One of the first things I did after my RC batch started was leave. Two weeks in, it was time for PyCon, the largest of the many annual Python community gatherings.
This year was my second PyCon. While I had a great time last year, my PyCon experience this year was an order of magnitude better. There are lots of little reasons that ended up being the case, but there's one overwhelming meta-reason: where last year I focused on the talks I made it to and on making sure my time was booked up with events, this year I focused on connecting with people and on finding balance.
Conferences like PyCon are full of opportunities to volunteer and help the conference run smoothly. Volunteering can be a great way to get to know new people and is a chance to see behind the scenes of the conference. I wound up volunteering in two ways this year: I was part of the Program Committee in the months leading up to the conference and I spent the first morning handing out swag bags to attendees after they'd checked in.
Of course, volunteering isn't the only way to meet people! Conference organizers usually make sure that there are both structured and unstructured opportunities to meet other attendees. At PyCon, they manifest in lots of ways: the Open Spaces board lets people self-organize around shared interests, the provided breakfasts and lunches give folks a chance to chat over meals, and events like the conference dinners and the fun run let folks meet away from the hubbub of the convention center. This year was my first year doing a conference dinner, and it was a ton of fun -- my table even placed in the evening's trivia!
One of the really cool things about having just started at the Recurse Center was that there are so many neat RC alumni in so many parts of the programming community. PyCon was no exception, and I wound up spending some of my time at the RC booth meeting alumni. There are lots of other communities at PyCon, though: local Python User Groups, coworkers, or people gathering by shared interest or shared tools. Joining or bringing a community can make for a nice way to have conference buddies to hang out with.
Conferences can be tiring -- it can be a lot of work to spend so much time learning and socializing! It might be hard to take time to recharge, but it's better to take the time intentionally than to get sidelined by exhaustion unexpectedly. At a conference like PyCon, almost all of the talks are recorded, so it's OK to dash off to nap in the middle of the day. While I tried to fill my first year with talks, I made a point of only attending the talks I really cared about this year so that I could spend the rest of the time either being social or resting.
Meeting so many new people can also be draining. Luckily, there's life outside of the conference, too. Just like sneaking out for a nap, taking time to recharge by enjoying the city around the conference can be refreshing too. Not every conference can be in Montreal, but there's almost always something to see or do. I've been very lucky -- both of my PyCons so far have been in Montreal, a city not only filled with fun things to explore but also one where I had non-Python friends to meet up with. Getting out of the conference was a great way to reset and decompress before the next day.
Keeping these things in mind during PyCon this year helped me to have a great time! As I try to maintain my engagement with the larger programming community, I'm looking forward to picking up new tips and getting a feeling for all of the conference flavors that are out there. While conferences can be a lot of work, the opportunity to learn so much and meet so many fun people means that I always come back inspired!