Python Ireland August meetup | Community building & education

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The talks

I happily went along to the August meetup of Python Ireland last Wednesday, where as I expected the community talk was very interesting. Kevin showed us the results of the surveys he sent out after PyCon Ireland (survey says: 100% satisfaction!), and a second one to understand the Irish Python community better -- mostly, "who we are" since we don't really know! Some people show up at meetups, or events, many many more are on the mailing list. Vicky posted up her notes of the talk for an idea of what the survey touched on. I was interested in the results although they are to be taken with a grain of salt: not everyone filled out the survey, and perhaps some questions could have been phrased differently as I found myself realising a couple of times that I completely misunderstood the question as Kevin was explaining "we asked about blah blah blah". Oops! I'm sure the data is mostly valid still :o)

An important section of the survey and thus of the talk was about what we we could -- and wanted to -- do as a community to raise Python's profile and reach in Ireland. The survey had many cool ideas, asking non-anonymously what people would be willing to *actually* help out with. Likely subgroups of 5 people or so will be formed to follow up on some of these ideas, with people with not as much time welcome to chime in if they're interested.

The Redis presentation got cancelled, but Brian gave us a quick tour of the highlights of EuroPycon. I've never been, but from what I understand despite being quite good it was not as good as the previous years.

Pub topics

We headed out to the pub afterwards, where we promptly tried the concept of "topics" that Kevin had brought up in his talk. Basically you divide people/tables by topics and interested people can gather around and discuss and/or make progress on something. I'm not sure whether that kind of structure can really work in a pub context, it tends to be more ad-hoc. You start something along and then you call people over you know would be interested. It was a bit difficult to get started but based on the interesting conversations that ensued I'd be willing and curious to try it again.

If someone dangles a piece of paper with "Education" written on it there's no way I can *not* pay attention so I broke from my current conversation to sit at the table.

Education: Second level

We basically divided the group of people we could reach out to ("educate" I guess) into 4 groups: secondary level, third level, professionals and hobbyists, kinda merging the 2 latter as the discussion progressed. For some reason I just don't care about reaching out to professionals, or about certifications. Those topics are plain uninteresting to me. Ah well. Teaching high school students and somehow getting through to college students is a lot more interesting, and we agreed transition year students were really the best target for the secondary level cause. I want to look into this again once I'm done with my adult course.

There were suggestions of training secondary level teachers so they can teach how to program, which struck me first as a bit unfair. If there are interested teachers though, that's very very cool and I'm more than willing to help out! But I wonder how realistic that would be. The few teachers I met seemed either overwhelmed or stoically accepting of how much more knowledgeable and comfortable their students are with computers. On the other hand I was never asked any particularly complex questions by my teenage students during my short course, so it might very well be worthwhile to focus on teaching the basics of programming to teachers instead. They would certainly have a better reach.

Education: Third level

Third level outreach would be about giving more perspective and teach an additional language to students, who tend to be only exposed to Java through college years. That's the strange relationship between employers and Universities, employers want graduates they can put to work instantly, Universities would like to teach computer science, and students would like to learn something that will get them a job. So I understand why students might limit themselves to Java initially, but still if we present Python correctly, as an alternative it would be very worthwhile. There was the idea of helping students through their homework, using Python to solve the problems. I wonder if it would attract the right kind of students but it sounds worth a try. Outside of the meetup I had also talked about this with Cheryl who suggested I might try to teach an introduction to programming (using Python) to college students before their course begins. Particularly targeting women to help even the playing field a little (see this link about meritocracy & third level computing courses) though of course open to everyone.

Alan and Kevin should be posting their notes from the evening and the various "what we can do" for each target group. What I'm transcribing here is a mix of the actual conversation and my bubbling thoughts :)

I left as the group kind of disbanded to crash the "website / online presence" table topic, as this came up many times while we were talking: we should highlight what companies are using Python, and link to resources for people looking to get started with the language. From the response to my course, people in Ireland definitely have an interest in learning!