ORN: What have been the major changes in patterns of Python usage lately? What do you see as the most interesting new application areas?
GvR: There are lots of interesting ways that Python is being applied, but none of them are especially new. Python has always been very broadly applied.
What I do appreciate is that Python is slowly but steadily becoming more known among at least the avant-garde teachers and educators. There are more and amore people who aren't too tied to traditional school districts and who are looking into Python and teaching it.
ORN: This resonates with your long-held interests in "computer programming for everyone". Don't you think that perhaps "everyone" is too broad, and that there aren't at least some people who will never be capable programming a computer?
GvR: That's a deep philosophical question. I'm optimistic about that in theory.
There are plenty of countries, although unfortunately the USA isn't one of them, where 100% of the population is literate. That doesn't necessarily mean that they can write novels or newspaper articles, but they can all read and write, and if you taught them how to type they could all express their thoughts in an email or a blog entry, for example.
Given that I believe everybody can learn to read and write, given the right education and circumstances--obviously if your parents have no money and you're sent to work when you're seven years old, you're not in a very good situation unless you're exceptionally smart--I believe that the same thing would be possible for programming and thinking logically to some extent.
ORN: What value do Python skills have in the job market? Why should a programmer bother to learn Python rather than Visual Basic or Java?
GvR: If you say, "Why should a programmer learn Python", I could say, "Because it's the most fun of all the available languages". There are situations where you're required to code everything for production in, say, Java, but you still have the opportunity to do prototypes or testing frameworks or personal and ad hoc programs using Python. So it often proves useful in situations where you least expected it. But if you don't know it, you won't be able to use it, so you may lose out on an opportunity to do something extra for your boss because you knew this new tool.
I don't think that at the moment there are enough places advertising jobs with Python as a requirement to say that Python will give you a bigger chance of getting a job, although there are some places where that's obviously true. For example, Industrial Light and Magic has seven hundred Python programmers!
ORN: How many annual Python conferences are you aware of now? Can you still get to them all?
GvR: I think I'm going to have to start saying "no" to some. This year I've been to PyCon 2003 in Washington DC in March, then Python UK in Oxford, England the following month. EuroPython was in Charleroi, Belgium in June, and now we're at OSCON in Portland, Oregon, in July. That's four, and as far as I know all those four are planning to run again in 2004. I don't think that next year I'll be able to go to more than three of those.
ORN: What did you think of PyCon DC, Python UK and EuroPython in 2003? Were there any instructive differences?
GvR: They are all different, and the differences are very interesting. PyCon is the youngest, and the members of the organizing team were all people who hadn't done a Python conference before. You could tell that from some of the details. On the other hand, given that, I thought it was an excellent conference. I had a really good time, and I'm really glad that you're going to do it again next year.
Python UK was two days of tracks in a much larger conference, just like Python 11 has been a track here at OSCON. You get a much larger audience, and speakers have been paid to come, and can come in company time because it's a prestigious conference. So I think that the number of truly high-quality presentations at those two is somewhat higher from my perspective.
That said, I still think there were many excellent talks at PyCon and at EuroPython.
ORN: So there are two professional-style conferences, and two more community-oriented conferences?
GvR: Yes. PyCon definitely had a more grungy community atmosphere than EuroPython, because the EuroPython folks had done it before, and their price level is slightly higher.
ORN: Where will the next major Python conference be and when?
GvR: The next one that I'm aware of is PyCon 2004, and I hope it'll be in Washington DC in March next year, but you'd know more about that than I do.
ORN: Indeed. Now you're moving to the West coast, will there be a PyCon West?
GvR: It's not impossible, but OSCON is on the West Coast, although it's at a rather high price level, so a PyCon might be attractive. I'm not sure that the Python community is large enough to support two events, though; if they both existed, then the West coast community might stay away from PyCon East and vice versa, and both might suffer by that.
If you have too many conferences, then each conference has less of a critical mass, and people will realize the conference they attended didn't include all the people they wanted to hear, because some of them are speaking at other conferences.
At least in the USA, travel from one coast to the other is not that devastating, although time differences can be a little bit of a pain.
ORN: Will you be doing any more Geek Cruises? How did your first one go?
GvR: I loved the first one, and the family loved it. Neil Bauman is a great guy, and he runs a great conference, so we're going again in September: Linux Lunacy 3, I believe it's being called.
ORN: Do you have any writing plans at present?
GvR: I don't. I'm going to put all my energy into Elemental Security and one day a week just running the Python community, sort of guiding where the next developments go. I would dearly love to write, but I can't even add something to my blog more than once every couple of months.
ORN: The literature has expanded hugely in the last three years. What gaps, if any, do you see in Python coverage nowadays?
GvR: I love the way that literature has grown. Is there a book on wxPython yet? That's still a gap [Patrick O'Brien has a book in the planning stages]. Apart from that I'd love to see more materials for use in classrooms for use by the "computer programming for everyone" crowd.
Those people are looking for tutorials and examples and books, and they have very different requirements; they can't use "Learning Python" or any of the other standard texts.
ORN: Do you regard yourself as a permanent US resident now or might you consider moving back to Europe?
GvR: I'm pretty settled here. When I visit the Netherlands, I'm aware I've Americanized quite a bit. There are some things about the Netherlands I still really miss, in particular using your bicycle for local transportation. At the same time the Netherlands is Americanizing at an incredible pace, and somehow I found an Americanized Netherlands worse than America itself!
ORN: What's been best and most difficult about relocating to another continent?
GvR: It all has to do with friends. The worst part of relocating is leaving really good friends behind, as I did when I moved from the Netherlands and as I'm doing again moving away from DC. The best part is that in a new place you make new friends, and I've never failed to do so.
ORN: What's your single favorite Python application that someone else wrote?
GvR: That's an overwhelming choice; there are so many categories, and there are things that I know exist that I have never used myself that I think are absolutely exciting.
Maybe I should mention Adele Goldberg's and Dennis Allison's ThinkFive application that they presented here at OSCON. In half a year with two people they were able to create a content management system in Zope and Python, with a little bit of SmallTalk that allows master teachers to create really high-quality online classes in subject topics like geometry and algebra.
I was really very impressed by what they did, and there are three kinds of users who interact with the system. First, the people who create the courses, who interact with Zope and create Flash animations and all sorts of other stuff in XML. Then there are the teachers who use the system in the classroom, or at least mentor the students, who are taking the courses from home in some cases, and there are the students. ThinkFive does something for each of those groups.
ORN: You've spent a lot of time on Zope recently, and it's a product nearing a major new release. What is your favorite feature that people will see in Zope 3 (and why)?
GvR: That's hard to say, because everything in Zope 3 is different. What I like in Zope 3 is that for the Python programmer writing code to go into a web site, things are much less confusing than they were in Zope 2.
ORN: What do you feel was your biggest technical, professional or personal mistake along the trail from ABC to Python 2.3b2?
GvR: I think the biggest mistake was a personal one, my decision to join BeOpen.
ORN: What advice would you give to young people just starting their careers in information technology?
GvR: There is still a lot of fun to be had in software development and don't believe all the negative stuff about how the IT boom is over.
Computers still run a significant part of our lives and they will continue to get a lot better. So we will continue to have a lot of need for a lot of smart people to program the applications of the future that nobody's heard of or can even dream of.
Steve Holden chaired the first three PyCon conferences and organized the Need for Speed sprint. He will be happy to help you if you would like to sponsor a sprint of your own.
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