Jessica McKellar - Episode 21

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Summary

We got the chance to talk to Jessica McKellar about her work in the Python community. She told us about her experience as a director for the PSF, working as the diversity outreach manager for PyCon, and being a champion for improving the on-boarding experience for new users of Python. We also discussed perceptions around the performance of Python and some of the work being done to improve concurrency, as well as her work with OpenHatch.

Brief Introduction

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  • We are recording today on Aug, 12 2015 and your hosts as usual are Tobias Macey and Chris Patti
  • Today we are interviewing Jessica McKellar

Interview with Jessica McKellar

  • Introductions
  • How did you get introduced to Python?
    • Attended MIT, originally for Chemistry
    • Had friends pursuing CS degrees
    • Toolset and skills seemed worth investingating
    • Led to BA and MS
    • MIT was in transition from LISP to Python
  • Can you describe what your responsibilities are as a director of the PSF?
    • A lot of outreach and investment in the community
  • Do you think the PSF does a good job of making people aware of what it is, what it does for the community, and how they can help?
    • Struggled with this historically but has gotten better in recent years
    • Website re-design has helped
  • A large focus of your work in the community has been around improving the experience of users who are new to Python and programming in general and I noticed that you just received the Frank Willison Memorial Award for your contributions to outreach and education in the Python community. What is your motivation behind this particular focus?
    • Great deal of empathy for newcomers due to personal history
    • Knowing how to program changes how you think about the world
  • Has the situation for newcomers running Windows who wish to try Python gotten any better since your keynote at Kiwi PyCon?
    • Some vaguaries of setup have gotten better with recent versions (e.g. setting path variables)
    • Ruby has in-browser tutorial to get people hooked
  • Do “Batteries Included’ distributions like Anaconda help or is it the same problem of visibility you discussed in your talk?
    • Informatino flow / what are you default options question
    • We could be much more opinionated about this
  • You have presented a number of times about the future of Python and how we can all help to make sure that story is a happy one. How has the material for that talk changed over the past few years?
    • As a largely volunteer community, how to maximize the impact of the bandwidth that we have
    • Focus on the ‘top of the funnel’ to win over new users
    • Python has the steepest positive curve of any language
    • Community should invest in AP high school Python curriculum
  • What do you anticipate will be the talking points for this topic over the next few years?
    • We need to be smart about which areas we invest in to ensure success e.g. mobile, web, desktop.
  • If you could grade the Python community on how well they have listened to and acted on the calls to action in your talks over the past few years, what would you give them?
    • Rallying large groups of volunteers is a hard problem
    • We need to think about commercial partnerships in key areas
  • In your Kiwi PyCon talk you mentioned Kivy as an example of a great way to do mobile software development in Python. It feels to me like the Kivy team are still not getting the community involvement and buy in they should. How can we help make Kivy the mobile app development platform of choice for beginners?
    • This will be a tough battle because Python is not the default platform for mobile compared to Java for Android, Objective C, Swift
    • Users vote with their feet depending on what provides the most value to them
    • Opportunity for a virtuous cycle here
  • Game development as an entree to programming has been a recurring theme on our podcast. Has the Python game dev scene improved at all since 2013? And do you still see the same pitfalls holding people back (like app packaging), or have we moved on to different problems?
    • The problems are largely the same
    • Status quo still feels pretty broken
    • Creative experiments around this definitely make sense for the community
    • KivEnt could be a win here because Kivy apps are free standing binaries and require no dependencies.
  • What do you view as the biggest threats to the popularity of Python currently and what can we do to address them?
    • Other languages gaining popularity where Python has historically been strong (e.g. server-side development)
    • A lot of this may be a perception issue
    • May be largely a marketing problem
  • I understand that you were involved in the formation of the Open Hatch organization. Can you describe what Open Hatch does and how our listeners can get involved?
    • Non-profit dedicated to lowering barriers to entry for open source contribution
    • Host workshops in colleges, underserved communities, etc.

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