Choose Your Own (PyCon) Adventure

PyCon is a “community driven” conference. That means we depend on members of the Python community to organize all aspects of the event, from site selection to menu planning. It also means we depend on community members to provide the content for all of the presentations, posters, and tutorials. There’s no corporate marketing agenda or “pay-for-play” system for arranging for speakers. Instead, the program committee finds volunteers to talk about interesting work they are doing and provide training on topics of interest to the community.

This is normally the point at which a post about PyCon implores you to submit a proposal about one of your own projects. Not this time.

The Personal Touch

One of the hardest things I had to do as Editor of Python Magazine was find people to write articles for us. I thought that would be a simple task (geeks usually love to talk about their work, after all, and we did pay for articles). I was surprised at just how challenging that aspect of the job turned out to be. I sent message after message to mailing lists for projects, user groups, and authors asking for anyone to tell me about their work. I received almost no responses, and I was killing myself to put together enough material to make a full issue every month.

In desperation, I changed tactics and began crafting more specific requests addressed to individuals. In the short term, it was more work. I had to research the projects myself by lurking on mailing lists, watching the PyPI RSS feed for new releases, and scanning the schedules for every conference I could find with presentations using Python. But as a result of that work, instead of a generic “tell me about something you are doing” message, I was able to ask project leads and library authors to write a more directed article. I could suggest a few topics, along with reasons I thought what they had to say would be interesting to my readers.

The results were startling. That seemingly small shift in tactics made an enormous difference in the responses to my requests. Within a few weeks, I had more articles than I could edit and I had filled my production schedule for the next several months. As a result, I was able to slow down acquisitions and concentrate on other aspects of being Editor.

I learned that a direct personal request made more of an impression than a general call for participation. People who may not have considered themselves authors, or who thought they had nothing interesting to say, could be swayed by a personal appeal.

You Are PyCon

We can apply the same direct-approach tactics I used with the magazine to create the PyCon talk schedule, but we need your help to do it. You all know an interesting story, even if it isn’t yours to tell. We need you to help us find those stories, and convince their owners to tell them.

I am not asking you to take an hour this week to write a proposal for your own talk. Instead, I want you to take 15 minutes to encourage someone else to write a proposal.

Send a short email to the author of the library that made your difficult tasks easy and tell them that more people need to know about the tool they have created.

Write to the lead of a project where Python plays a quiet supporting role and ask them to share their case study.

Contact a trainer who engaged with their students and made class fun to make sure they know about the tutorials at PyCon.

Ask a blogger with outstanding technical insight to share the benefits of their experience.

Suggest that a member of your local user group polish their presentation about using Python in their job.

Encourage a speaker from another conference to present their talk at PyCon.

Be specific. Suggest a topic they are qualified to talk about. Tell them why you think they have an interesting presentation, tutorial, or poster. Tell them you want them to participate.

The application deadline for proposals for PyCon 2012 is October 12, 2011. Take 15 minutes, right now, and send an email to help make PyCon a conference you want to attend.