PyCon Namibia 2017 - a personal view
The Namibian Python community and its annual PyCon are growing. We've been part of it since the beginning.
When I joined Divio in 2014 I was still involved in a project I’d started work on with my previous employer, Cardiff University, to kickstart a new Python/open-source programming community in Namibia by setting up Namibia’s first PyCon. Divio didn’t just make it possible for me to continue to be involved in the project, but supported and encouraged it.
The Phoenix Project
Free open-source software, represented by the ambition of building a local open-source development community, was adopted as part of its scope.
In turn, Python was accepted as the appropriate vehicle for this ambition. It’s a general-purpose language and free, open software, but the reasons for choosing Python were at least as much to do with the international Python community as to do with Python itself.
We were confident that the Python community around the world would not only actively support the project, but would become involved, and stay involved, that it would be able to provide the engagement and commitment necessary to bring a new Namibian software community into existence, and sustain it to a point of self-sufficiency.
We believed that establishing a PyCon was going to be key to this, an event that would work as a focus for the community and its activities. Usually, a PyCon is the expression of an already-established Python community. We hoped to start with the PyCon - because there was no community - and build the community from that.
What software development activity there existed in Namibia chiefly centered on PHP, Java and Microsoft products, and open-source software as a movement didn’t exist in any significant form. Python itself appeared to have virtually no presence at all.
That was the context of the first Namibian Python conference, in February 2015.
Python in Namibia in 2017
Last month, the Namibian Python community staged its third PyCon. As a PyCon, it was an unqualified success: a three-day international event with 20 speakers from nearly a dozen countries in Africa and Europe, and most importantly, several Namibian speakers.
Attendees included 12 Namibian school pupils who are now learning Python, taught by a young teacher who herself first encountered Python as an undergraduate in mathematics at that event in 2015 (and several of those high school students stepped forward to give lightning talks of their own).
Students at the University of Namibia now learn Python too. Python and open-source software have been discussed - several times - on current affairs programmes on national Namibian radio and television.
Just as importantly, this PyCon was organised almost entirely locally. PyNam, formed at the end of the first conference, continues to organise other events and forcefully brings programming into local schools. The high school students are organising their own event later this year in order to raise funds to purchase computers for use in their lessons. Local software developers and businesses are noticing not just the presence of Python, but of a real and active Python community that collaborates to help themselves, each other and their society.
The challenges faced by Namibia and Africa are on the minds of the Namibian software community. Many of the talks at PyCon Namibia 2017 focused on topics such as education, health, social improvement and the creation of wealth, and in particular, the idea that Africa should become a creator, not just a consumer, of software.
Python has successfully found a home in Namibia, and a purpose as a resource that people there can use to improve Namibian lives and society.
The Namibian PyCon project has not just helped seed Python in Namibia. Since 2016, the conference has brought visitors from other African countries too: Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Zambia, South Africa. They returned home with similar plans for their own countries, which included projects like the first PyCon Zimbabwe last year, a forthcoming PyCon Nigeria, and multiple Django Girls events and other initiatives in different African countries.
Dozens of individuals have made the visit to Namibia from abroad, including some for whom it’s now an annual event. African Pythonistas have made the journey in the other direction, with invitations to attend and speak at DjangoCon US, PyCon UK, DjangoCon Europe, PyCon Italia, EuroPython.
A special thank-you to Divio
All this would not have been possible without the organisations in the Python world that gave their support to establish a Namibian Python conference - they put their faith in a new project, and helped it to success.
This includes commercial organisations, like Divio - it’s important for Python developers and communities around the world, as in Namibia, to have concrete relations with businesses that use Python, employ Python developers and have a stake in Python itself.
For me, it has been a remarkable journey, to watch a Python community come into existence, grow and flourish. I have made new friends, and we get to work together on projects that are changing lives and creating chances and choices that didn't exist before.
It has been the most special and meaningful of my various adventures in Python. I am enormously grateful for the support that Divio has given to the project over the years, and for the opportunity to continue to be involved in it.
There are many pleasures to be had from working at Divio, but it’s one of the deepest, and a genuine source of pride, to be working for a company with such a commitment to the global Python community.
Divio supports numerous events and initiatives in the Python/Django community, including the Django Software Foundation, Django Girls, Read the Docs, as well as numerous conferences small and large. We are pleased to give back to the community that we belong to and makes our work possible.
(PyCon Namibia photographs by Paul Crompton, Phoenix Project - see the full set).