Day one at OSCON is always a laid-back affair: there aren’t nearly the number of people here for the two days of tutorials, so crowds aren’t an issue (well, only in the sense that I’ve never failed to be taken aback at mass for the break after the first keynote (not everyone wakes up for that), or in the opening of the exhibit hall!). The main long hallway upstairs by the ballrooms has maybe a dozen people, all poking at laptops, quietly waiting for breakfast to arrive (although I didn’t go down there, having registered the night before, I suspect that there’s a little bit more activity in the downstairs registration area).
My first tutorial (there are two a day) was “Python in 3 Hours”, which I thought would be a great intro to a language that I knew was incredibly powerful, but had avoided it because “why would I need to know yet another language”? I came away from the talk still wondering why I needed to know another language, but having an appreciation for some of the intricacies and power of Python. Some of the stuff had my brain hurting, seeing that you could do such powerful stuff in very little code. That’s not always good, and my problem here is that some very hard-to-read code could easily be written, making either debugging, or simply trying to follow flow, hard. That said, Perl suffers from the same issue, but the obfuscators like to use strings of incomprehensible symbols, and I don’t get the impression that Python is like that. The presentation was really good, though – the presenter was excellent and even though there wasn’t enough time (is there ever?), there was enough communicated to make the tutorial worth-while. My take-away is that once I find a good language reference book and real problem I need to solve, I’ll bite the bullet.
My second tutorial today is “Effective A/B Testing”. The one thing I’ve noticed going to these is that my job has very little in the way of the rigour businesses require. The requirement, of course, comes from the fact that mistakes cost money, whereas in academia, it costs time and annoys the users, if they even notice. One of these is the A/B test, something I sort of knew about, but never really explored in any detail. This tutorial did a great job of diving right into the meat of the topic, covering not just the “why”, but the “how”, scary flashback memories of university statistics and all. What wasn’t covered (and wouldn’t have been practical in the 3 hours) was how to deploy these tests (hardware, server configs, etc), which is the one thing I should be able to do well in my environment: with the use of our load balancer, it should to fairly easy to implement. Of course, finding a problem that could be solved with such testing is another matter.
The day concluded with a great dinner at Henry’s Tavern, then back to the conference center for a BoF: “Open Source in Churches and Missions”. I was able to take away from that a few pointers to some interesting-looking resources, which was good, but the BoF itself didn’t last very long. I was expecting more of the people there to be volunteers like me, cobbling together support apps and websites with the proverbial duct tape and chewing gum, but most people there seemed to be employed by larger organizations, with resources.
In all, a great start to the conference this year, and I’m looking forward not only to the tutorials tomorrow, but especially the main conference the rest of the week.