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PyCon India

Saturday 24th October 2015 (1:00AM)

It was an enormous honour to be invited as a keynote speaker at PyCon India. It turned out to be one of my most enjoyable PyCons.

The Python programming community is famous for being a diverse and welcoming place. Apparently someone once said that they'd came to Python for the programming language, but stayed because of the community. That has been my experience too. Visiting PyCon India reinforced this outlook.

Python is free software in two ways: anyone is free to make use of it in any way they see fit and it is given away for free. To paraphrase, it is both free as in speech and free as in beer. Volunteering time, effort and expertise is at the core of the Python community and every PyCon is different since it reflects the volunteer community that organises it.

At around 1500 attendees PyCon India is the second largest PyCon in the world. The reason it is so big is because the organisers have managed to foster and grow a community of amazing volunteers to run the conference. This was brought home to me during my first evening in India: wanting to make some friends I turned up at the conference venue to volunteer in some way. I ended up stuffing 1500 swag bags (full of leaflets from the conference sponsors), in what can only be described as a nerdy form of "keep-fit".

It works like this: volunteers run around in circles holding open bags while others stand in the middle throwing "swag" into them. At the end of each lap yet more volunteers are on hand to stack the bags ready for distribution to the attendees the next day. This process starts haphazardly, but people change roles and slot themselves in where there are bottlenecks in order to improve the efficiency of the "bag stuffing algorithm". Other techniques to speed things up included shouting a lot, chanting and laughing at each other. This process is beautifully illustrated in the following video of a "lap" that I took on my mobile phone:

By the end of the evening we were a well oiled machine.

Friday, the first full conference day, was interesting - I was still used to UK time so when my alarm went off at 6am (or around 1:30 am UK time) I decided to sleep in for "just another 10 minutes". Four hours later I was woken by a phone call from reception. An Indian buddy had turned up at my hotel to look for me and give me a lift.

He'd come on a motorbike.

I'd never been on a motorbike.

So, my first time on a motorbike was sitting on the back, hanging onto this dude's back pack, no helmet, dust in my eyes, zipping through Bangalore's morning rush-hour.

"Is it safe?" I asked.

"Of course it is...", he replied. "The traffic is so bad we never go faster than 15 mph anyway!"

The trick appears to be not to pay attention to all the car horns, shouting and never to look over your shoulder at what could squish you.

I also observed that traffic lights in Bangalore are only for decorative purposes. I particularly enjoyed getting stuck at a junction and giving an ancient lady in a colourful sari sat on the back of an adjacent moped a big grin and having it returned (but without teeth).

The following video (taken from the relative safety of a taxi) doesn't even begin to convey the chaos of the traffic in Bangalore. Can you spot the stray cow?

Throughout the course of the conference I found everyone, without exception, to be very friendly and I was made to feel very welcome. Thank you to my new friends in India for your wonderful warm hospitality. I hope that if you ever make it to the UK we'll be able to welcome you as well as you did me.

Sunday was the day of my keynote. I was addressing all 1500 delegates in the main hall and I'd chosen to focus on education as the topic of my presentation. I was actually really looking forward to giving the talk and had a lot of fun whilst giving it. The live demo went well, people laughed at my jokes, they had lots of interesting questions and it took me about an hour and a half to field all the comments I received in the corridor afterwards. In fact, one of the organisers told me that my keynote was a top trending item on Twitter in India. Wow!

You can see the whole thing in the video below.

As always, I love to get feedback (both good and bad). Please feel free to drop me a line.

Special mention should be made of the two main organisers, Vijay Kumar and Kracekumar Ramaraju, who put on an amazing event. I'd also like to publicly thank my friend Kushal Das and his family and colleagues for being my guides around Bangalore.

Will I go back to India? Absolutely! It's an amazing place.

It was a privilege.