Daniel Roy Greenfeld

Daniel Roy Greenfeld

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Beginner's Guide to PyCon 2015

note: This post has been updated for PyCon 2015. Even though the URL is old, the content is new.

New to Python and/or conferences and attending the upcoming PyCon 2015 in Montreal, Canada? Or is this your first conference? Or perhaps your first conference longer than a weekend?

Hoping to get the most out of joining thousands of Python enthusiasts?

No worries! This guide will aid you in attending one of the best technical conferences on the planet. Even though I'm not attending on account of various reasons including finances, work, and personal projects, I'm going to share how to get through duration of pycon in good shape. I'm also going to share some great tricks to optimize the event.


  1. Take at least one shower per day. Please.
  2. Bring something to take notes. A paper notebook, laptop, or tablet. Anything!
  3. If you are looking for work, bring business cards. Seriously.
  4. At every meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner) make a point of sitting with or going out with different people. Introduce yourself. Make new friends and learn new things!
  5. If you can't make it to a talk, don't stress out. They are recorded and will be available later on https://www.pyvideo.org.
  6. Act Professionally (see next section)

Be Professional

PyCon is a professional event. Sure, lots of people are in t-shirts and are having fun, often in oddly goofy ways. Yet stepping outside the boundaries of civilized behavior is not acceptable. Keep in mind that PyCon US has a code of conduct. Whether or not you agree with codes of conduct for conferences, PyCon US has one and it will be enforced.

Get to the Registration Desk Early

As the lines for registration can get epic, I like to get my badge as early as possible so I don't miss PyCon's famously incredible keynote speeches.

Must-See Tutorials

All of the beginner tutorials at https://us.pycon.org/2015/schedule/tutorials/ look wonderful. You simply can't go wrong with any of them.

Must-See Talks

All of them.

I'm actually a little relieved that I'm not going to PyCon, because there were some time slots thad several must-see talks running concurrently. I would have to clone myself repeatedly in order to see all the good stuff! Fortunately, I'll be able to watch them on https://www.pyvideo.org.

If you are new to open source and plan to attend the PyCon 2015 sprints (or in general contribute to open source), then I strongly recommend Shauna Gordon-McKeon's "Open Source for Newcomers and the People Who Want to Welcome Them" talk (description at https://us.pycon.org/2015/schedule/presentation/346/). She's the program director of Open Hatch, a group focused on bringing more people into the open source community.

Pro-tip: For the talks you are excited about attending, get there early. If you really want to attend a particular talk, odds are so does everyone else and the room might be packed. Don't be forced to sit on the floor or stand outside the door. Show up early!

See https://us.pycon.org/2015/schedule/talks/ for the talk schedules.

Talk Attendance Guidelines

At PyCon, talks are either 30 or 45 long. They represent the best and brightest in both old hands in the community and rising stars. Some quick guidelines:

  • Ask Questions! If the speaker leaves time for questions at the end, go and ask!
  • Shut the Laptop and Turn Off the Device. It's disconcerting to give a speech to hundreds of people staring at their portable electronics and not responding to your banter. Unless you are using electronics to actively take notes on the talk, consider turning them off to look at the speaker.
  • Don't Heckle. It's nerve wracking going up in front of hundreds of people live and tens of thousands on streaming video. Heckling is never funny and it's a good way to lose friends and make enemies. Unless the speaker asks for commentary during the talk, wait until the end and then ask your questions.


Don't forget to keep whatever they hand out to track meals at the registration desk or you might not be able to get your food.

Try and sit down to people you don't know and introduce yourself. Every time I do this I don't just get to meet interesting people, I get to meet amazing people. PyCon is full of brilliant minds and you'll never get to know any of them unless you try.


When the tutorials and talks are over, the sprints begin. These are like hackathons, but for only open source efforts. Imagine the chance to apply everything you just learn, while sitting amongst other Python enthusiast including dozens of projects leaders. Not only do you get the chance to apply what you've just learned, you can contribute to make the world of Python better!

See https://us.pycon.org/2015/community/sprints/ for general sprint information.

Sprint Requirements

For beginners setting up a Python development environment can be tricky. If the list below looks intimidating, look for any sprints with "beginner" in the title. There is always something! While they aren't listed yet, but there should be something up within a week or two.

On the other hand, if you want a pre-PyCon challenge, I recommend getting the the following installed:

  • Modern versions of Python:

    • Python 2.7 (mandatory)
    • Python 3.4 (Rather mandatory for Python 3 work)
  • Be ready with source control. You should have installed and possess working knowledge with:

    • Git. Really make sure you have a GitHub account
    • Mercurial. Useful to have a BitBucket account.
  • virtualenv and pip for all versions of Python. If you are using Python 3.4, you don't need to have them installed.

  • An IDE or Text Editor you are comfortable using.

Staying Healthy Over Nine Days of Python!

If you attend the tutorials, talks and sprints, that's nine days. You (or your organization) are putting out some serious money for you to go and discover new knowledge, new people, or a bunch of other reasons. The last thing you want to do is end up sick for part or all of the conference.

Odds are you'll be riding in public transit (planes, trains, buses) to get there. Unfortunately, you'll be travelling with people who are sick. Then, for over a week, you'll be around thousands of people who have travelled under similar conditions. Many of those people, possibly yourself, will be eating poorly, drinking heavily, and not getting enough sleep.

Here are some things I've found work wonders to keep me active and alert and I recommend you do the same every day of the conference:

  1. Take at least one shower per day. Please.
  2. Eat at least two good meals. Make a point of sitting with different people at each meal and introducing yourself. Make new friends!
  3. Get at least three hours of sleep. More if possible because your brain is going to go into learning overdrive. I aim for 6-8 hours.
  4. Bring Immune System Boosters and consume them daily. I usually do it with breakfast and lunch.

Get Autographs!

As an author, I can't recommend enough that you bring your favorite programming book and get it autographed. A few books I want to get signed:

Two Scoops of Django Footnote

Keep your eyes open.

Tags: python django pycon
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