tweeted Paul Hildebrandt to say thank you for coming.
What did Paul do? Not only did he reply, he memorized the young man's face, found him in the crowd, and introduced himself. Then proceeded to tell him the steps he should take to start his journey possibly to Disney Animation Studios. Paul didn't have to do that: it's just who he is, and he did it, and now that young man's journey is so much different than if he didn't stick his head in the door of free software and look around.