Pycon Personality: Wesley Chun

Google Developer Advocate, Wesley Chun takes a few moments out of his schedule to give Amber Graner a little history lesson about PyCon and his journey to Python, and more.

Amber Graner: Can you tell us a little about you and your role with the PyCon? How long you have worked on this event?

Wesley Chun: My name is Wesley Chun, and I've been a fixture in the Python community since I started learning it back in 1997. At that time, I was working for a small startup company that ended up creating Yahoo!Mail. I was the original engineer behind the spellchecker and address book, ironically two things that I don't use with email. People are surprised to find out that it was mostly written in Python back then no one ever heard of it before. That was also around the time when I wrote my first Python book, Core Python Programming, published by Prentice Hall. I had also started teaching Python professionally around that time too, via my home business where I collate all of my teaching and writing efforts.

Since then, I've mostly been a server-side software architect, working at a variety of startups using Python as an engineer on a variety of products including an application that helps doctor analyze patients with possible spinal fractures, creating code that helps a hardware appliance scan email messages for spam and viruses, local product search, and social applications, etc., for the next decade before joining Google towards the end of 2009.

As far as my involvement with PyCon goes, there were actually ones which preceded Python... the original annual gatherings around the language were known as workshops, then called "IPCs" (International Python Conference). My first was IPC9 or "Python 9" in 2000, held in Arlington, VA. (That was the year there was a massive snowstorm that shut down the government offices and enclosed the conference hotel all in white.)

There were 10 of these originals workshops/IPS before it was spun off and merged into O'Reilly's Open Source Convention (OSCON) in 2003, with the last IPC being "Python 10" in 2002. Coincidentally, 2003 was also the first year of the new community conferences we now call "PyCon." I had strictly been an attendee in the early days, but started to volunteer for various positions at PyCon start around 2005 and have been doing so ever since! I've help coordinate the raffle/door prizes, helped setup the conference bookstore presence, arranged author booksignings, stuffed conference totebags, etc. It gives me great energy to be in a room full of volunteers, all passionate about making PyCon the greatest conference on Earth!

AG: Since most event planners in the FOSS community are volunteers, what is your day job?

WC: At Google, I'm a Developer Advocate. That's a fancy way of saying that I'm the public face to Google products, APIs, and developer tools. Programmers who want to use the latest Google tools to help them get their job done are my primary customer. I create code samples for the official docs or open source projects, write blogposts, help users design or debug their applications, tweet, write books or articles, build internal tools, and deliver talks/tutorials at technical conferences. So basically, I'm half-an-engineer and half-a-marketing & support person. Our department is called "Developer Relations," so I tell folks in a tongue-and-cheek kind-of way, that my job is, "to have relations with our developers." :-) Believe it or not, our team of all-stars is hiring around the world, even in this economy. We even have a jobs page dedicated to this effort!

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?

WC: My first experiences with open source software came after graduating from college—I had completed my undergraduate work at UC Berkeley and went straight into the workforce. That was when I realized that in school (back then), they didn't teach you any of the basic developer tools that any engineer needs to know, including being able to write shell scripts, use source control, and write tests! When I arrived at graduated school several years later, getting an MS in Computer Science from UC Santa Barbara, I was the most "advanced" student there, using these tools and having students wonder what they are, etc. They also didn't know what was that thing called a 401(k) that I seemed to keep on checking.

When I graduated, I went to Sun Microsystems and enhanced my shell scripting skills, and learned Tcl/Tk and Perl in this process with C being my primary development tool. I then moved to web development after that. This was the time that I started with Slackware Linux, in the mid-to-late 90s. I haven't contributed any projects, mostly just patching various bits here and there, whatever I get my hands on and when. Python and Yahoo!Mail came right after that.

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?

WC: That's easy... just go to the Volunteers Page! This is definitely the best place to start, with signing up for the PyCon Organizers mailing list being one of the first things you need to do. There are plenty of things volunteers can help out on before the conference approaches. At this time, things turn inward, and there we need people on the ground at the show to help out as well, so there's a separate volunteers page for onsite help. Helping out is not only a great way to make PyCon a great conference, but it's also very educational in terms learning new skills that are helpful with any other event planning you do in the future.

AG: How do you see the future of the PyCon? What numbers do you hope to sustain?

WC: PyCon can only grow as Python's popularity is ever-increasing. The only problem with that is that we prefer to keep the conference small and intimate, so that's why this is the very first year we're implementing a cap on registation, which maxes out at 1500. If we ever hit 1500 earlybird registrations, we may need to rethink its organization and target though.

AG: For people planning to attend PyCon what are the hastags you all are using for the PyCon for micro-blogging sites such as identi.ca and Twitter. Is there a Facebook Group? Where and what else can they do to help spread the word about the PyCon these final planning days before the event?

WC: It's usually just #pycon or #PyCon ... capitalization doesn't really matter though. There is a FB group, but where it is eludes me at this time. I'm sure others will send you the right link. The best thing to do to continue to publicize PyCon at this stage is to keep blogging and tweeting, plus mention that we're getting close to the cap to get people off their behinds and register! Of course, it's now too late to sign-up on the website so people should just prepare to travel here and register on-site. We look forward to the greatest PyCon yet!

For more information about PyCon please see the PyCon Website.

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Amber Graner is an active Ubuntu community member and organizer who encourages everyone around her to participate, support, and learn about Ubuntu and Open Source. With a smile and a sense of humor, Amber reminds people that there is a place for everyone in the Ubuntu community – regardless of technical skill level (or lack thereof). She is constantly looking for people, places, and events within the Ubuntu community that help inspire Ubuntu users to participate actively within the Ubuntu community. Email Amber at amber AT ubuntu-user DOT com.

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