Python in the Caribbean? More of this!

I don’t often make a point of blogging about the conferences I end up at, but sometimes there are exceptions to be made.

A couple of weekends ago, a happy set of coincidences meant that I was able to attend the first PyCaribbean, in Santo Domingo, capital city of the Dominican Republic. I was lucky enough to give a couple of talks there, too.

This was a superbly well-organised conference. Leonardo and Vivian were truly excellent hosts, and it showed that they were passionate about welcoming the world to their city. They made sure breakfast and lunch at the venue were well catered. We weren’t left wanting in the evenings either, thanks to organised outings to some great local bars and restaurants over each of the evenings.

Better still, the organisers were properly attentive to issues that came up: when the westerners (including me) went up to Leo asking where the coffee was at breakfast (“we don’t drink much of that here”), the situation was resolved within hours. This attitude of resolving mismatches in the expectations of locals vs visitors was truly exceptional, and regional conference organisers can learn a lot from it.

The programme was, in my opinion, better than by rights any first-run conference should be. Most of the speakers were from countries further afield than the Caribbean (though I don’t believe anyone travelled further than me), and the keynotes were all of a standard that I’d expect from much more established conferences. Given that the audience was mostly from the DR – or Central America, at a stretch – the organisers showed that they truly understood the importance of bringing the world’s Python community to their local community. This is a value that it took us at PyCon Australia several years to grok, and PyCaribbean was doing it during their first year.

A wonderful side-effect of this focus on quality is, the programme was also of a standard high enough that someone could visit from nearby parts of the US and still enjoy a programme of a standard matching some of the best US regional Python conferences.

A bit about the city and venue: Even though the DR has a reputation as a touristy island, Santo Domingo is by no means a tourist town. It’s a working city in a developing nation: the harbour laps up very close to the waterfront roads (no beaches here), the traffic patterns help make crossing the road an extreme sport (skilled jaywalking ftw), and toilet paper and soap at the venue was mostly a BYO affair (sigh). Through learning and planning ahead, most of this culture shock subsided beyond my first day at the event, but it’s very clear that PyCaribbean was no beachside junket.

In Santo Domingo, the language barrier was a lot more confronting than I’d expected, too. Whilst I lucked out on getting a cabbie at the airport who could speak a tiny bit of English, and a receptionist with fluent English at the hotel, that was about the extent of being able to communicate. Especially funny was showing up at the venue, and not being allowed in, until I realised that the problem was not being allowed to wear shorts inside government buildings (it took a while to realise that was what the pointing at my legs meant).

You need at least some Spanish to function in Santo Domingo, and whilst I wasn’t the only speaker who was caught out by this, I’m still extremely grateful for the organisers for helping bridge the language barrier when we were all out and about during the evening events. This made the conference all the more enjoyable.

Will I be back for another PyCaribbean? Absolutely. This was one of the best regional Python conferences I’ve ever been to. The organisers had a solid vision for the event, far earlier than most conferences I’ve been to; the local community was grateful, eager to learn, and were rewarded by talks of a very high standard for a regional conferences; finally, everyone who flew into Santo Domingo got what felt like a truly authentic introduction to Dominican Culture, thanks to the solid efforts of the organisers.

Should you go to the next PyCaribbean? Yes. Should your company sponsor it? Yes. It’s a truly legitimate Python conference that in a couple of years time will be amongst the best in the world.

In PyCaribbean, the Python community’s gained a wonderful conference, and the Caribbean has gained a link with the global Python community, and one that it can be truly proud of at that. If you’re anywhere near the area, PyCaribbean is worthy of serious consideration.

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