What I Learned at PyCon Namibia 20192019-03-30
I was at PyCon Namibia in Windhoek from the 19th to 21st of February, and had an amazing time! PyCon Namibia is one of the longest running PyCons in Africa, this being its fifth edition in as many years.
I had the pleasure of being invited to join by Daniele Procida, after joining him at the first PyCon Ghana last summer. I couldn’t say no to another African Python adventure! (No mum, there weren’t any snakes.)
I also had the great responsibility of delivering the final day keynote, on technologies that will be around in 21 years. There will be a blog post at some point, but if you want to read the slides they are on my GitHub.
Outside of the conference I had great opportunities to see the country and socialize with my fellow Python developers. I joined a social day before the conference where some of the organizers gave us a tour of the Katutura area of Windhoek and a road trip around the country afterwards.
Namibia is the world’s second least densely populated country, with a lot of desert and a population of 2.5 million. Comparing it to PyCon UK, the Python conference is therefore really well attended, about 70 attendees this year.
They were all very welcoming. I think I spoke with a majority of the attendees and loved getting to know their Python stories, from high school students to professionals.
It was also nice to get to know some of the PyNam team on the social day before in Katutura:
The talks spanned the full breadth of Python and its users.
I got the chance to see these:
- Building a block drop game in PyGame by high school student Godwin Nekongo. This reminded me of my youth.
- Test Driven Development in Django by José Machava.
- Ultra low cost robotics by Daniele Procida (see below).
- Live coding music in FoxDot from Ngatatue Mate. His performances were really inspiring.
- Introduction to search in Python by Emanuil Tolev.
- All about Poliastro, an astrodynamics library, from Juan Luis Cano Rodríguez. Per Python Ad Astra!
- Building a recommendation system with LightFM for a South African grocery site by Petrus Janse van Rensburg.
One talk that drew crowds was Daniele’s ultra low cost robotics demonstration. Not only had he spent countless hours helping organize the conference from Europe, he also found time to construct and program a robotic plotter using a Raspberry Pi, at a total cost of $14 US. He has unlimited energy. The night before the talk, I helped him reconstruct the robot from 11pm til 1am, when I basically passed out from exhaustion. In the morning he informed me he’d worked through the night on just 2 hours’ sleep - all of this without energy drinks or even a cup of coffee!
The robot worked really well and plotted out some pictures with its ball point pen:
Outside of talks I assisted in a couple of workshops. On the first day I helped Juan Luis Cano Rodríguez get beginners going with Python. I learned that the Windows installer from Python.org needs you to check a box to place Python on the “Path” for use on the command line, otherwise it takes a large number of dialogues to fix it afterwards.
On the second day I helped Ngazetungue Muheue learn the basics of data analysis with Pandas. I haven’t used the Anaconda Python distribution much, preferring to use vanilla Python and Pip, but it was really useful here that a single installation provided attendees with everything they needed to follow along - Pandas, Jupyter Notebook, and Matplotlib.
The lighting talks at the end of each day were great. On the first day I gave one on a Physics equation to help start them off, since many attendees didn’t know what a lighting talk is. On the second and third days there were queues for the microphone and a great range of stories being shared.
Desert Road Trip
The day after the conference, eight of us set off on a road trip to explore the country (excuse the squinting, it was kinda sunny):
We visited the rolling desert dunes in Sossusvlei, relaxed coastal resort town Swakopmund, the coastal boat graveyard known as The Skeleton Coast, the loud and smelly seal colony at Cape Cross, Mad Max film set Dorob National Park, and travelled back to Windhoek via the Trans-Kalahari Highway.
Some of our group had longer and went on to see the wetlands at Etosha National Park, of which I’m quite envious as it contains a lot of wild animals. Still, I managed to see Giraffes, Warthogs, a Wildebeest, Zebras, Oryx, Springboks, Seals, Helmeted Guineafowl, Ostriches, Baboons, Lizards, and insects bigger than I thought possible!
It was also super hot, the desert heat is incredible, especially coming from a cold February in Europe. The views were stunning, like this sand dune we climbed near Sossusvlei:
Sadly we did not track down the TOTO FOREVER sound installation which plays Toto’s Africa on loop in an unknown location in the desert. A quest for next year!
Overall this was a really energizing conference with a great variety of content and visitors. The size was nice as it meant we could get to learn each other more, and wouldn’t be lost in the crowd.
For any Python developer, I’d recommend using a PyCon as a way of travelling outside your comfort zone. The more far-reaching international connections in our community, the stronger it becomes!
PyCon.org lists conferences in 49 countries at time of writing, but I know it’s incomplete as PyCon Ghana is missing. And the first PyCon Africa will be in Ghana this August, which should be an incredible experience!
If travel costs are prohibitive to you, most conferences can provide financial assistance, so check that out.
Thanks for reading,
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