Why PyLadies?


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PyLadies is a group of women working on welcoming, encouraging and directly inviting women to join the Python community and to learn from each other.

I started a PyLadies chapter in Portland, OR last September (2012). We started out with weekly meetings to do homework from a Coursera class to make games with Python. That turned into weekly meetings — plus homework meetups on Saturdays at a local coffee shop, and IRC hangout time to test homework. And that turned into me giving mini-lessons at each Coursera meetup about the material from the class.

People seemed really excited.

Stats - PyLadies PDX (Portland, OR) - Meetup

Before we knew it, it was December, we had over 60 women subscribed to the Meetup, 30 of which had attended a meeting. Today, we’ve got 96 subscribers, 50 people have attended a meeting, and more have signed up to attend events in the future than ever before. And, it’s done by women. Using open source. Teaching classes. Learning developer tools. And writing software.

Since September, I’ve met even more women involved in running PyLadies chapters across the country. Much like the way the PostgreSQL community is organized, we’ve got a loosely connected group of people working independently. We offer support to each other, but don’t have hard and fast rules about what each chapter does. We encourage teaching and workshops, but don’t require them. We share our resources and are quick to put git repos out there of our materials. We send lots of pull requests. And we’re constantly looking for ways for women to get more involved in open source and Python.

All Group Reviews - PyLadies PDX (Portland, OR) - Meetup

I’m completely energized by the positive feedback we’ve gotten for every meeting. More recently, I’ve heard from people that they feel confident and sure of their knowledge because they’ve spent time in our meetups talking and learning from other women.

My goal is to make every get together like that – by having great lessons, a shared understanding of coaching and peer-based education and presentations from our members. Building these groups takes time, and I’m impatient to get to the part where I feel like every interaction with the group is rewarding for every member.

And I can’t do it alone. We’ve got four meetup organizers (although one is about to relocate to the Bay Area!). I work closely with Flora Worley, a kickass developer who chose programming as a career path after working on a PhD, on topic details and planning for the meetings. I’m so looking forward to meeting in person with the many members of the PyLadies community at PyCon next month.

Recent talks: How to get a job like mine, Command-line essentials, Restore FTW

Here are a few of the talks I’ve given recently here in Portland. I’m trying to give more talks locally, and happy to speak at your Portland User Group. Just drop me an email.

  • How to get a job like mine. This talk was given to PSU students as an encouragement for them to get involved in free and open source software. Toward the end, we did a brainstorming session on the reasons why they didn’t contribute, and tried to come up with projects each person in the audience might be interested in learning more about
  • Command-line II. I’m writing up my notes from this talk, hopefully to turn it into a real tutorial that others could copy. My goal this year is to give a tutorial every other week, and I’m hoping to have at least 10 lessons come out of that work. It seems like I need to give each lesson twice to really get the hang of it. Which means I aught to get out of this experience with 26 lessons… but trying to stay realistic about my time.
  • Restores FTW at PDXPUG. This talk is about backups for PostgreSQL and how to get your teams to come up with restore plans that exercise databases as part of normal operations. I’m trying to switch talks about Backups to being talks about Restores. The next time I give this, I think I’ll change the order of the “restore patterns” to be at the start of the talk, and the discussion about planning for backups/restores to the end. I plan to do a Mozilla brownbag that covers these topics and also goes through a live demo of backing up, restoring and testing PostgreSQL with the new 9.2 tools.

WebTools workweek, start of a symbols database, Kasturba Ghandi

I came across a comment from Sumana saying that she’d like to hear more about the day-to-day life of our fellow FLOSS women. So here’s a run-down of my past week:

Mozilla WebTools team workweek

Mozilla teams hold work weeks from time to time – to get the team together, to experiment with new ideas and in our case, to meet up with a couple other teams (Marketplace and AMO, plus a couple extra folks we work a lot online with, but don’t see very often). I did my normal nerd-out things like making a spreadsheet of all the names and silly intro comments people made on the first day, and I setup and deployed backup scripts to a new 5TB backup server that’s just for crash-stats.mozilla.com’s PostgreSQL database.

There were a few projects on the table to deep-dive into: support for JSON datatypes, creating a symbols database-backed system to replace our filesystem-based one, and work a bit on replacing the SQL-file migration system in Socorro with a SQLAlchemy one.

Symbols database and Range Types

I ended up focusing on the symbols database because Ted, one of our breakpad experts, was around and very generously walked me through what we needed. I have a rough schema in place, and a plan for setting up a few systems to house what will likely be a 1TB database.

In working on this, I spent some time learning more about how to apply range types. The queries for finding symbols are mostly “show me the functions that contain the memory address I have”. Functions all have start addresses and a size, so running “contains” queries makes a lot of sense. In my initial tests, queries using the range types were about 60% faster than queries using plain integer types.

When we’ve got a larger data set to work with imported, I will post some detailed numbers about the in-database comparisons, as well as any performance improvements we’ll get from querying a database instead of loading the plain-text symbols files

Getting JSON files to describe builds and releases

A small project I’ve been working on is getting JSON files produced to describe our builds. Before I go on — please know that this is pretty obscure. The people who are concerned about this information are mostly people who identify crashes and track down which releases are affected by particular bugs. What we keep are things like what platform (Linux, Mac OS X, Windows), what day a release occurred on, whether the release was a beta or not and a few other things.

The way that we got this information in the past was by deriving it from filenames and directory names in our release FTP server. The code to pull this information out is kind of a pain, and if anyone changes a directory name (for a good reason, or on accident..), this code breaks.

It would be much better if we had a way of getting this information in a standardized format. I recently talked to B2G about putting this information into a JSON file (they already were publishing release information via the manifest directory on our FTP server in XML, so it wasn’t too big of a leap). I thought it would be nice to spread this practice to our other software releases.

As luck would have it, a person familiar for Firefox builds is in Mountain View and was giving Ted a ride to the airport! So, just as they were about to leave, we chatted about the problem, created a bug and now I’m going to get build and release information from a JSON file. 🙂

It’s a tiny change, and hopefully won’t take very long to make, but is going to make getting this information much more pleasant and reliable.

Reading about Kasturba Gandhi

I decided to read a real paper book on my flights last week, and picked up a copy of “The Forgotten Woman”, a biography of Kasturba Gandhi, wife of Mahatma Gandhi. Arun Gandhi visited the University of Oregon in the 90s, and my husband had picked up a signed copy.

I’m having a hard time summing up the book. There were a number of things that surprised me. I hadn’t realized that illiteracy for women was so prevalent at the turn of the 20th century in India. I also wasn’t aware of the focus Mahatma Gandhi had on women’s role in political transformation, or how much he had attributed the origin of Satyagraha to Kasturba. Also, this biography attributed Gandhi’s vow of celibacy to Kasturba’s near death after the birth of her fifth child. Kasturba also led an important self-reliance movement, urging women in India to learn to spin and weave their own cloth, rather than buying foreign goods. She also led an effort to teach hygiene to Indigo farming families.

I had a look at the wikipedia page for her, which had no citations and not very well written. I’ve started some work on it, but need to think a bit more about how it should be structured.