Friday, March 10, 2017

Ernest takes the call - Community Service Award Recipient Ernest Durbin III

The day was October 23, 2015, Friday afternoon. The PSF and PyCon organizers were busy pulling together sponsors for the upcoming PyCon conference when suddenly, the ancient mail server 'albatross' suffered a hard disk crash. Email was down, grant requests would not go through, and PyCon planning was at a stand still. To make matters worse, most of the volunteers who had helped set up the initial mail server were away. Something had to be done, and fast. Ernest Durbin, a volunteer systems admin, took the call. With no documentation on how to fix the existing mail server, he worked diligently through the weekend to rebuild it. Thanks to Ernest’s hard work and dedication, the PSF and PyCon US were able to resume operations before the following Monday.

For his enthusiasm and years of volunteering, the Python Software Foundation awards the 4th Quarter 2016 Community Service Award to Ernest Durbin III:

RESOLVED, that the Python Software Foundation award the 4th Quarter 2016 Community Service Award to Ernest W. Durbin III. Ernest has been a dedicated volunteer of the PSF for several years. Countless times he has triaged PSF infrastructure. Beyond that, Ernest has been a key person in creating structure for our infrastructure. Not only does that include internal infrastructure such as, that also includes external infrastructure such as PyPI. Recently, Ernest has also accepted the position of PyCon 2017 US co-chair and PyCon 2018/19 conference chair.

Durbin’s involvement in PSF began in 2012. He recalls, “A friend of mine submitted a proposal and we were selected for the task.” After a few months of doing paid work for the PSF, he realized that he would be more comfortable volunteering his time, and has been doing so ever since. “Ernest has been a huge help with the growth of PSF's infrastructure,” says Ewa Jodlowska, Director of Operations at PSF. “[He] ensures that we are keeping best practices and that the knowledge of proper processes is passed on. I am grateful that he has been able to lend his expertise in such a way.”

In addition to providing volunteer technical support for the PSF, Durbin has also become a Python community organizer. He will serve as co-chair of PyCon 2017 and has taken on the responsibilities of full conference chair for PyCon 2018 and 2019. He is also an organizer for his local Python meetup group.

When asked about why Durbin chooses to promote Python and the PSF Durbin responded, “Python has been my language of choice for most of my career,” adding that he “has always appreciated the great breadth and depth of experience in the Python community as represented by the available packages on PyPI. It is such a testament to the community's collective knowledge and generosity when nine times out of ten you can find something that fulfills your need.”

As for the email server incident, Durbin simply brushes off the stress explaining “it was a great way to meet new folks in the Python community and work with them towards a common goal.”
Ernest Durbin, CSA Winner 2016 Q4
When not programming, you can find Durbin out in his garage working on his 1960’s era SAABs or hosting Taco Tuesdays for large groups of friends.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Discovering the Python Community in Zimbabwe at their first PyCon

On the heels of attending a successful PyCon in Namibia in 2015, a small group of Python enthusiasts in Harare, Zimbabwe vowed to organize the first-ever PyCon held in Zimbabwe.

After months of planning on November 25th, 2016 they achieved their goal in dramatic fashion with an enormously successful sold-out conference at the ZESA National Training Center in Harare. I was privileged to give the keynote to an extremely attentive audience. For an hour, we had a tremendous time in discussing how to contribute to open-source successfully and how to grow ideas into successful open-source projects.

In all my years of speaking, I've never had such an incredible audience. Often at technical conferences audience members are more engaged with their smartphones than the speaker. Not so at PyConZim! Questions were thoughtful and engaging. Truly a pleasure.

Throughout the conference many enjoyable talks were given. I enjoyed Dennis Murekachiro's inspiring talk on how to be a game-changer as he encouraged Zimbabwe technologists not to settle for "good enough" but to work hard to use technology to better themselves and the communities they live in. Tendai Marengerke's talk on how to create reproducible research in Python was absolutely fascinating; it's a must-watch for anybody using Python in an academic setting.

Petrus Janse van Rensburg from South Africa gave an outstanding overview of challenges that low-bandwidth connections create in Africa and how he is working to solve them by re-designing the way e-commerce platforms operate. I can virtually guarantee we'll be hearing a more about him and his work in the coming months and years.

One of the most astonishing things about PyConZim is the way in which every single attendee is brilliant and, without fail, engaged with pragmatic ideas about how to use Python to make a better life for their communities. One could go to every PyCon on Earth and never find one as inspiring as PyCon Zimbabwe.

The highlight for me, though, was having the chance to meet Marlene Hangami and Ronald Maravanyika.
Marlene and Ronald have single-handedly started an organization to teach Python to young girls across Zimbabwe.

Fueled by a desire to simply improve the lives of girls in their country, they've started free workshops in community centers and now operate in over forty community centers across the country.
They've had to battle a number of difficult obstacles that would discourage most people but they're continuing on.
As a direct result of my trip to PyConZim, I've started working with Ronald and Marlene to start a program to bring female software developers to Zimbabwe to work with selected girls on Python-based projects to help out in their communities.

Mentors participate in projects that girls work on by volunteering as little as four hours of their time and conduct their mentorship via video-conference and email. It's a very simple way to advance the case for women in technology in Africa and beyond. More information on mentorship programs and application information is available here.

My humble thanks to everybody at the Python Software Foundation for sponsoring my trip to Zimbabwe and for sponsoring the conference itself.