Posts tagged ‘pycon’

Next Year: addressing the more subtle sexism at Pycon

From a gender equality point of view, I’d call Pycon 2013 a success, though perhaps a better word is “progress”. The gender ratio apparently doubled to 20% this year. If that continues (depending if it’s a constant, linear, or quadratic curve) we could be at parity in as little as two to three years.

Another indicator of forward momentum is that women this year were able to behave, to use a sexist term, “like women,” without fear of reprisal. That is to say, I saw makeup, heels, and skirts, and they did not seem out of place. This is not to suggest that women should or must dress up to attend conferences; the traditional vendorware is equally acceptable for all genders. However, it is progress that more women felt they had a choice in the matter and did not feel an obligation hide their physical differences. I think the fact that there was more variety among the male dress styles is also a sign of success.

The worst charges coming out of Pycon 2013 were the use of inappropriate jokes. To the best of my knowledge, there were no reports of women being harassed, assaulted, or groped during the conference. I’m not aware that this has been an issue at past Pycons either, but I think it’s a sign that the Python community is better behaved in this regard than some of her sister tech conferences.

So all in all, while it wasn’t completely successful, Pycon 2013 was a terrific step on the road to eliminating sexism and creating gender equality. Let’s make next year an equal sized step. Here are a few topics I think we, as a community, can work on to engender further progress.

I’m going to start with a couple links. Ruth Burr wrote a terrific essay titled Things You Think Aren’t Sexist, But Really Are a couple weeks ago. In summary: Men, you are instructed to go to conferences to network and interact, not to date or hook up.

Yes, you might meet the love of your life at Pycon, but don’t expect, intend, or plan for that to happen (at PyCon or anywhere). Behave professionally, and consider each woman you meet for her knowledge and intelligence, not her figure or her marital status, just as you would when interacting with a male.

Ned Batchelder, with his amazing talent for understanding and explaining problems wrote another great article on the root issues. Summarized, he says friction is inevitable, and that education is better than shunning when people make mistakes.

I started planning this article while attending Pycon this year. I had to scrap those plans after the so-memed “donglegate” fiasco. I don’t have anything to add to that discussion, but as Ned illustrated, there were many many instances of similarly inappropriate comments at Pycon. I myself made such a joke, most of my friends did so, I overheard a conference organizer say something inappropriate. This is not sexism per se, but sexual and other potentially offensive comments need to be reduced. Comments laced with sexual innuendo do not belong in a professional or a family setting, and Pycon is intended to be both.

Let’s start with interation between the genders. In her article, Ruth Burr mentioned that women can feel awkward when they interact with men because the men assume they are flirting rather than interested in the topic at hand. Many men see cleavage and assume the speaker can’t possibly know as much as them about whatever topic that is. Some girls avoid interacting with men because of this awkward sensation, and if they do, the interactions are tainted.

I had a related problem. While I comfortably talked to men of varying skill levels at Pycon, I felt uncomfortable addressing women because I was afraid of sending some vibe that I was being flirtatious. So I tended to ignore the female attendees. This is unfortunate for everyone who missed out on that potential conversation. Pycon 2014 needs to increase the interaction between the genders, not just the attendance ratios. Ladies, talk to the shy guys, they need to be taught that you aren’t that intimidating. Guys, talk to the women, they need to learn that we are interested in what they have to say about tech, and not their figures. As it stands, only the sexist guys are interacting with the women, and it makes us all look bad.

The gender ratio really fell during the developer sprints. I don’t think there were any female sprint leaders presenting projects to hack on. Worse, I’d estimate between one and two percent of the sprint attendees were women. This is a huge area for improvement. To the various diversity groups out there, please encourage your members to stay an extra day or two and attend the Pycon dev sprints. Get them involved with Open Hatch if they are unsure how to contribute to open source projects. Sprint leaders, make sure female attendees are welcome, especially if they are new coders (indeed, make all new coders welcome).

I noticed a lot of Impostor syndrome among the female attendees and speakers. Programming really is easy. The fact that you enjoy it and find it quite simple is not a sign that you don’t know the “hard stuff” and therefore you’re not a “real programmer.” Quite the reverse, in fact. It’s not necessary to apologize for your lack of knowledge if you’ve been invited to do a talk or are about to join an open source project for the first time. Find ways to build your confidence (contributing to open source and getting feedback is a great start), and start believing in your skills. Even if you don’t believe it yourself, try to project confidence in your coding abilities; it will send a much more effective signal that women are capable and here to stay. Don’t worry if you over-present yourself; faking your way through it is a great way to find out that you’re actually better than you thought!

I’d like to close with an admonishment to those people who open their articles on sexism with a discussion of their gender. These usually take one of two forms: the disclaimer and the shocker. The disclaimer is most often used by men and sounds like, “I am a privileged white male so I don’t understand what it’s like for women, but I still think I have something valid to say on this topic”. The shocker is used by both genders and sounds like, “I am a man/woman, so you’re going to be amazed that my opinion on this topic is different from other members of my gender.” Yes, it is useful to state your bias and frame of reference. However, be cautious that your purpose in doing so is to remove distortion from the lens you are applying to the discussion, not to add to it.

And now, feel free to analyze my bias in this article. I am a privileged white male from a blue-collar family. I’ve had many amazing opportunities in the tech industry. I have very little experience as the target of discrimination, outside my mental illness. My interest in feminist issues comes from my sister’s master’s degree on the subject; I proofread most of her undergraduate and graduate level essays, and gained a relatively deep understanding of the topic. I acknowledge that I am a racist, sexist jerk by culture and conditioning. Sometimes I forget to compensate for that. I find it exceptionally easy to overlook the patriarchy when it’s doing me favors, and I will never be as keenly aware of its negative impact as someone who is directly experiencing it every day.

Why we need Python in the Browser

In his Pycon 2012 keynote speech on Sunday, Guido van Rossum covered many of the open “Troll” questions related to the Python community. I’ve had occasion to either complain about or defend all of the topics he covered, and he did a wonderful job of addressing them. The issues could largely be divided into two categories: those that come from a fundamental misunderstanding of why Python is wonderful (e.g. whitespace), and those that are not an issue for the core python dev team, but are being actively worked on outside of core Python (e.g event loop).

And then there’s the question of supporting Python in the web browser. I honestly thought I was the only one that cared about this issue, but apparently enough people have complained about it that Guido felt a need to address it. His basic assertion is that the browsers aren’t going to support this because nobody uses it and that nobody uses it because the browsers don’t support it.

This is a political problem. Politics shouldn’t impact technical awesomeness.

The fallacious underlying assumption here is that modern HTML applications must be supported on all web browsers in order to be useful. This is no longer true. Web browser applications are not necessarily deployed to myriad unknown clients. In a way, HTML 5, CSS 3, and DOM manipulation have emerged as a de facto standard MVC and GUI system. For example, many mobile apps are developed with HTML 5 interfaces that are rendered by a packaged web library rather than an unknown browser. Client side local storage has created fully Javascript applications that require no or optional network connectivity. There are even situations where it may not be necessary to sandbox the code because it’s trusted. Many developers create personal or private projects using HTMl 5 because it’s convenient.

Convenient. It would be more convenient if we could code these projects in Python. Web browsers can be viewed as a zero install interface, a virtual machine for these applications. Such a VM has no reason to be language dependent.

It is simply unfair to all the other programming languages and coders of those languages to say, “we can’t displace Javascript, so we won’t try.” Web browsers have evolved into a virtualization layer more like operating systems than single programs. While it is true that the most restrictive operating systems only permit us to code in Objective C, in general, it is not considerate to restrict your developers a single language or environment.

It is time (in fact, long overdue) for Python to be supported in the browser, not necessarily as an equal to Javascript, but as an alternative. The web is a platform, and we must take Guido’s statement as a call to improve this platform, not to give up on it.

Update: I just stumbled across and I can’t wait to play with it!

Update 2: From the number of comments on this article, it appears that my article has hit some web aggregator. To those users suggesting python to javascript compilers, I’ve been a minor contributor to the pyjaco project, a rewrite of the pyjs library. It has the potential to be a great tool, and the head developer, Christian Iversen is very open to outside contributions. Let’s make it better!

PyCon 2012

Hello Arch Linux community! If any of you are attending Pycon 2012 in Santa Clara, CA this week, make sure to bump into me. Or contact me to schedule a meetup.

Py.test funcargs and Django

Holger Krekel just released the 1.0 version of py.test. Py.test is a functional and unit testing tool that cuts out a lot of the annoying boilerplate found in the unittest module included in the Python standard library.

I do a lot of Django coding. Django has a built-in test engine based on unittest. Its annoying, but it does a few things (such as capturing e-mails and creating a test database) automatically so I’ve tended to use it rather than setting up py.test to take care of these things. Today I decided I’d rather use py.test for my latest project. Turns out its not that complicated:

# there are better ways to do these first three lines
import os, sys
os.environ['DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE'] = 'settings'
from django.conf import settings
from django.test.client import Client
from django.test.utils import setup_test_environment, teardown_test_environment
from import call_command
def pytest_funcarg__django_client(request):
    old_name = settings.DATABASE_NAME
    def setup():
        settings.DEBUG = False
        from django.db import connection
        connection.creation.create_test_db(1, True)
        return Client()
    def teardown(client):
        from django.db import connection
        connection.creation.destroy_test_db(old_name, 1)
    return request.cached_setup(setup, teardown, "session")
def pytest_funcarg__client(request):
    def setup():
        return request.getfuncargvalue('django_client')
    def teardown(client):
        call_command('flush', verbosity=0, interactive=False)
        mail.outbox = []
    return request.cached_setup(setup, teardown, "function")

Put that in your and you can write tests like this:

def test_something(client):
    response ='/some_url', {'someparam': 'somevalue'})
    assert "somestring" in response.content
    # Other assertions...

This uses the innovative py.test ‘funcarg’ mechanism to create a test database when testing starts, and refer to that database throughout the test run. The ‘django_client’ funcarg sets up a database when the session starts and deletes it when it finishes. The ‘client’ funcarg creates a similar client, but also resets the database after each test is run to ensure there are no interaction effects between tests.

I haven’t fully tested it yet, but its nice to know I can get the most useful django test functionality so cheaply in py.test.

Introducing Opterator

When I attended Pycon 2009, I saw a lightning talk on a neat little tool called Argparse. Its a python option parsing tool designed to be easier to use than optparse.

In the first few seconds of the talk, I thought to myself “I know where this is going. It’s brilliant.” I said so to the guy next to me. Then I took it back because while argparse is a pretty cool idea, its not the brilliant idea I thought it was.

See, I thought the tool would automatically introspect a script’s main method and use the docstring to provide any missing information. That’s what I thought would be brilliant.

Since it didn’t do that, I did it. Its certainly not full-featured yet, but it works for basic options and arguments. For 90% of scripts, that’s all you need. I called it opterator and put it on github:

git clone git://

Here’s an example:

from opterator import opterate
def main(filename1, filename2, recursive=False, backup=False,
        suffix='~', *other_filenames):
    '''An example copy script with some example parameters that might
    be used in a copy command.
    @param recursive store_true -r --recursive copy directories
    @param backup store_true -b --backup backup any files you copy over
    @param suffix store -S --suffix override the usual backup
        suffix '''
    filenames = [filename1, filename2] + list(other_filenames)
    destination = filenames.pop()
    print "You asked to move %s to %s" % (filenames, destination)
    if recursive:
        print "You asked to copy directories recursively."
    if backup:
        print "You asked to backup any overwritten files."
        print "You would use the suffix %s" % suffix
if __name__ == '__main__':

Obviously, that only parses the options, its not doing the actual copying because implementing that would do nothing to illustrate how opterator is working. Here’s one run of it:

dusty:opterator $ python copy.pyc -b a b c d -r
You asked to move ['a', 'b', 'c'] to d
You asked to copy directories recursively.
You asked to backup any overwritten files.
You would use the suffix ~

Here’s the automatically generated help:

dusty:opterator $ python -h
Usage: [options] filename1 filename2 [other_filenames]

An example copy script with some example parameters that might
    be used in a copy command.

  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -r, --recursive       copy directories recursively
  -b, --backup          backup any files you copy over
  -S SUFFIX, --suffix=SUFFIX
                        override the usual backup suffix

I named it opterator because I wanted a name that didn’t have ‘parse’ in it. I was going to go for operator but I realized if you heard about this app called operator and searched google for ‘python operator’ you’d get swamped. ‘opterator’ is unique and highlights the option part of the task. Plus it allowed me to invent a new verb: ‘opterate’. Days when I get to invent new verbs are always good days.

I used py.test for testing (another gem I discovered at pycon). You don’t need to run the tests, but the tests are useful examples to see what opterator can do, so have a look.

So I hope somebody finds this useful or even awesome and contributes some patches to make it more of the above. Enjoy!