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PyCon PL 2019 IMPRESSIONS
10 min read
Oct. 21, 2019
Maciej Samerdak
Maciej Samerdak
Developer
10 min read
Oct. 21, 2019

This year we've decided to take part in PyCon PL — a Polish edition of PyCon, a worldwide conference organized for and by the Python community. The conference lasted for 4 days, between September 12th and 15th in Zawiercie, Silesia. It hosted several events regarding everything Python, including lectures on a wide variety of topics and technical workshops. I grabbed this opportunity since I’ve never been to a professional conference before. And so, on 12th of September there I was on a train with several colleagues on our way to PyCon.

Suffice to say, we all enjoyed our time at the conference an awful lot. Therefore, I’d like to share my impressions of it in hopes that it'll encourage you to take part in such events yourself (and serve as a souvenir of a really good time for us).

Sponsors

This year’s edition major sponsors included JetBrains, Red Hat and Merixstudio. Each of them had their own stand in the hotel’s lobby with promotional giveaways. I nabbed a sweet metal pin with PyCharm logo and two pairs of socks from Red Hat and Merixstudio, so now I can showcase my high professionalism at the workplace by wearing PyCharm logo in my lapel and black socks with outlandishly red fedoras all over them. I’d also like to give props to Red Hat for their high quality plastic champagne glasses, which successfully fooled me into thinking it was genuine glass at the first sight (sadly, I didn’t pick one up… ). However, the most eye-catching stand was Merixstudio with an open video game competition. The game in question was a competitive multiplayer snake. It was displayed on a TV set next to the stand and each player was controlling his snake with a mobile app from Merixstudio. Pretty clever.

Lectures

The conference itself focused around lectures and workshops on various topics. Now I haven’t actually attended any workshop, so I can’t talk about those, but I have attended a magnitude of lectures during my time there. Up to 3 lectures were being performed simultaneously, so of course, as usual with big events such as this, you couldn’t experience everything and had to carefully plan out your day to get the most out of it.

The lectures covered a vast array of topics. They provided a great opportunity for sharing knowledge on Python’s practices and applications or even more general stuff, such as project management. I’d say the lectures varied in quality, depending on the subject and the speaker, but they maintained a very satisfying level overall. A few that stuck out in particular, at least to me, were a fascinating lecture on clean architecture by Grzegorz Kocjan (it blew my mind when I was shown that you can write complete logic for a web app BEFORE you pick the framework), a peculiar lecture on dynamic models in Django by Jakub Skałecki and an in-depth series about several interesting quirks in CPython and how they can affect Python code behavior in a way we probably didn't realize (for instance, a very in-depth analysis of a dict’s implementation). The latter were conducted by a young programmer and security master Dominik ‘disconnect3d’ Czarnota, who quickly became a local celebrity due to his very impressive knowledge, involvement in PyCon’s organization and constant presence at the conference.

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There was also the highly anticipated lecture about the black hole image by Maciej Wielgus of Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative. As you may have heard, back in April the first ever direct image of the black hole has been published, a monumental achievement in space science. During his lecture, Maciej Wielgus showed us how to reproduce the image using open source Python libraries while also sneaking in little bit of astrophysics and general relativity. The lecture was captivating due to its overall high quality and informativity as well as speakers electrifying personality. I’m certain anyone with an interest in the field would be delighted.

Every day, there was an event called Lightning Talks, which was basically an open stage for any participant to conduct a brief lecture on a topic of his choice for a brief time of few minutes. Once again, great opportunity to exchange experience. Topics varied from tips and tricks to advertising to even a lecture on global warming and eco lifestyle (I’m not sure what that last one had to do with a Python conference but it was extremely informative and inspiring). We are proud to announce that our colleague, Piotr Dybowski, also took part in this event, delivering a great presentation on proper mock usage. Mr disconnect3d frequented this event as well giving several talks and almost dominating this event (seriously, whoever employs this guy must be a happy man).

To further spread some positivity from PyCon, I’d like to highlight one of the Lightning Talks during which a guy talked about how to properly brew tea. It was hilariously badly put together and performed, but that was clearly intentional (there was a terrible cluster of cropped text on one slide, which at some point turned into “Lorem Ipsum”). Initially I thought it was a performance art or some God tier trolling, but he later explained that he has a very knowledgeable friend who’s regretfully too shy to give a public presentation. He pulled this stunt for her and everyone else like her, so they could be told: “Last time at PyCon, there was a guy who gave a terrible presentation about brewing tea and he received a thunderous applause.” It is unfathomable to me how one man can harness this much awesomeness.

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Leisure

In case you wanted to take a break from lectures, PyCon got you covered. Apart from the hotel’s attractions, there was one organized by a retro gaming foundation Dawne Komputery i Gry: a display of multiple fully functional vintage gaming systems, available at everyone’s disposal. It included Atari 65XE, SNES, Gamecube with Mario Kart Double Dash and the cult-classic VECTREX, which nearly gave me a heart attack when I saw it. I always dreamed about giving this bad boy a fly, so I’m super grateful to both the foundation and PyCon for giving me this opportunity. There were also seven Windows XP PCs with variety of retro games installed on them, including Lemmings, Worms Armageddon, the original Prince of Persia, Duke Nukem 3D, Doom and Quake Arena. The last one was particularly popular and made all of the PCs constantly occupied during breaks.

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If you’re not big on videogames and prefer other ways of integrating with people, there was also a board game club every evening, where you could use any of the prepared games (free of charge of course) or bring your own to play with friends. There was also an open space event on the first day, where participants would suggest topics for discussions, vote for a handful of the most interesting ones and then split into groups discussing each topic. It invited a discussion on a variety of subjects, from very specific technical-oriented ones, where people would exchange their experiences, to sometimes more general thesis, where people would brainstorm together for a conclusion.

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Competition

I’d say the peak of the conference was probably the programming competition on the second day. After attending the lectures and being bombarded so extensively with new knowledge, we all decided to chill out for the rest of the evening and visit the hotel’s bowling alley to let our brain cells get some rest. However when we learned about the programming competition that was hosted that night, supposedly the biggest event at the conference, we got curious. So we laid off our bowling plans to check it out first and suffice to say, apparently you can never have enough exercise for your brain cells.

The competition consisted of multiple riddles, which were being introduced in waves, one after another throughout the night (I believe they’ve been popping up until at least midnight). The contestants were participating as teams of two. This year’s competition was Sherlock Holmes themed, so the players have been assisting Holmes and Watson in puzzle solving all night long. I’m not exaggerating, the competition started at around 10 PM and lasted until early in the morning. The winning team even submitted their final answers minutes before the deadline! The riddles themselves were quite intriguing and mostly very tricky. Apparently, this year the organizers wanted to set the bar higher with shorter time limit, since previously too many teams reached the highest scores. A few of the riddles were what I’d call standard riddles which only require pen and paper, or bashing your head against the wall long enough. The others, however, required knowledge from a wide array of IT-related fields. While handful of them were fairly simple, most of them had some fancy trick to solving them and peculiar few have really bent us backwards. For example, one of them was a message hidden in a sound recording of a telegraph. You’d think it was somehow Morse code related? Nah, not in any shape or form. Instead you had to apply a frequency filter and then some graphical transformation to the wave form so it would shape the letters. There was also this riddle, where you had to download BTS logs to visualise the traffic of multiple people in the area on the map, based solely on the signal strength at each timestamp, to track down the culprit based on his movements, like it’s an episode of CSI. Hats off to the masterminds behind the competition, sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself would be impressed with such mischievous plotting.

In all seriousness though, you’d have to have a truly gifted technical mind to be able to solve every single riddle at this competition. To know so many fields of computer science and to figure out all this stuff within one night, I’d say you ought to have a very impressive IQ. And it shows in the results: half of the contestants gave up at the start and went for a beer. Then a quarter solved that one simple riddle for 20 points, gave up and went for a beer. Then you had an eighth or a sixth (this included our teams), which tried their best and solved a few more riddles for about 80-120 points total, gave up and then went to sleep. Finally, there were just a handful of very dedicated teams that ended up with scores in the hundreds. If you’re up to challenges like that, I highly recommend it. The prizes were also quite nice, including free PyCon PL 2020 ticket, a PyCharm license and a JBL bluetooth speaker. If you’d like to give it a shot, the riddles from all editions are available here.

Summary

I really enjoyed my time at PyCon PL. It was a great learning experience, providing me with a few interesting ideas, practical tips and tricks, but most of all, an insight into how much there is yet for me to learn about Python. Overall, I’d say the range was so broad that anyone could find something for themselves, whether they're an experienced senior or a novice. Regardless of the background, I’m sure one could find at least a few mighty impressive curiosities that would’ve stuck with them, making all that time spent at the conference definitely worth it. I surely had a great time and if you’re a Python developer out there, I suggest checking it out if you haven’t already.

For any Python enthusiasts, feel free to hit us up. We can chat about the language, your future Python-based project or anything else. :)