PyCon UK 2018: My thoughts – including childcare review
As I mentioned in the previous post, I attended – and spoke at – PyCon UK 2018 in Cardiff. Last time I provided a link to my talk on xarray – this time I want to provide some general thoughts on the conference, some suggested talks to watch, and a particular comment on the creche/childcare that was available.
In summary: I really enjoyed my time at PyCon UK and I would strongly suggest you attend. Interestingly for the first time I think I got more out of some of the informal activities than some of the talks – people always say that the ‘hallway track’ is one of the best bits of the conference, but I’d never really found this before.
So, what bits did I particularly enjoy?
Of the many talks that I attended, I’d particularly recommend watching the videos of:
- On the diagrammatic diagnosis of data by Ian Oszwald
- Python at Ordnance Survey by Olivia Wilson (my wife!)
- The knowledge in the code by Hannah Hazi
- Teaching programming: what’s in a teacher’s toolkit by Sue Sentance
- Assume worst intent by Alex Chan
- Rehabilitating pickle by Alex Willmer
- Why does a smile make a difference by Nikoleta E. Glynatsi
There were two other things that went on that were very interesting. One was a ‘bot competition’ run by Peter Ingelsby, where you had to write Python bots to play Connect 4 against each other. I didn’t have the time (or energy!) to write a bot, but I enjoyed looking at the code of the various bots that won at the end – some very clever techniques in there! Some of the details of the bots are described in this presentation at the end of the conference.
On the final day of the conference, people traditionally take part in ‘sprints’ – working on a whole range of Python projects. However, this year there was another activity taking place during the sprints day: a set of ‘Lean Coffee’ discussions run by David MacIver. I won’t go into the way this worked in detail, as David has written a post all about it, but I found it a very satisfying way to finish the conference. We had discussions about a whole range of issues – including the best talks at the conference, how to encourage new speakers, testing methods for Python code, other good conferences, how to get the most out of the ‘hallway track’ and lots more. Because of the way the ‘Lean Coffee’ works, each discussion is time-bound, and only occurs if the majority of the people around the table are interested in it – so it felt far more efficient than most group discussions I’ve been in. I left wanting to run some Lean Coffee sessions myself sometime (and, while writing this, am kicking myself for not suggesting it at a local unconference I went to last week!). I may also have volunteered myself to run some more sessions like it during the main conference next year – wait to hear more on that front.
My wife and I wouldn’t have been able to attend PyCon UK without their childcare offer. The childcare is described on the conference website, but there isn’t a huge amount of detail. My aim in this section is to provide a bit more real-world information on how it actually worked and what it was like – along with some cute photos.
So, having said we wanted to use the creche when we booked our tickets, we got an email a few days before the conference asking us to provide our child’s name, age and any special requirements. We turned up on the first day at about 8:45 (the first session started at 9:00), not really sure what to expect, and found a room for the creche just outside of the main hall (the Assembly Room). It was a fairly small room, but that didn’t matter as there weren’t that many children.
Inside there were two nursery staff, from Brecon Mobile Childcare. They specialise in doing childcare at conferences, parties, weddings and so on – so they were used to looking after children that they didn’t know very well. They introduced themselves to us, and to our son, and got us to fill in a form with our details and his details, including emergency contact details for us. We talked a little about his routine and when he tends to nap, snack and so on, and then we kissed him goodbye and left. They assured us that if he got really upset and they couldn’t settle him (because they didn’t know him very well) then they’d call our mobiles and we could come and calm him down. We could then go off and enjoy the conference – and, in fact, the staff suggested that we shouldn’t come visiting during the breaks as that was likely to just upset him as he’d have to say goodbye to Mummy and Daddy multiple times.
I think there were something like 5 children there on the first day, ranging in age from about six months to ten years. The room had a variety of toys in it suitable for various different ages (including colouring and board games for the older ones, and soft toys and play mats for the younger ones), plus a small TV showing some children’s TV programmes (Teletubbies was on when we came in).
We came back at lunchtime and found that he’d had a good time. He cried a little when we left, but stopped in about a minute, and the staff engaged him with some of the toys. He’d had a short nap in his pram (we left that with them in the room) and had a few of his snacks. We collected him for lunch and took him down to the main lunch hall to get some food.
PyCon UK make it very clear that children are welcomed in all parts of the conference venue, and no-one looked at us strangely for having a child with us at lunchtime. Various other attendees engaged with our son nicely, and we soon had him sitting on a seat and eating some of the food provided. Those with younger children should note that there wasn’t any special food provided for children: our son was nearly 18 months old, so he could just eat the same as us, but younger children may need food bringing specially for them. There also weren’t any high chairs around, which could have been useful – but our son managed fairly well sitting on a chair and then on the floor, and didn’t make too much mess.
After eating lunch we took him for a walk in his pram around the park outside the venue, with the aim of getting him to sleep. We didn’t manage to get him to sleep, but he did get some fresh air. We then took him up to the creche room again and said goodbye, and left him to have fun playing with the staff for the afternoon.
We were keen to go to the lightning talks that afternoon, so went to the main hall at 5:30pm in time for them. Part-way through the talks, when popping to the toilet, we found one of the creche staff outside the main hall with our son. It turned out that the creche only continued until 5:30, not until 6:30 when the conference actually finished. We were a little surprised by this (and gave feedback to the organisers saying that the creche should finish when the main conference finishes), but it didn’t actually cause us much problem. We’d been told that children are welcome in any of the talks – and the lightning talks are more informal than most of the talks – so we brought him into the main hall and played with him at the back.
He enjoyed wandering around with his Mummy’s conference badge around his neck, and kept walking up and down the aisle smiling at people. Occasionally he got a bit too near the front, and we were asked very nicely by one of the organisers the next day to try and keep him out of the main eye-line of the speakers as it can be a bit distracting for them, but we were assured that they were more than happy to have him in the room. He even did some of his climbing over Mummy games at the back, and then breastfed for a bit, and no-one minded at all.
The rest of the days were just like the first, except that there were less children in the creche, and therefore only one member of staff. For most of the days there were just two children: our son, and a ten year old girl. On the last day (the sprints day) there was just Julian. During some of these days the staff member was able to take Julian out for a walk in his pram, which was nice, and got him a bit of fresh air.
So, that’s pretty-much all there is to say about the creche. It worked very well, and it allowed both my wife and me to attend – something which isn’t possible with most conferences. We were happy to leave our son with the staff, and he seemed to have a nice time. We’ll definitely use the creche again!