Monthly Archives: April 2012

PyCon Australia early bird registrations now open!

For fear of spamming EVERYWHERE with the news, I include just the tl;dr:

tl;dr: PyCon Australia early bird registrations are now open! Find out more at http://2012.pycon-au.org/register/prices, including details of our accommodation programme.

The full media release on the opening of registration can be found at http://2012.pycon-au.org/media/news/15

Hope we see you all registered soon!

Talk — Android: The year of Linux on the palmtop?

Here’s my talk from the Hobart TasLUG meeting yesterday (18 April 2012) on the features of Android from the point of view of a Linux user — both from a technical perspective, and issues arising from Android’s unique status as an Open Source OS for cellphones. If you want to download the video, you can download it, or watch it in the embedded format later in this post… Enjoy!

OMFG! OSCON!

Since I enjoyed presenting on Android development at last year’s OSCON in Portland, it seems as though I shall be returning to do it again this year!

I’m presenting Android-Fu: Awesome apps for Ice Cream Sandwich and beyond at OSCON 2012. It’ll be on Tuesday 17 July at 9:00am, and will be a comprehensive look at things that modern Android tutorials should teach you, but tend not to.

On a related note, I’ll be travelling through the USA a bit on either side of OSCON. I’ll be in New York from (late on) Monday 9 July through Friday 13 July, and Seattle from Saturday 21 July through Monday 23 July. So if you happen to be reading this and would like to direct me at coffee whilst I’m there, let me know!

More pontification on alcohol at conferences

This post started off as a reply to a comment (by “Alan”) on my previous post on this topic, but it got a bit long-winded, and raised a few clarifications of my own viewpoints on this matter. So it’s turned into a post of its own.

So, before I start this, nothing against the organisers or team surrounding OSCON. I loved my experience speaking, and attending the main conference event, and I’m coming back to OSCON to speak again this year. The reason why I pick on it is because it’s the one large American conference that I’ve been to, and it provides a nice contrast to the grassroots-style conferences that I’ve been involved with back home. It also exhibits some very specific examples of fostering that “culture of exclusion” that could be fixed with a few minor policy changes.

So, without further ado, here’s me addressing the points in Alan’s comment.

Could it be that this and the “brogrammer” culture is a problem that is more present at JSConf and Ruby conferences than Python?

I certainly agree that this culture does peak around various types of communities — for instance, Ryan’s post on the “Culture of Exclusion” speaks very specifically of JSConf and various Ruby groups, and in my own experience this sort of culture doesn’t seem to be prevalent at PyCons. However, to say that it’s attached to a small subset of communities is probably quite unfair — OSCON is very much a multi-community conference, but there’s still quite the drinking culture attached to it. Likewise, it seems to me that the Ruby community in Australia isn’t quite as drinking-centric as the examples that Ryan put forward.

You don’t hear anything about sexist COBOL programmers or late night binging at Java conferences from what I can tell. Even PHP seems to have grown up.

I think the likelihood of these sorts of things to occur really does depend on the level of “community” that is attached to a given language or technology. As an example here, people doing Java coding are almost certainly doing so because they work for in a corporate environment. Ruby and JS people are doing so because they work in a “startup” environment, or they’re doing it for fun. The companies that form the founding groups around a conference will often bring their culture along with them. It’s interesting to consider why this doesn’t happen so much at Python conferences. I don’t have any particular answers here — indeed, it’s quite the paradox, because I’d have considered Python to be more of a “startup” type language, and one would assume that would bring the “startup” culture into it. Perhaps it speaks of the values of those who started gatherings for Python coders?

Are these excesses a problem at conferences in general? Is this an American thing? Or even a Ruby/JS thing?

Is it a problem with conferences or communities, or is it a much more widespread cultural issue (as in e.g. American youth culture) that has just become more visible for us recently?

Excess is something that needs to be managed — it’s very easy for a conference organiser to say “yes, you can provide an open bar at this event” to a sponsor, and sponsors get quite an amount of good will from it (free alcohol doesn’t upset people, non-drinkers won’t speak up). It’s also pretty clear to me that if an open bar is offered, there’ll be a group of people who will take it up, regardless of the community that centres around the conference.

So the conferences that suffer from this sort of problem are the ones which either don’t have a policy of limitation of alcohol sponsorship, or those that actively encourage a culture of drinking (the sort of things that Ryan Funduk talks about in his article). I doubt there’d be open bars at any conference if there weren’t sponsors who were willing to fund them.

The onus is therefore on conference organisers to make sure that they don’t encourage binge drinking. In particular, this involves limiting the amount of alcohol sponsorship a conference is willing to accept — we at PyCon Australia are doing this by only providing tokens for drinks at our alcohol sponsored events (with the exception of at the dinner, where the open bar is time-limited, and comes with food and other entertainment).

What distinguishes conferences and communities that have this problem from those that do not?

Conferences can send out a message about this culture: For example, offering OSCON offers free attendance to the drinking events, but not to the main content of the conference; this can be compared with Linux.conf.au, where you have to pay extra to attend the drinking session. The contrasts between these arrangements provide quite the subtext between the values of the two conferences — intentional or not. In my view, OSCON providing such a ticket says that the “base level” experience of the conference is one where you go to all the parties, and the talks and tutorials are the “added extras”. For LCA, it’s the other way around.

So in summary, there are plenty of factors that surround the discussion of alcohol at conferences. I think it’s an important discussion to have, not least because it presents as a diversity argument in very much the same way as the gender diversity argument has presented itself over the last few years — conferences should always be looking at the messages they send out about the communities they wish to foster, and ensuring that they’re inclusive towards everyone in that culture.

Do Australian tech conferences suffer from “A Culture of Exclusion”? How do we avoid it?

I spotted this interesting article by Ryan Funduk, on the culture of exclusion generated by piss-up parties at tech conferences — primarily at conferences in America, but the issue is certainly prevalent in other places.

I attended OSCON last year, and whilst OSCON is clearly not as bad as the type of events that have been highlighted in this writeup, there were still plenty of events that were promoted by the conference and their sponsors, but clearly served only as an opportunity to booze up some delegates. In fact, there was at least one such party advertised in the conference schedule each night — peaking on the Wednesday where there were three such conference parties advertised on the conference schedule, cleverly paced for two hours so that delegates could move on to each of the parties as the previous one wound up.

I personally feel as though these sorts of events have no place being actively promoted by the conference schedule. There are several good reasons for this that are all detailed in the parent article, but they all boil down to the fact that not everyone drinks. Parties where the key attraction is drinking only attracts those who drink. By advertising such events as part of the programme, they create cliques within the conference community that aren’t defined by the community that the conference serves to support.

Worse still is when such events are not run with alternatives available, because this strongly promotes the subtext that drinking is the only way to socialise at the conference. So a delegate who doesn’t drink will not fit in to any part of the conference, because there is no well-established way for non-drinkers to find each other.

As an active participant in tech conferences in Australia, it’s important to reflect on criticisms of such conferences in other countries, as well as here, to make sure that we’re providing a culture that actively encourages any delegate who chooses to attend — regardless of age, gender or lifestyle choice.

In the case of conferences run in Australia, I don’t believe that the issues of Alcohol-driven events are near as much of a problem as they are in America.

At Linux.conf.au, since the demise of the Google Party (an event very much brought over by American employees of Google), I don’t think I’ve seen a single event associated with the conference where drinking was the sole purpose of the event. One exception of this is the Professional Delegates Networking Session, however, I have always seeked to run a non-alcohol driven alternative against it. As a non-drinker for most of the LCAs I’ve been to, I don’t think I’ve lost out by not participating in the drinking.

At PyCon Australia, we’ve been careful to not offer up any events with an open tab — companies who want to sponsor alcohol have to do so in a way that ensures that the amounts provided are limited, and any foray into dangerous territory comes at the expense of the delegates. There is no conference event planned without a defined activity, and in every case, the presence of a bar at the event is clearly a distant second in terms of priorities for the organisers.

One of the great successes over the past few years in Australia has been ensuring that toxic cultures within the tech community aren’t tolerated. I think it’s imporant that we look at everything we do with a critical eye. I’m sure that our record on avoiding the fostering of an alcohol culture at our events isn’t spotless, and it’s one that we should look over with as critical an eye as we use to look over issues of gender or sexuality.

It’s definitely my intention to do this as I continue to put together PyCon — constantly looking at what we can do as Australian-based conference organisers do to ensure that the culture of alcohol doesn’t take over from the culture of the technology that we’re gathering for?

Update: I’ve written a further post on this topic. Do try it.