Our Fellows’ experiences of PyConNA 2018

Posted by s.aragon on 21 March 2018 - 9:28am

PYcon1.pngBy Nikoleta Glynatsi, Cardiff University, Geraint Palmer, Cardiff University, with introduction from Raniere Silva, Software Sustainability Institute.

The Software Sustainability Institute is very proud of the involvement of our Fellows Vincent Knight (2016), Nikoleta Glynatsi (2017) and Geraint Palmer (2018) with Cardiff University’s Phoenix Project and their contribution with PyCon Namibia. Introduce a new programming language to a research community is a lot of work and involve many cultural change barriers. To know more about their experience in Namibia, attend Collaborations Workshop 2018. For now, Nikoleta and Geraint have a sneak peak for you of their experience this year in Africa first published at Nikoleta’s blog.

This is a joint blog post with Geraint Palmer about our experiences of PyCon Namibia (PyConNA) 2018, which was the 4th consecutive Python conference held in the country. The conference took place in Windhoek, from the 20th to the 22nd of February. Supported by Cardiff University’s Phoenix Project, Geraint, Vincent Knight and I (all Software Sustainability Institute fellows) travelled to this beautiful country and attended one of the finest PyCon conferences we’ve ever attended.

PyConNA 2018 was a grand success of the local organising committee. It was the biggest Namibian Python conference to date and had the largest number of local speakers.

International attendees came from a variety of different countries, including Germany, Finland, Wales, England, Northern Ireland, Greece, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, and America. The organising committee included three attendees of the first Namibia Python conference: Jessica Upani, Ngazetungue Muheue and Ngatatue Mate, University of Namibia lecturers Gabriel Nhinda, Annastasia Shipepe, and high school student Queen Namene.

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The workshops

The first day was hosted a number of workshops, including the very successful all day Django Girls workshop. Further workshops that took place include: “Python for total beginners” led by Vernon Swanepoel, “An introduction to Data Analysis with Jupyter” led by Tendai Marengereke, and “Introduction to test-driven development (TDD) with Django” led by Harry Percival. Also 13 year old Berhane Wheeler ran a remarkable workshop on building a guessing game in Python and Daniele Procida led a workshop on how to organise a conference.

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The keynotes

pycon7.pngTwo keynote talks were delivered by friends of the Namibian community Aisha Bello and Marlene Mhangami. Aisha from Nigeria is an organiser of PyLadies and coach of Django Girls. Aisha spoke about the community in Nigeria and the inspiration she received from attending PyCoNA which encouraged her to organise PyCon Nigeria. The second keynote was presented by Marlene. Marlene, from Zimbabwe, is a director of the PSF and co founder of ZimboPY. She spoke about the growth of Python in African countries, from the first PyCon in South Africa to the present day with a total of five different PyCons taking place on the continent and many more local meetups and events.

The talks

A great number of interesting talks were given this year. These included a talk by Queen Namena on the creation and achievements of a school group called PyNam Scholars. Godwin Nekongo talked about Pygame and how it allowed him to create a block dodging game. Even seasoned gamers would find this game tough to beat! Hasan Masood spoke about visualising data using gmplot on Google Maps. Gareth Lloyd told the story of John Snow (not from Game of Thrones) and the usefulness of GeoDjango, GeoPandas and spatial plotting in Python. Vincent Knight spoke about four different learning scenarios with different aims and the structures he uses to teach programming at Cardiff University.

Several other great talks were delivered, and the conference programme can be found here.

Nikoleta's involvement

pycon8.pngOn the first day, I was involved in the Django Girls workshop where we ran a very successful workshop with over 20 attendants of different ages accompanied by six coaches. Coaching at Django Girl Windhoek is a lovely experience that I always look forward to. Similarly this year, I had the opportunity to teach a number of young and passionate women. Additionally, I delivered a talk on using Python and mathematics to study the behaviour of rhino poachers, a work that is done mainly using one of my favourite libraries, SymPy. A pre-print of this work is available on arXiv: arXiv:1712.07640. Finally, I have written a blog post that summarises the talk.

Geraint's involvement

pycon9.pngAlong with Vincent Knight we ran a workshop on using SymPy for symbolic mathematics, entitled “Python and Python and Maths, Oh My” (yes seriously). This was good fun, with SymPy enabling us to comfortably introduce some advanced mathematical concepts to non-mathematicians in a relaxed setting. A personal highlight for me was overhearing a group of high schoolers enthusiastically discuss differentiation and optimisation using SymPy at a coffee break.

I also gave a talk on Agent Based Modelling with Python, expanding on a blog post where I recreated and experimented with a Python implementation of Schelling’s segregation model. It was fun to show that a versatile tool such as Python can help us gain insights into human behaviours.

Conclusions

It has been a privilege not only to see the conference and community grow in Namibia, but also seeing the growth of friends we have made during the collaboration. When we first met Jessica she had never programmed before. Now, she is chair of PyConNA, teaches programming in schools, and coaches teams of high schoolers to win national programming competitions! Kandoza and Muheue both gave their first ever PyCon talks this year, both presenting technical skills to solve African problems (Kandoza’s on interfacing Pandas and Excel, and Muheue’s on connecting Raspberry Pi’s to computers). We are confident that in the short future you will encounter more champions from Namibia in online and offline events contributing back to the awesome community they are now part of. We would highly recommend anyone to get involved, either by giving talks, coaching django girls, or even running your own workshop. PyCon offers a great opportunity to interact with the African programming community. Be prepared to be amazed by the motivation and the hard work that is going on and to enjoy a few days under the sun.

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