Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

13 Apr 2023, 9:30 a.m.

Your First PyCon, But Not Your First Convention

Someone I know just decided to come to this year's PyCon US in person and asked me:

It's my first PyCon. Are there any tricks or landmines I should know about? I assume that the standard of dress is anything between shaggy web dev and tenure track professor?

My reply got long so here it is, lightly edited.

Welcome in advance to your first PyCon!

Trey Hunner's guide on going to your first PyCon is from 2018, and has a lot of good advice! Many items in it are more helpful if this will also be your first time going to an industry conference at all. So here's some PyCon US-specific and 2023-specific stuff that assumes you have other cons to compare it to:

  • Email and social media: Do pay attention to the (sometimes voluminous) email updates from PyCon before and during the con. I also suggest adding PyCon's blog to your feedreader. If you are on social media do check out the #PyCon hashtag and #PyConUS and #PyConUS2023 (that's one way people make shared casual "anyone want to grab dinner together?" plans) and post to them too. Check for people's permission before publishing photos of them; often PyCon offers a particular lanyard color or something to indicate "no photos of me, please."
  • Dress code: You are correct, in my estimation, regarding the standard of dress, although I have not been to a PyCon in person since 2019 so WHO KNOWS what has happened over the course of the pandemic so far. Maybe people are wearing ballgowns and sweatpants now! The same people! At the same time! But at least 40% of my own outfits will probably be in-group-signalling tee shirts with dark slacks or jeans plus sneakers. I've heard a friend say that "Formal Friday" as a fun excuse to dress more besuitedly has been a thing in the past, in case you want to enjoy that tradition!
  • COVID safety: PyCon attempts many mitigations, including a mask requirement and vaccine verification, but last year (based on social media reports and personal conversation) probably dozens of attendees caught COVID during the conference, probably while at parties and/or eating and drinking indoors at restaurants. I am reducing to a minimum time spent in rooms with other people, especially crowded rooms, especially when others have their masks off: so, no PyLadies Auction, no indoor lunches, no opening reception, and so on. More details in my 2022 post about deciding not to attend, and my post about why and how I'll attend this year, as well as my 2022 post on conference air quality.
    (In case you are deciding whether to attend in person or remotely: PyCon US 2023 will be hybrid in-person and remote, and remote attendees will be able to view talks livestreamed and on-demand. The online-only registration fee for PyCon is USD $100. And video recordings will also be available to the public on YouTube shortly after the conference -- in some cases they go up within a day of the talk. But they only record (most of) the talks on this schedule, and so that doesn't include the Sponsor Presentations, open spaces, PyLadies Auction, the various Summits and the tutorials if I recall correctly, the poster session, sprints, and events held by individual sponsors or booths in the Expo Hall.)
  • Code of Conduct: They really do actually care about the code of conduct, AND the safety team cares about avoiding both overreacting and underreacting! Examples of how they respond to incidents are in the 2022 transparency report. So, if something comes up that bothers you, even if you're not sure it's a significant incident, feel free to talk with the safety team and they'll handle it appropriately. And, if something comes up and they come to you, this does not automatically mean you are Banned Forever or otherwise punished.
  • Events you can participate in: Do read the list of various Events and consider the Newcomer Orientation. If you want to give a 5-minute Lightning Talk, sign up AS SOON AS YOU CAN and keep signing up each day you aren't chosen. Feel free to set up an Open Space (or two!) about your various interests and projects! I've done this and had good conversations with whoever showed up.
  • Meeting vendors: Startup Row and the Expo Hall in general do offer pretty good opportunities to get coupons on services, get free books from publishers, and talk in person to, often, domain experts at vendors. I know at some conferences the booth staff are usually not domain experts, but at PyCon, in my experience, they often are.
  • The bag of free stuff: You do not have to take with you all the stuff that you are given for free in a "swag bag" when you get your badge at Registration. There is often a sort of discards pile nearby where people leave the stuff they don't want.
  • Spanish: There is a track of Spanish-language talks (the Charlas), so that's a good place to meet bilingual people if you'd also like to speak in Spanish.
  • Meeting new people: If you want to meet new people, volunteering is well-organized at PyCon, in my experience. And many people at PyCon try to follow the Pac-Man Rule to make it easier for new people to join conversations. Also, heads-up that the PyLadies Auction (all the times I've attended) can be entertaining, but I've have fairly limited opportunities to mingle with people besides the ones at my table. (And it can be loud, and lots of people are drinking alcohol, in case that's something you don't want to be around.)
  • Donation & sponsorship: Underappreciated sponsorship opportunity: the PyLadies Auction. I have donated consulting services in the past.
  • Celebrities: Guido van Rossum is not an aloof or snobbish person, but sometimes he does get tired of fans mobbing him. In general, I've found that Python's celebrities want to be treated as regular people, but do welcome brief appreciations for their work, and specific mentions of things you've done or enjoyed because of their specific work. Then again, to me, the celebrities are the maintainers of key projects; I do not know the world of Python's social media influencers and YouTube/Twitch stars so maybe they want their paths strewn with flower petals and discounts wherever they go!
  • Sprints and tutorials: I know you (the specific person I was responding to) are not going to the tutorials or the sprints this year, but I've had very rewarding experiences at both, so consider those for future years. The sprints are a GREAT opportunity for in-depth demos, hashing-out conversations, etc. with projects you depend on & vice versa. I'll be at the first day of the sprints (Monday).

I left out many things here, such as

  • mentored sprints for diverse beginners [not applicable to this specific correspondent]
  • go back in time and propose a talk or poster! PyCon does want proposals from PyCon newcomers
    • PyCon US is a good place to meet other conference organizers to discuss speaking, organizing, and sponsorship opportunities
  • go back in time and request a travel grant if it would be helpful! PyCon sincerely wants to give that money away!
  • if you make yourself useful, you may find yourself invited to a position of formal responsibility next year, solicited to serve on a PSF working group of some kind, etc.
  • the staff genuinely are responsive via email if you have a registration problem or something similar
  • if you know me, or even just read my blog, tell me you're coming to your first PyCon and I will make an effort to show you stuff in person and help you meet new people

And: I'd appreciate if you could make it to the session I'm co-presenting on Friday 5-5:30pm in 355ABC, the play "Argument Clinic: What Healthy Professional Conflict Looks Like". This performance is not about programming and will be understandable to anyone who's ever worked in a workplace with other people.

Welcome to your first PyCon! We're glad you're joining us.


Sumana Harihareswara
14 Apr 2023, 7:41 a.m.

A general guide from 2022 that has a few tips (such as showing up on Thursday, not Friday, to get your badge), the schedule app, what Open Spaces are, etc.

Alyssia Gonzales
14 Apr 2023, 8:50 a.m.

Vaccine verification? Really? It's 2023.

Sumana Harihareswara
15 Apr 2023, 14:29 p.m.

"Vaccine verification? Really?"

Did you not infer, from everything else in that paragraph, that I wouldn't be particularly sympathetic to your point of view here?