Monthly Archives: March 2012

A personal history of TUCS

After three years in the job, I’ve finally relinquished the role of President of the University of Tasmania Computing Society (better known as TUCS). The years I spent as President spanned the last year and a half of my time at uni, and the first year and a half outside of that life — it’s something that’s been a pretty constant thread over the past few years, and it’d be a shame if I didn’t take a moment to dwell on my time in the role.

My first year representing TUCS was 2008: I’d come back to uni having attended my first Linux.conf.au in Melbourne, fresh with the knowledge that it would be held in Hobart the following January. The previous computing society at UTAS, the Internet Developers Society had elected to change its name at the previous year’s AGM, and with that new start, I decided to run for the exec of the society. I didn’t really have any aims at the time I ran, save for making the Uni computing community closer to the Open Source movement that I knew and loved at the time.


It was with that that I decided to organise the first of the TUCS Tech Talks. It was a talk by myself on introductory Python. I think I spent the best part of two weeks writing, tweaking and rehearsing that talk, and learning how to get screen recordings going. To my astonishment, the talk was amazingly well-recieved: the room was packed, lots of questions were asked. But much more than the success of my own talk, what astonished me was that people at the barbecue after the talk were telling me about how they wanted to present their own. And a few weeks later, so it was. And the following semester, we had talks every other week, on topics ranging from StarCraft strategy to iPhone development — the advent of tech talks at TUCS exposed a strong enthusiasm for sharing knowledge with others, and it brought our society into great stead with students, staff and the broader tech community in Hobart.


It was at the end of that year that I nominated as President, and happily, I was elected so. And when January rolled about, Linux.conf.au came to our home campus. Whilst TUCS wasn’t really involved with the event as much as I’d have liked, I did spot an opportunity for TUCS to contribute a small part — we ran a barbecue for student and hobbyist delegates to LCA as a way to help our members to engage with the rest of Australia’s tech community. This ended up being the first Unprofessional Delegates’ Networking Session, and it’s an event that I have continued to run at LCA ever since — for the 2012 conference in Ballarat, we brought the UnPDNS format back to the format that we ran for the first time in 2009, and the mood was as good this year as it was in 2009. It’s an event that I’m proud of starting, and the event happened because TUCS members contributed so much to getting that first UnPDNS organised in 2009.


Our Tech Talk schedule improved substantially that year, too. We had the first of our talks from then-Ph.D student, Jonathan Adamczewski on development for PS3 devices. He’s presented almost every semester since then, and his topics have been both diverse and exceedingly in-depth on whatever topic he chose to cover — my personal favourite was a talk showing how “Hello World” programs actually work on Linux systems. We also had the first of our talks by Paul Fenwick — that year, he packed out the tiny seminar room we were using for tech talks with his fascinating insight into the info you could glean from the Facebook API.


The other great discovery that arose from the talks series at TUCS was our frequent series of Lightning Talks — once per semester, students came to share three minutes of whatever insanity they decided they wanted to talk about. We’ve had talks on everything from Alex Berry’s experiments with the postal service; to self-devised esoteric programming languages; to buyers guides for headphones. These talks turned out to be a lot more fun than I could ever have hoped for, and they’ve been a great show of the minds that the society has attracted over the years.


And so it was that last year, I found myself away from Hobart on a very frequent basis, and I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t contribute to TUCS on the level that I had in previous years. Though I tried to give up the post last year, with nobody to replace me, I found myself in situ for a third year. The time I did have to contribute to the role of President last year was spent finding and preparing suitable replacements to come on board the next year. Thankfully, new members with huge amounts of drive started to appear — we ran end-of-semester events for the first time since 2009. We ran an end-of-year Quiz Night, which was a huge success for the society, and showed that the society had strength and enthusiasm to continue on for years to come.


Of course, my own contribution as President over those years did not a society make. The execs who I served with over the years made the society great. The treasurers, Michael Ford, Luke Hovington and Matt D’Orazio all helped make sure that the society was profitable every year I was involved, and keeping on top of grants from the Union. Matt, along with Tim Nugent made sure that the LAN parties that IDS had run for years before continued on well into the TUCS era. Luke Hovington, our tireless sysadmin, kept our old box alive on duck tape and twine, and is overseeing the transition to a new server box with Matt. And Eloise Ducky, who went from being the squeaky year 11 student who showed up on societies day in 2009 to being the person whipping me and the rest of the society into shape as 2011 came to a close.


And so, my term in charge of the society has come to an end — I feel that my hope of creating a community in which students could share their love of computing with others was met; along with keeping the society as bridge between students and university staff, and the IT industry more broadly. They’re goals that a Computing Society at a university should hold at the forefront of what they do, and I think it’s the reason why TUCS is held in high regard.

I hope the years that I spent in the society have changed it for the better — it’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s work I’ve enjoyed, and it’s a role that I’ve greatly relished filling. And thanks to all of the TUCS members who elected me to the role in the first place, but saw enough in me to re-elect me to the role for the following two years. I hope you think it’s been worth it.

Whilst I wasn’t the first President of the society, I was the last. The AGM last year removed the roles of President and Vice-President in favour of holding two Co-Presidents’ offices. I’m sure Eloise, along with Ben Lea will fill these roles with great enthusiasm and with the goal of making the society the best it can be for its members (take care of my baby for me, OK?). Whilst I’m staying on in the executive as a general representative for the rest of this year, it’s going to be interesting to not be in charge of the place.

Photo credits: Adam Harvey, various photos by myself.

Speak at PyCon Australia 2012

February was a pretty big month for PyCon Australia organisation, we finally got our new website up and running, and our Call for Proposals is finally open. We’ve even got our first keynote presenter lined up (hush hush).

Nick Hodge at PyCon Australia 2010
Of course, opening a Call for Proposals doesn’t make a conference just happen. We need people to submit talks now. In particular, we’d like for you to submit something. Even better, our Call for Topics (which has been open since January) has turned up some great trends for what people want to see. Perhaps you have something to say on one of these topics? We want to hear from you!

In-depth techniques with common Python libraries

Have you done interesting things with Python Libraries? Perhaps you’ve solved a difficult application design using Django; or maybe you’ve done awesome hacks with SQLAlchemy? Our delegates want to know just what can be done with those libraries that are out there in the wild — help them take the next step in enhancing their skills.

Testing

Few things are more important in the application development process. Thorough testing means that you can be confident that your code works, and well-written tests ensure that things don’t break when you make changes. But talks on testing have been sorely lacking at PyCon Australia in the past. Help show our delegates how to make code that’s testable using the best tools available to Python developers.

Alternative implementations

Sure, CPython may be the reference implementation of Python, and it may be what nearly everyone coding python uses, but it’s not the only version of Python out there. The PyPy project is working wonders at making Python code run fast (so that it can compete with state-of-the-art JavaScript VMs), and the Jython and IronPython projects are helping to bring the world of Python to Java and .NET developers. Show PyCon Australia that the Python world doesn’t stop at CPython.

Live Code Reviews

One of the best ways to learn about how something works is to take it apart and see what’s inside. Open source projects let us deeply study the internals of the tools and libraries that we use every day. Show our delegates just how their favourite Python tools work, suggest improvements, and perhaps find new contributors to your projects.

Forward-porting to Python 3


Currently, two incompatible versions of Python are competing for your development time — Python 2, which is the old version of Python with flaws you’ve come to know and accept; and the all-new Python 3, which is easier to code with and more consistent. The problem is that all the code you depend upon is written in Python 2. Help speed up the migration to the new version of Python by showing how to forward-port libraries to Python 3.

Now, submit something!

So, now that you know what people want to see at PyCon Australia 2012, perhaps you have an idea about what you can present. Head over to our Call for Proposals and submit a talk for us. The call closes on Friday May 4.

If you still need more ideas, PyCon Australia 2011 presenter, Daniel Greenfeld has a list of Python conference talks he’d like to see. And if you have more ideas that you’d like someone else to present, our Call for Topics is still open.

Can’t wait to see your proposals coming in!