And she’s back!
After way too long a hiatus, our group is starting up our Monday night meetings again. Tonight will be our first meeting since December (at which point everyone got busy with holiday parties, hometown travel, and other festivities), so look for some posts about that a little later this week.
In the meantime, I have been soaking up a lot of Python-related content thanks to three fabulous days at PyCon and many subsequent hours of catching up on all the talks I missed (because I was busy attending concurrent sessions or indulging in spontaneous conversations) online. A lot of great technical content was presented (including a lot more beginner-level talks than in previous years), so be sure to check out the videos.
I took my own notes on a lot of these, but I want to share with you some notes from one of the community-oriented talks I attended. Anna Martelli Ravenscroft (whom you may know as co-editor of the Python Cookbook Second Edition) gave a really wonderful talk entitled “Diversity as a Dependency” that was a fresh take on why diversity is important to a community like Python. My notes follow, but I also encourage you to watch the talk for yourself.
The main thrust of the talk (and the point that, for me, made it feel different from other talks I’ve heard on the subject) was that too often the rhetoric around diversity comes down to guilt. Diversity is not a club to beat people with, Anna insisted. Nobody wins diverser-than-thou games. So in that room, there were to be no traps: “nobody gets set up here.” The idea was to approach diversity a little differently. Instead of making it about moral or political correctness, she said, we need instead to focus on the ways in which diversity tangibly benefits our community (and it does).
To show this, Anna went through some compelling case studies showing that a diversity of perspectives, skill sets, needs, and motivations generates creativity and leads to innovative problem-solving. In other words, interactions among diverse individuals lead to better outcomes. This is because we all see problems in different ways; we may even see different problems. And we certainly see different solutions.
In addition, Anna highlighted the benefits of universal design: what was designed for people with specific differences in ability (e.g., curb cuts designed to allow easier wheelchair access to sidewalks), often turns out to be useful to everyone (e.g., people with wheeled luggage, strollers, shopping carts, etc.).
These principles from the larger world also hold true within Python, she said. We need Tim Peters to invent Timsort. We need Steve Holden to start PyCon. We need Catherine Devlin to bring Python to secretaries. Not everyone can give a talk like Alex Martelli. Not everyone can wade through the legalese like Van Lindberg. We all come to Python with different backgrounds and experiences. And this is where the typical forms of diversity come into play, because our perspectives are informed by our identities (which are the personal characteristics that most diversity talks focus on). Our culture, race, gender, religion, primary language, country of origin, orientation: all of these impact who we are and what we bring to the table.
But, Anna continued, diversity is hard. You can’t just grab random people, put them together, and expect creative miracles. All those differences cause friction, and there can be trouble communicating. People have different goals and priorities, and so you may have conflicts there. Learning to value other perspectives and skill sets can be a challenge. Imagine that you’re creating a web app that needs to work across multiple browsers and platforms: it’s a pain. In the same way , every person runs their own OS, so to speak, and comes with a unique chipset and browser… and people don’t come with docs.
So really, harnessing diversity is a matter of creating documentation for people, and learning how to work together effectively. In order to do this, we mostly just need a willingness to work at the issue, knowing that it will lead to mutual benefits and a more robust language and community. Python is already a great language, but it’s not the best language it can be yet. For Python to be the very best it can be, she concluded, to reach the broadest audience and be useful to people around the world, diversity is necessary.
This talk definitely came at a good time. Anna made of point of saying that this topic is not something we need to talk about because we (as a community) are horrible at it; rather, it’s something we need to discuss because there’s still room to do better. At this year’s PyCon, more than 1100 pythonistas attended (the biggest one ever!) and of those attendees over 11% were female. This is a great accomplishment, but there’s room to improve even more (and gender is clearly only one limited measure of diversity).
So whoever you are, check out Python! And encourage your friends, family, coworkers, and pets to do the same. We all have something to contribute, and to learn. With that, I’m off to learn some things at our Monday night meeting…