Gosh, I’ve been a little bit busy lately. I feel sad because it means my digital making has fallen by the wayside a little, but I guess we have to accept that sometimes life gets in the way.
I can’t believe that it’s November tomorrow – I’m currently in Lincoln visiting my niece for her 8th birthday (of course, I got her something relating to digital making from Pimoroni – a very cool Chibitronics kit that already got opened and tested before breakfast – Expect a review soon).
In this post, I’m going to focus on PyCon, but please be prepared for it to be a fairly long one as I had a lot of adventures as part of my trip to Cardiff.
This is the fourth time I’ve attended PyCon as an educator and I can’t get over how much it has gone from strength to strength in that time. This year, as well as a children’s day and teacher’s track, there was a full two-day Picademy running at the start of the conference along with a wealth of education-focused talks (and a panel) from the likes of Tom Crick and Kushal Das.
I was lucky enough to be invited to Picademy as a facilitator again – it’s always an amazing experience to work with the Raspberry Pi Foundation team and this was no exception – in spite of their being two team members heavily pregnant, the energy and enthusiasm from everyone is always contagious and I absolutely love being part of the team.
This Picademy was no exception and all of the attendees seemed to really enjoy themselves as well as coming back to day 2 with smiles on their faces – there are loads of great photos in the PyConUK photo album by Mark Hawkins, but I’ve put some of my faves below. Please note, all photos within this blog post are from Mark’s album and so should be credited to him!
At the end of the first day of Picademy, we took all of the attendees for a meal at the Clink restaurant, which was a remarkable experience as all of the kitchen staff were inmates at HMP Cardiff. The concept of the Clink is to teach inmates genuine life skills so that they can reduce the reoffending rate for ex-prisoners and it seems that this amazing scheme is doing well, as they’ve seen a 41% reduction since it started. Not only that, but the food was absolutely incredible, so well done to all involved! The only downside was that no alcohol was served within the venue, but the food was so amazing that it didn’t really bother us! If you’re ever in Cardiff, or any of the other locations with a Clink, I would recommend booking a table as it was amazing and such a good cause.
After Picademy was over, I received a lovely message from one of the attendees, who wanted to thank us all for the experience of Picademy, Martin went on to explain that he had been suffering from anxiety and depression and had nearly not returned for day 2, but he was glad that he did. He really deserved his RCE badge and certificate and created an amazing project to detect whether someone had fallen over (useful after a night out). It was amazing to think that between us, we’d helped improve his outlook on life so much that he is already feeling more positive about the future. I’m so grateful that Martin took the time to let us know how he was feeling as it really brightened up our Friday night.
Saturday was the ‘kids day’ as well as the education track at PyConUK and I had offered to run a workshop in the Code Club room for younger coders. I was a bit nervous about running a workshop with breadboards, LEDs and Python for children as young as four, but it was an amazing success and the children were really creative with their junk modelling. Alas, I forgot to take any photos because we were having too much fun!
Also as part of the kids day, the lovely Josh Lowe ran an amazing workshop demonstrating using EduBlocks with Minecraft. I am really impressed with the latest iteration of EduBlocks, which 13-year-old Josh has created himself as a way of bridging the gap between Scratch and Python – Josh is definitely one to watch and over the course of the weekend he managed to squeeze in a talk, a lightning talk, a workshop and a show and tell!
After the kids’ day finished, we invited the children up to the main conference stage to talk about their projects. I was really lucky to be asked to host this session and I was so impressed with all of the projects that the children produced. From the PyCon Flashing Python to a Micro:Bit Morse Code reader, the projects were amazing to behold and so well explained by all of the children. (Check out the rest of the kids’ lightning talk photos, starting here.)
On Saturday evening, I also hosted the adult lightning talks along with Vince Knight and it was great fun seeing a range of ideas, including Josh and another RPi fave, Martin O’Hanlon, talking about BlueDot, his simple Bluetooth controller for Raspberry Pi.
It was great fun catching up with Martin and a few others like Dave Ames and Ben Nuttall – one of my favourite things about PyCon is catching up with old friends.
Sunday was my final day at the conference (I decided not to stay for the Code Sprints on the Monday). It was also my most emotional day overall – first off, Josh and I were presented with John Pinner Awards for service to the Python Community. John Pinner was the original founder of Pycon who sadly passed away a few years ago and so the organising committee decided to honour ten community members with an award in his name. I was pretty overwhelmed to have been one of the chosen few (the other 8 received their awards on Friday) and still can’t believe that I was nominated!
Not long after receiving my award, I did something that terrified me – I did a talk about Mental Health where I talked very openly about my personal struggle with depression. It’s been a tough journey to get to where I am today, but I’m confident enough to stand up and talk about my illness in a frank and honest way – I hope that it has opened a few people’s eyes to what it means to suffer from depression and anxiety and I look forward to getting a link to the official video, but in the meantime, Paul from Pimoroni live-streamed the talk in two parts which can be found here and here. Apologies for it being a bit rushed and emotional at times, but it felt good to get it all off my chest and thank you for all of the amazing comments and feedback. If I’ve helped one person or changed one person’s opinion on mental health, then I consider my talk a success so thank you for allowing me to stand up and talk about it. Link to my slides can be found here.
I guess that’s one of the amazing things about PyCon – they actively encourage talks about personal issues as well as including Django girls code days and TransCode days alongside the education days and kids’ days. AND they offer a free fully-staffed crèche to make the conference more accessible to parents, as well as offering bursaries to teachers and speakers to help make it more achievable to attend. It is perhaps the single most inclusive conference I have ever been to and that’s probably why people return year after year.
Finally, well done to everyone involved in organising PyConUK and here’s to next year being as amazing, if not better! Thank you to everyone I spoke to during the event as everyone was incredibly kind, supportive and friendly even before I laid myself bare in my talk. Good luck to those people who I spoke to after my talk who were struggling and felt brave enough to talk to me about it, and to those who maybe weren’t so brave and needed a hug too – it does get better, I promise. And… I only cried a little bit after my talk, and that was only because of how relieved I felt about how well received it had been.