PyCon Personality: Jesse Noller

Amber Graner interviews Jesse Noller, PyCon conference co-chair, keynote coordinator, and program committee chair in this interview for the PyCon Personality Interview series.

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

Jesse Noller: Currently, I am co-chair of the conference and I acted as the Keynote coordinator and Program Committee chair this year as well. I’ve been involved directly for the past two years, acting as Program Committee chair last year, as well as the keynote coordinator.

The program committee chair oversees and manages the process of getting together all of the submitted talks (and getting speakers to submit talks) and then running them through review and selection. It’s a pretty long process - I can go into more details if you want.

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

JN: I am a Principal Software Engineer at Nasuni Corporation - a startup in the storage space just outside Boston MA. We (Nasuni) are heavy Python users, and so my day job is all day long Python hacking.

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?

I’ve been a heavy FOSS user for many years - probably since I was 16 or so. My first distribution was Slackware - I think I had it on like, 13 3.5 inch floppy drives.

I’ve mainly worked for companies in the proprietary software space, being a FOSS/Open Source advocate from within. Things really started to take off for me in the FOSS world when I got more involved and vocal within the Python community, several years ago. I’m now a Python core contributor, and a Python Software Foundation Director (member of the board).

And obviously I work on PyCon stuff :)

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?

JN: We need on-the ground volunteers, we need volunteers to help with talk reviews every year, etc. PyCon is volunteer-run as much as possible, which allows us to keep a community feel and vibe. Also, we like to keep it “in the community” so to speak.

The current (2010) volunteer page is here and the program committee (which we always need more input on - they select the talks) page is here.

AG: What are some of the challenges you face when planning the PyCon and how do you over come them?

JN: Everyone having an opinion!

Nah, in all seriousness, the challenges are mainly around walking a fine line between a community focused, and driven conference and a large-scale, for profit conference (ala JavaOne). You have to be careful that you don’t show a lot of bias towards commercial interests, while also realizing that they are crucial to making sure that PyCon even exists. This includes accepting talks and tutorials from commercial sources, managing sponsor benefits, etc.

Frankly, the sponsors are what keep the conference afloat financially, and I can’t say anything bad about them since they’ve been so generous to us.

PyCon is run “by” the Python Software Foundation, a 501c3 charity. The PSF has a finite amount of money, so a financial mistake with a conference running at PyCon scale can cause serious financial risk for the foundation, putting both at risk for collapse.

Running a conference, with over 100 talks and tutorials and sponsors, food, lodging, etc is a very large and complex endeavor. As the chair Van (my boss) said recently - “Scalability matters in software - and food”.

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

JN: PyCon is growing insanely year over year. We’ve had to cap registrations at 1500 attendees this year because otherwise we would cause serious issues with space in the hotel. The future is bright - we had over 200 individual talks submitted for the conference, which is amazing (we can only accept 96ish talks).

Next year (San Jose) - we’re going to probably have to cap attendance again, just due to space constraints. If we can keep it at the 1500 marker this year, and next - I think we’re doing very well. I think 1500 is a manageable number - it strikes the balance between “community” and “wow conference” we’re looking for.

AG: For people planning to attend PyCon what are the hastags you all are using for the PyCon for micro-blogging sites such as 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?

JN: We’re using blogs, twitter, everything under the sun to spread the word. We’re even using two new Python startups (Lanyrd and Convore - we’re biased towards Python):

AG: Is there anything about the PyCon that I haven't asked that you would like to tell me about?

JN: Since you asked! PyCon isn’t the only Python conference out there - while it is by far the biggest of the conferences, there’s also EuroPython, PyCon AU and many others - a semi complete list (it’s growing all the time) can be found here.

Additionally, we (the community and Python Software Foundation) are encouraging smaller regional conferences as much as we can - projects like PyOhio are prime examples of great regional conferences.

Most of all, PyCon isn’t much of anything without its speakers, tutorial presenters, volunteers and sponsors. All of them (us) work very hard, sometimes years in advance to put on a conference we hope will top the year previous. For example, this year we added “Startup Row” and did a lot of focused work to bring on lots of newer Python-oriented companies on board.

So, without the community as a whole - we couldn’t pull any of this off, so my thanks to them.

See the PyCon website for more information.


Follow along as Ubuntu enthusiast and Community organizer Amber Graner helps put the "You" in Ubuntu.

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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