2019 - Combine | Combine 2019

PyCon Slovakia is another conference focused on topics relevant to anyone who works with Python in any way, or is just interested in the language or community. Similar to previous years, it took place over three days, and attracted speakers from all over Europe, and even further away.

March came by, and brought about another PyCon event, this time in Bratislava. The range of topics presented was wide, as usual, spanning things like robotics, machine learning, operations, but also some of the more social aspects of software engineering, software projects in government, or even an entire track focused on education. Of course, we did not want to miss it and are happy to share some of the highlights here.

The opening talk of the conference was about Anvil, a platform making it possible to build interactive web applications entirely with Python, without having to deal with concepts like CSS, HTML, Javascript, or SQL. It seems like a really neat tool, especially when building an application with limited resources. On the other hand, it is not an open platform, which would make lock-in a concern.

Anton Caceres shared some of his insights on architectures based around micro-services, which has been a very popular trend this decade. An important point was that even when using micro-services, it is beneficial to share the same base stack among all of the services, such as the language, frameworks, discovery mechanisms, failover, etc. In that case they only need to be maintained once, rather than for each specific flavor separately. He also presented a number of common patterns, such as sidecar containers, ambassador, or a pattern which combines a service registry with a side-car to keep all services informed about each other.

The first day was wrapped up with a talk by Miroslav Šedivý, who went on a deep dive into tzdata, the time zone database, sometimes referred to as the Olson database, which aims to be a complete compilation of all the information about the world’s time zones since 1970. Among other things we learned that Czechoslovakia was the only country which had, in addition to the standard time, not just summer time, but also a third winter time one year, and that both the Czech Republic, and Slovakia have inherited the law which makes it possible to declare a winter time again. The key takeaway from this talk was that whenever you are dealing with time zones, it is of utterly importance to use a library that is based on tzdata, such as pytz, since dealing with the ever-changing definitions of all the world’s time zones on your own is simply not feasible.

On Saturday, a keynote talk was given by Honza Král, a former core developer of Django, in which he shared his insight on what skills are necessary in order to be a good software engineer. It is very common for people in technical fields, like data science, software engineering, or information security, to think technical skills are the key to success. This is also reinforced by the usual framing of “soft” vs. “hard” skills, which makes it easy for us to downplay the importance of the latter. After all, “soft” implies “fuzzy”, “non-exact”, and that is antithetical to the perceived exact nature of the field of software development.

However, we can implement the most brilliant piece software, and it will not be worth much if we cannot explain that fact to other people in a polite, efficient way, and collaborate with each other. That is why it has been suggested to change the labels we apply to the different skills, like, for example, technical, and professional skills.

Next up, Ján Suchal, and Gabriel Lachmann gave a talk that was of particular interest to the Slovak audience members. The topic was IT projects in the Slovak government. For decades, the modus operandi was that the majority of government IT projects were defined in such a way, that there was exactly one supplier who could fulfill all the requirements, usually one with ties to people sitting in the government organization making the order. As a result, the typical project was way overpriced, delayed ad infinitum, and would rarely produce any usable result.

That is why several years ago, a group of professionals, who were tired of this, founded an NGO called Slovensko.Digital. They are lobbying to open up the processes, pushing for open access to data and government platforms, and highlighting any shady practices going on within the world of government IT. Ján and Gabriel presented their vision, some of their recent successes, and how members of the public can get involved. While the current situation is still far from perfect, things have improved somewhat over the past years, and there is yet hope for the Slovak government.

On Sunday, one of the speakers could not make it to the conference, so in order to fill the hole in the schedule, the organizers played back a recording of Kenneth Reitz’s talk from PyCon US 2018 about Pipenv. This was a very useful introduction for those of us in the audience who never took the time to look into Pipenv. This tool automates the tasks of keeping a list of direct dependencies, a list of all pinned transitive dependencies, and an up-to-date Python virtualenv. It is really nice how adding a new dependency, while maintaining all of the above, only takes a single short command. Not to mention that it also includes other bells and whistles, such as sanity checks that all direct dependencies are reflected in the pins to prevent deployments using inconsistent state, or automatic checks of dependencies against known security vulnerabilities.

As one of the last talks of the conference, Ingrid Budau gave us an introduction to pandas, a popular library often used in data science, and in machine learning to manipulate large data sets. She walked us through the basics of importing a dataset, the data types that pandas recognizes, and how to work with variants. Then Ingrid moved on to show us how pandas can be used to detect malformed input data by looking at rows with shifted values, how to deal with that, or how to fill in missing data.

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