PyCon Personality: Steve Holden, Python Software Foundation Chairman

Mar 04, 2011

Personally I think paying it forward is a more viable way to ensure that open source initiatives succeed. ~Steve Holden, Chairman, Python Software Foundation

Steve Holden

PyCon, organized by volunteers in the Python community, brings together the community that uses and develops the open-source Python programming language. PyCon 2011 will be held in on March 7-17, at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta, Georgia.

PyCon planner, Steve Holden, takes a few moments out of his day to discuss how he began is involvement with PyCon, what he does "in real life", and challenges of planning a conference as well as the future of PyCon.

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

Steve Holden: I went to the International Python Conference and saw that it was run primarily for people with established businesses and plenty of money. When Guido van Rossum, inventor of Python, announced that he was starting a conferences list I joined up and waited for things to appear. And waited. And waited.

Eventually I posted a message opining that the community could do better job of running a conferece. Guido agreed that the Python Software Foundation (PSF) would underwrite the event, we found a university venue to try and keep costs down, and started to ask for volunteers and speakers. PyCon was born.

At the second event I announced I would only chair one more conference, and the community would have to find a replacement chair if the conferences were to continue. I didn’t want PyCon to become one person’s plaything. Happily someone did come forward, and now there are PyCons all over the world. I haven’t missed a single PyCon US so far. It’s a fun conference.

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

SH: I run Holden Web, LLC. We specialise in systems design and implementation and in training. I have recently moved to Portland, and from that base we will be attempting to attract conferences and other technical events there, as well as running events in other cities through a new business called The Open Bastion.

Many people like to say they are “giving something back to the community,” which is fine if you have to take first. Personally I think paying it forward is a more viable way to ensure that open source initiatives succeed. Running the PSF is a fine way contribute to the open source community, though it doesn’t necessarily serve my financial interests best.

LPM: How did you get involved in FOSS? What was your first Open Source/Linux distribution and when? What do you use now and why?

SH: I have been involved with UNIX and Linux for a long time - my first UNIX installation was a PDP-11/23 running the Seventh Edition. I bought a GNU t-shirt in the late 1970s at a UK UNIX User Group meeting, as the effort seemed worth supporting.

The first Linux distribution I worked with was Yggdrasil, some time back in the 1980s. Nowadays I am using Mac OS X (Snow Leopard) as my primary operating system as I switched to a MacBook Air. Rather than run Linux as a virtual I am thinking of moving to Ubuntu, with Mac OS as the virtual. Server systems are running Ubuntu 9.10 or 10.4 at the moment.

LPM: If someone wanted to get involved with PyCon, how would that go about volunteering? What areas do you need the most help in?

SH: The long-term approach is to join the organizers’ mailing list and you will soon pick up on jobs that are needing assistance. Right now we are looking for session chairs and sessions runners - people to manage the sessions and support them by keeping communications open with the AV and support crews.

But there are always other things we could add to the conference with more help, and new people bring new ideas with too, so they might contribute something that we have never seen before at PyCon!

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

SH: The most important thing, now PyCon is reliably over 1,000 people, is to book the venues far enough ahead. Choice of venue becomes rather limited at that scale, and so we have already booked the 2012 and 2013 venue, when we’ll be in Santa Clara, CA.

The logistics of capturing the sessions on video and having some of them on the Internet before the end of the conference are fairly tricky, but I am happy to say that the AV team take care of that. Publicity has always been difficult in previous years, but this interview is an example that shows it’s being taken much more seriously this year.

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

SH: Growth in numbers isn’t the primary driver for PyCon. It’s the primary US forum for the interchange of information about Python and all its implementations. So numbers may go up or down. We do want PyCon US to carry on making a net contribution to the Foundation’s funds as this will enable us to support other activities, including other international PyCons. But that isn’t an end in itself, more a happy side effect of helping all those Python users get more out of the language.

LPM: For people planning to attend PyCon what are the hashtags 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?

SH: On social networking sites the conference hashtag is #pycon. We usually have a Twitter bot running on @pycon that people can follow to pick up all the hashed tweets. The Python language has its own FaceBook group, but not PyCon as far as I know.

This year we are experiementing with Convore, a new service that allows maintenance of threaded discussions, more like network news than e-mail but based on instant messaging. Convore is a Django-based service written in Python, and it’s a great example of what the language can do.

Apart from tweeting and blogging, don’t forget to mention Python at any in-person meetings you may attend (user groups, Meetups and the like).

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

SH: Just that PyCon is a great conference with a terrific community spirit, and I am looking forward to seeing your readers there.

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