I love DjangoCon. I've been going to it almost every year since I arrived in Europe back in 2010. Sure, a considerable portion of my career has been based on Django, but it's more than that: the community is stuffed full of amazing people who genuinely want us all to succeed and that just makes the conference all the more exciting.
This year we all converged on Florence for three days of talks in a historic old theatre at the heart of the city and like every year, the talks at this single-track event were hit-and-miss -- but that's ok! When the talks were less-than-useful we could always just pop out for gelato or catch up in the hallways with other developers.
From talks covering gender bias or autism, to the re-labelling of all bathrooms to be unisex, DjangoCon has long been a shining example of how to be inclusive in a software development community and it's something I'm proud to be a part of. This year, they even raised enough money to pay for flights and accommodation for a number of people from Zimbabwe who are trying to grow a local Django community.
It feels good to be part of a group that's so welcoming, and I would argue that IT, while traditionally straight-white-male-dominated, is uniquely suited for the multicultural mantle of tolerance. Every other field has a uniform: a standard by which you're judged as "in" or "out" (just watch London's financial sector at lunch hour they all wear the same thing). In the software world however, we're all defined as being the odd ones. We are the all-singing, all-dancing nerds of the world: our differences are what make us fabulous. DjangoCon embraces that in a way I've not seen anywhere else and I love it.
Level up! Rethinking the Web API framework: Tom Christie
Tom Christie is the genius who brought us Django REST Framework and he's now working to improve the whole process by taking advantage of Python 3's type annotations to make your code self-documenting and then use that self-documentation to better build a browseable API. His code samples were beautifully simple and I'm very excited about the future of DRF. He's doing some great work there.
The Art of Interacting with an Autistic Software Developer: Sara Peeters
This was one of those talks that really felt as though it was lifting metaphorical scales from my eyes. Like many software engineers, Peeters is autistic, but unlike too many such people, she's extremely self-aware and articulate about what this means for her own human interactions.
She walked us through an average day for her: how she chooses her route home not based on the efficiency of the route, but because it limits the intensity of crowds on her commute as well as the chance that she'll encounter rain. It's the sensory overload you see, the idea of so many raindrops impacting her skin like that is a terrible feeling.
In 20min she helped paint a picture of the limitations and fascinations of dealing with autism in her day-to-day life, and outlined a few ways the rest of us might help communicate and accommodate people in her situation.
After her talk, I found myself thinking back on a few former coworkers. Perhaps if I'd been more understanding, and if they'd been self-aware enough to help me understand their needs, we might have gotten on better.
The OpenHolter Project: Roberto Rosario
This talk blew my frickin' mind.
The guy has a severe heart condition which left him bedridden for 23hours a day, and he's managed to make his life liveable with $30 worth of equipment and some Free software.
His talk walked us through the process of building your own mobile EKG machine. A device that normally costs thousands of dollars and typically only used in a hospital, Rosario built with an Arduino and parts he bought off the internet.
He then showed all of this to his doctor who asked if he could develop a diary: basically a log of his heart rate throughout the day, annotated with explanations as to what he was doing when anomalies appeared in the log.
He managed this by having his little device push daily log data onto his Django stack where it was all neatly logged and charted:
That's 100 samples per minute of biometric data generated by yourself on a desk in your house for $30 plus the cost of cables. This future we're living in is amazing.
Autopsy of a Slow Train Wreck: Russell Keith-Magee
Russell ran a start up from optimistic start to a brutal, crushing finish years later, and decided to do a talk to teach us all what went wrong.
The talk was broken down into succinct sections, with a lesson in each case. A valuable talk for anyone considering a future in a small business. When it's made available online, I'll be sending it around to a few people I know.
Fighting the Controls: Daniele Procida
Daniele wrapped up the event with a final talk about a plane crash, or maybe it was Icarus -- it's hard to explain. His message was simple though: bad things happen when you don't stop and consider what's happening.
When stuff is exploding, the server is on fire, and everything is falling apart, sometimes the best thing to do is to just sit there and breathe: consider the situation and act when you have a better handle on things.
His talks are always a delight, as he has a unique way of humanising software. Once the videos are live, I recommend this one to anyone in any sort of high-stress job.
Meeting the developer of Mayan EDMS
About a year ago now, I was sitting in a London pub, hacking away at my latest project, Paperless when I stumbled onto Mayan EDMS: another open source project that did almost exactly the same thing as mine, but it was prettier and more featureful.
I was crushed. Here I was pouring literally hundreds of hours into this thing, with thousands of people using the code through GitHub, and suddenly, it all felt like it was for nothing because someone else had done it all already.
The guy who wrote that thing? I met him over lunch on the 2nd day of DjangoCon. He's also the same genius who built the mobile EKG machine mentioned above.
It was fun to meet him, talk about what worked for him and what didn't, and what sort of future he has planned for Mayan. He's a pretty smart dude, and it was nice to just sit and chat with a sort of "rival" nerd.
Talking to Paperless contributors
I also ended up talking to Philippe Wagner, one of the Paperless users who's been quite helpful in pushing the project forward. He wants to repurpose Paperless into a sort of markdown-based Evernote clone, and to do that all he needs from me are some minor changes to the project core to make it more pluggable. We'd been talking about it in the GitHub issues queue for a few weeks and he recognised me in the DjangoCon Slack channel, so he sent me a private message asking if we could chat for a bit.
I stepped out of one of the less interesting talks and we worked out a plan to make things work just outside the theatre. He's a cool guy and very driven. It's great to have him working on Paperless.
After the first lunch, I sort of fell in with a group of fun people for the rest of the conference. We hung out after hours looking for food or just company for a walk around town. This is uncommon for me as while I'm a relatively friendly person, I generally avoid people save for superficial conversation. This was a nice change.
The event was really squeezed for time and almost every talk didn't allow for questions. Instead, we were directed to the Slack channel (which was only good for people with working wifi and laptops for fast-typing) or "later around the conference". Personally, I've always liked the questions, as it allows the audience to get the speaker to publicly defend an assertion or elaborate on something. Without it, it felt really disconnecting, as if I just watched the talk on YouTube.
While I think that DjangoCon should be celebrated for its adoption of a code of conduct and for its inclusive attitude, I feel that it's fallen into that ugly trap of adopting a language police. In an effort to be an inclusive community, they're effectively rewriting the dictionary.
Specifically, I'm most annoyed by the policing of the word "guys" in reference to a group of people regardless of gender. I get that our community is composed of men and women, and people who defy gender labels, but I don't believe that that means that we need to strip non-aggressive language to accommodate some people.
In the same way that we don't censure people for talking about hamburgers around vegans, your comfort with my words is not my problem. Of course this isn't a defence of racial slurs, aggressive language, threats or hate speech -- that's totally inappropriate for an open and tolerant community, but I think that this business of reducing language based on the comfort of a few is a threat to the free exchange of ideas, not to mention entirely tone deaf to the fact that at least 70% of the attendees to DjangoCon were non-native English speakers who rightly use this word in reference to any group of people regardless of their position on the gender spectrum.
The worst part of all of this is that by simply discussing my distaste for this practise, especially at the conference, I risk being ejected from the community like some sort of nerd heretic. I maintain that it's dangerous and unhealthy, but I had to wait until now to say anything because I didn't want to be kicked out of the event. This can't be conducive to a Free and Open society, let alone a conference.
So to wrap up: some good, some bad, but on the whole, I'd say it's was well into the good column. I'll be back next year, and maybe I'll even try to give a talk on something.