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THE PYCON PL 2019 IMPRESSIONS
Maciej
Maciej
Backend Developer
Culture
10 min read
Oct. 21, 2019
Culture
10 min read
Oct. 21, 2019

Our company gave us an opportunity to participate in this year’s edition of PyCon PL – a Polish edition of PyCon, a worldwide conference organised for and by the Python community. The conference would last for 4 days, between 12th and 15th of September, located in Hotel Zawiercie in Zawiercie, Silesia. It would host several events regarding everything Python, including lectures on a wide variety of topics and technical workshops. I took this opportunity, since I’ve never been to a conference before. And so, on the 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 and encourage you to check out the event yourself, by describing all the awesome experiences we’ve had at PyCon PL.

The accommodation

The conference took place in a four-star Hotel Zawiercie. Except for tiny elevators and my room having a very peculiar layout with a very uncomfortable slanted ceiling, I have no complaints otherwise. The rooms were sturdy, the beds were comfy, the service was good, the food was delicious with a large buffet, made available three times a day and a barbecue party on the third day. The hotel also had a number of attractions, including a swimming pool, sauna (although I don’t know whether it was available at the time), billiards, bowling alley and a tennis court. Great place overall.

But allow me to share an amusing adventure: we were all assigned to rooms at the fourth floor. As we climb the stairs, we realized the stairway ends at the third floor (rooms numbered 300+) and we had to redirect ourselves to another stairway to reach the fourth floor. As soon as we reach the fourth floor, some of my colleagues had trouble finding their room. The room in question was numbered 404. The hotel’s convoluted layout would otherwise be an annoyance, but we all found this absolutely hilarious and considered it pretty much the greatest welcome for an IT conference we could have been given.

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The 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 proudly 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…). But the most eye-catching stand of them all, was Merixstudio with an open video game competition. The game in question was a competitive multiplayer snake. It was displayed on TV set next to stand and each player was controlling his snake with a mobile app from Merixstudio.

The 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. They were conducted in either Polish or English language in about equal amount I believe. 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 managing. I’d say the lectures varied in quality, depending on the subject and the speaker, but they kept a satisfying level overall. A few that stuck out in particular, or at least to me, were a fascinating lecture on clean architecture by Grzegorz Kocjan (which 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 a Python code behavior in a way we probably wouldn’t realised (for instance, a very in-depth analysis of a dict’s implementation). The latter were conducted by a young programmer and security master by the name of Dominik ‘disconnect3d’ Czarnota, who quickly became a local celebrity, due to his very impressive knowledge, involvement in PyCon’s organisation 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 a black hole has been published, a monumental achievement in space science. During his lecture, Maciej Wielgus would show how to reproduce the image using open source Python libraries while also sneaking in little bit of astrophysics and general relativity. I’ll admit, I’m not smart enough for it. The lecture was still captivating though, 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 would also be 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 once again 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 though). We are proud to announce that our colleague, Piotr Dybowski, also took part in this event, giving great presentation on proper mock usage. Mr disconnect3d also frequented this event, by the way, with several talks, 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, when a guy was talking about how to properly brew tea. It was hilariously badly put together and performed, but very clearly intentionally (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, but 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.

piotrs_dybowski_lighting_talks

The leisure

In case one wanted to take a break from lectures, PyCon got him covered. Apart from the hotel’s attractions, there was an attraction organised 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 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 with videogames and prefer other ways of integrating with people, there was also a board game club every evening, where you could lend 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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The competition

I’d say the peak of the conference was probably the programming competition on the second day. After attending lectures for the entire day and being bombarded so extensively with new knowledge, we all decided to chill out for the rest of the evening and attend hotel’s bowling alley, to let our brain cells get some rest. Although 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 plans with bowling to check it out first and suffice to say, you can never have enough exercise for your brain cells apparently.

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 organisers 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, a 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. A handful of them were fairly simple (those are the ones we solved), most of them had some fancy trick to solving them and peculiar few I still can’t even comprehend, even though they were explained afterwards. They were so ridiculously complex, to me they were like a genuine Sherlock Holmes mystery. Like 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, I think, and then apply 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, I’m bad with riddles, but 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 then went for a beer. Then you had an eighth or a sixth (this included our teams), which tried their best and solved 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. So not a lot of people went far, out of everyone at the conference. If you’re up to challenges like that, I could 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.

The 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 himself, whether he’s 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 him, making all that time spent at the conference definitely worth it. I sure had a great time and if you’re a Python developer out there, I suggest checking it out if you haven’t already. I sure will consider going back next year for more.

QA