Djangocon keynote: fostering community - Karen Tracey

Tags: django, djangocon

Karen is a core developer and wrote “django 1.1 testing and debugging”. She’s been a programmer basically since forever. Starting on some 1980s IBM. “Some of you weren’t even born then. @pydanny once rightly called me the oldest core developer. :-) “

Django’s community is a great asset to django. Everyone can contribute and everyone can benefit. Don’t underestimate how much you can do by contributing! Whether it is improving the code or improving the friendliness of the community.

She’s been a crossword puzzle constructor since 2001. She got into crosswords again because she helped her mother figure out that ;-) had to be emoticon in her puzzle. Hey, that’s interesting! It is now more of a hobby, but she made crossword puzzles professionally for a while.

Another thing she’s doing: cat rescue. She has a couple of cats in here house. But she also took over the administration of the cats. It quickly moved from google docs to a proper django website.

Karen was brought to django because of the puzzle database she amassed over five years. 5k puzzles, 100k unique entries, 500k clues. For her it was an aid in constructing puzzles, accessible from the puzzle construction tool she used.

Using it from the tool was fine in a way, but it felt a bit restrictive. She wanted to be able to browse the data with greater freedom. A website. And… she wanted to learn python (her last projects were in java). She looked at a couple of python web frameworks and picked django (pre-1.0!).

Django had some snags at the time. She already had a database, but django’s introspection tool didn’t work completely right. Her database called entries resulted in a model called Entrie instead of Entry. And a field name with a space in it (entry id = models.IntegerField(...). So… django-users mailinglist to the rescue! Right on the first day she posted her first question. And… got an answer within an hour.

The answer was to please open a ticket. And a few days later one part of her problem turned out to be fixed in the meantime. After a while she added a real ticket with a fix for the spaced-in-the-field. A core developer fixed the fix and added tests and it went in! And she went into the AUTHORS file.

But… this probably doesn’t happen anymore. You need to add those tests yourself now. Yes, those tests are needed, but we lose a bit of the “wow” factor for new contributors. Do we need some more balance? A good thing is that we now moved to github, which might really help with this.

Now, back to the mailinglist post. She was hesistant to sign it with her own name. The reason: open source has a bad reputation regarding the treatment of woman. Despite her being fully confident in her own technical ability.

Please, encourage woman. Actively encourage woman to join the community. Do not join in bad behaviour. And do speak out against it when you see it. If someone makes a negative joke, simply say that it isn’t funny.

There are initiatives like sponsoring woman to attend conferences. And woman-only programming events. These are not needed to provide support as such, they are only needed to counterbalance the forces that push woman away. The good thing about this djangocon is that there are two keynotes by women! See also the mailinglist thread where are the women? about this.

If you need some input why it is good to have more diversity, read Tobias’ blog entry.

Back to django. Why did she become so active? She wanted to learn more about django. And it was a good way to improve her communication skills. Especially on the mailinglist where it is not always easy to formulate your question. She also tried to help those people. Another reason: those puzzles where it started with. The long-range goal was to get a job. Puzzles brought in some money, but not enough. So she wanted to get back into a programming job.

  • What did the community gain from her? Lots of triage/bugfixing prior to 1.0. A few after 1.0. And she helped lots of people learn Django. One of the things she helped a lot with was mysql support, which she used because of its full-text search (important for puzzles). Most core devs used postgres at that time.

  • What did she get out of it? She became a core committer in 2008, wrote a book in 2009/2010. And she got a great job in 2010.

So… get involved! Attend community events, big or small. Read and post to the mailinglist or IRC. There are always people looking for help. Similarly stack overflow (see the questions tagged with ‘django’. On django itself, you can fix bugs, doing ticket triaging. Develop new features. Review patches. Blog about django!

(Addition. There was a question afterwards that generated quite some twitter comments. I’ve quoted a few, I think they are good to fix them into our collective memory.)

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About me

My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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