They call themselves Pythonistas and more than 500 of them got together on December 16 at Pakistan’s first-ever Python Conference, PyCon.
Being hailed as the programming language of the future, Python is fast revolutionising the world and growing rapidly among the high-income countries of the world. From support systems to robotics, and from banking to healthcare, there isn’t much the Python language isn’t being used to develop. Google, Instagram, Quora, Mozilla, NASA and more are either running on Python or have used elements from it to support their framework.
But Pakistan, along with other developing countries, seems to have missed the memo on this important update.
PyCon Pakistan was an effort to bring the local industry up to speed on the language and its applications, especially in areas like artificial intelligence and robotics.
The audience at the event was a diverse mix – students, teachers, freelancers and professionals all came together from across the country to attend. And what began as an exercise in community building turned into something bigger. The event wasn't just a typical techie conference. Despite having a highly focused audience, it had enough juice to keep even complete newbies hooked.
“I’ve never worked in machine learning, despite working in Python. So this event is basically helping me learn a good number of things – this is easy access to best practices around the world,” said a software engineer present at the event.
The event took care to address the various needs of its audience. Attendees could pick up talks that were for beginners if they were looking to learn from the start – or go for the advanced sessions if they were already part of the Python family.
Zahra Khan, a senior developer who has been working in PHP, came to the event to find out more about the scope of Python. “I’m trying to see whether this is something I, along with the team I lead, should be switching to,” she said.
“From the new bots to self-driving cars, there is a lot you can do with this language,” she added.
Even excited students had grand ideas on what they could do with the language. Jamal Butt, a student attending the event, decided he wanted to work on robotics and drones.
The sessions even attracted entrepreneurs who are in the process of switching to the language. “We have been recently shifting most of our projects to Python because I know it is growing to be one of the most popular languages in the world,” shared Daniyal Zahid.
A welcoming community
Speaking at the event were some of the biggest names in the industry from around the world.
“Raymond Hettinger is like the Shahrukh Khan of the Python community,” says an attendee. "Hettinger has been working with the language for 15 years, during which time he has created multiple tools and trained more than 4,000 engineers."
David Beazley opened his keynote speech with a trombone performance. Beazley is an important name in the Python world, and his presence at the event meant that they were walking away with rich content.
"I've been involved with Python for more than 20 years, and have always found it to have a highly enthusiastic and welcoming community. The community thrives when people give back to it, so I always welcome opportunities where I can share my own enthusiasm for Python. Also, in times like this where there is so much fear and division, it is even more important to cultivate communities that bring people together. Even though I couldn't attend in person, it was fun and an honor to speak at the first event.” Beazley said while explaining how he became part of the event.
The event may have been the first effort to bring together the Python community in the country, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the number of people that showed up.
“PyCon in the UK has been taking place for about 10 years, and it was only this year that they managed to pull together 700 people – this event started with more than 500 people the first time we did it,” Nudrrat Khawaja, one of the organisers, said at the event.
A world of predictions
Maria Shoaib, a speaker at the event, calls herself a Python enthusiast and talked about the basics of machine learning at the event. She highlighted the extent to which data can be used to make life easier.
“You can predict so many different things with Python. You can predict things like network failures, and predict in advance when a fibre optic cable will fail. You can predict earthquakes in advance or even natural disasters – there are numerous applications of this,” she said.
Ammara Laeeq, another trainer at the event, echoed Maria’s sentiments. She covered the subject of chat bots and Facebook messengers at the event. “A chat bot is a program that can talk like a human. Businesses today are deploying bots to interact with their online customer base. Imagine ordering a pizza and getting it to your doorstep without ever talking to a human being,” she said excitedly.
Opportunities for the future
Python as a language may be the new kid on the block, but it has fast become the most popular ones out there The TIOBE Index ranks it as the fourth most popular programming language. It also has the fifth largest StackOverflow Community (a forum with 85.9k followers and around 500,000 questions.)
And PyCon could not have come to Pakistan at a better time.
“We are really passionate about building a community of Python programmers, because it is the language to get behind these days. This is definitely going to be the language of the next 10 years also,” Yasser Bashir, CEO Arbisoft explained.
“We are entering a new age where much of the research and many technologies being deployed will rely on Python's problem solving capabilities – you can use it to solve real problems of the modern world,” he added.
Dawn.com is the media partner for Pycon Pakistan.