PyCon Personality: Catherine Devlin
As PyCon gets set to kick off in Atlanta, Georgia this week, I wanted to introduce organizers who help bring together all the various aspects of the Python community. In this interview meet Catherine Devlin.
Amber Graner: Can you tell us a little about you and your role with the PyCon? How long you have worked on this event?
Catherine Devline: I think this is my third year as PyCon’s Publicity Coordinator; for two years before that, I was Food Coordinator.
AG: Since most event planners in the FOSS community are volunteers, what is your day job?
CD: I’m a database administrator for Dell KACE.
AG: How did you get involved in FOSS? What was your first Open Source/Linux distribution and when? What do you use now and why?
CD:As an undergraduate in the very early 90’s, I used GNU utilities on the university’s UNIX systems, so when I discovered friendly Linux distributions like Ubuntu around 2005, I felt like I was coming home. In the meantime, I’d discovered Python around 2003 and fallen madly in love with the language.
A few months ago I moved from administering Oracle on Windows to administering MySQL on Linux and BSD, so open-source finally dominates every aspect of my work life!
In general, I’ve found open-source to be better designed for me, since it’s need-driven rather than marketing-driven. Proprietary software is often written and presented to put on a good show for software buyers, which actually gets in the way of practical needs.
AG: If someone wanted to get involved with the PyCon, how would that go about volunteering? What areas do you need the most help in?
CD: We’ve got a page just for that and there’s a PyCon-Organizers mailing list which you can join at any point, with constant discussion of what’s needed - everything from official offices that need filling to quick requests for advice on specific questions. PyCon 2011 is very close, and our big need right now is for on-the-spot volunteers like registration desk workers and session chairs.
AG: What are some of the challenges you face when planning the PyCon and how do you over come them?
CD: It keeps growing! Conferences don’t scale: a 1500-person conference is much more than five times harder and more expensive to run than a 300-person conference. For this year, we’re capping attendance at 1500 specifically because we don’t want to grow beyond the point where we can keep it awesome and affordable. Still, growth is a happy problem to have!
This year especially, “publicity chair” has been a rather grandiose title, since the most important publicity has been done by individual attendees blogging about what they’re excited about as the conference shapes up. They’ve done the grassroots publicity that is the real key for a community conference like PyCon.
There’s an eternal publicity challenge, though, in reaching beyond the regulars of a community. There are plenty of channels to contact people who are plugged in: magazines, blogs, mailing lists, user groups. But there’s a big silent majority of programmers who stay holed up in their cubicles and don’t keep an eye on the community. If I ever figure out how to reach them, I’ll let you know!
AG: How do you see the future of the PyCon? What numbers do you hope to sustain?
CD: This is tricky. PyCon has always been a cozy, community conference, but it’s also been the Python community’s main event. As Python becomes an omnipresent language, the number of potential attendees goes through the roof. Can we keep everything we love about PyCon as Python itself grows and grows? I’d be personally inclined to say that we should try to grow the conference only slowly in the future, but that comes up against PyCon’s role as the crossroads of the Python world.
Fortunately, a bigger community keeps widening our group of volunteers, which gives us more brains to figure these questions out.
To find out more about PyCon visit the PyCon website.