2016.06.01 – Post, Post, Post PyCon Reflections

PyCon 2016 just ended….well for me anyway. Sprints are taking place over the next four days but I have a job I love and miss and can’t wait to get back to. This was my third PyCon having gone to the last two in Montreal. It was interesting to attend in my home city of Portland. We typically travel for conferences so we end up eating out usually with people we’ve just met and doing some touristy things each day after the talks. Attending in our own city means we can just go home and sleep in our own bed which is really nice but also kind of weird. This year we convinced our two oldest children to attend because they have never been to a conference and are both new Python programmers hoping to find a job in the tech industry.

Both of them were nervous and unsure of themselves. I repeatedly tried to reassure them that they were absolutely worthy to be among all of these other awesome Pythonistas but I could see they were still unsure. I was pretty much watching myself at my first PyCon and it made me reflect on various experiences, thoughts and emotions that I struggled with.

I had attended many conferences prior to PyCon 2014 but this was the first one intended for me. All of the others were conferences relating to Andrew’s interests. I enjoyed tagging along but rarely understood anything. Now we were at a conference for me and I sure didn’t feel like I belonged. I was a total imposter. Yeah I’d done many tutorials, finished a boot camp, created my own Django project, deployed it on Heroku, implemented continuous integration but what did I know? Surely everyone else knew a LOT more than me. I bet they all had awesome jobs programming in Python all day and were confident and sure of themselves. I wasn’t there yet. Not even close. I didn’t belong.

We showed up at our hotel and there was a lobby full of Python attendees hanging out, laughing, chatting, playing board games. I honestly don’t even remember how it came about but before I knew it people were talking to us. When someone would ask about us Andrew would defer to me saying, “She’s a Python programmer.” and I would immediately say that I was just learning and really didn’t know much about anything. I didn’t want people assuming I knew more than I did. I really didn’t want to look dumb in front of these smart people. They were all SO nice though. I felt incredibly welcomed and so did Andrew even after he divulged that he was a Perl developer!

We had an amazing time at the conference, loved so many of the talks and met a ton of great people. One late evening as Andrew and I were hanging out in the lobby a couple of really nice guys struck up a conversation. They asked me if I was staying for the sprints. I had heard mention of these sprint things but had no idea what they were and I said as much. They explained what the sprints were, pretty much implying they were as good if not better than the actual conference. One of the guys was even running one. I explained that I had no experience and wouldn’t be a good person to join one of these sprints even though they sounded amazing. “Oh but that’s great! I can help you! How would you like to fix a security bug?” encouraged my new friend. Well, wow that sounds cool and important. “I could do that?” I asked.  “Of course! Meet after closing remarks tomorrow and I’ll help you get started.” Well this was fantastic. I was going to work on a thing. A real thing. I was ridiculously excited.

The job fair was also the next day. I was definitely looking for a job but I knew there was no way any of these companies would want someone like me with no experience. I had an awful time working up the nerve to even talk to someone at a table and I walked away from each experience feeling even worse about myself. The whole thing was so awkward for me. Oh well, I had a security bug to fix during the sprints!

We went to a few more talks and then sat through the closing. I don’t know if it was my unfortunate experiences during the job fair or what but as I sat there I replayed the Security Bug Fix Invitation conversation over and over in my head. “Did he smile when he asked me if I wanted to fix a security bug? I think he may have. Of course he was smiling. He was just joking when he asked you that. What kind of beginner could possibly be trusted with, let alone fix, a security bug? Gah, Lisa how could you not see he was joking?! He probably thought you were smart enough to catch on to his joke but when you weren’t, he felt bad for you and was probably embarrassed and now he’ll want avoid you so he doesn’t have to let you down with the truth. You should probably just leave as soon as possible so you don’t have to cause any further embarrassment.”

Yeah I got WAY in my head on this one. It was ridiculous. I told Andrew we should probably just head back to the hotel but he was so excited about me trying out a sprint. I explained my worries to him and he was just as patient as always with me. He told me I was probably incorrect but that we could just go check out a different project if I really felt uncomfortable about the other. This seemed like an ok compromise so we wandered into a different room and I sat around having no idea what I was doing……and along came my friend. He’ll see me and avoid eye contact until he can escape. It’s cool. I unders..”Hey! I was looking for you! I thought you were going to come and work on this security bug I have picked out.” Oh, why yes, Yes I am!

And this year I watched my daughter get in that same head space. It’s not enough that I try and talk her out of it. She knows I go there too. She and her brother are off to the sprints tomorrow without Andrew and I and of course I worry that things won’t fall into place like they did for me. I worry that as unlikely as it is, nobody will take them under their wing. I worry but in reality I know that they will be in great hands. I’m excited for them!