PyArkansas: Small town, big tech!


Last weekend I flew out to to Little Rock, Arkansas, took a two hour crawl through a snarl of traffic, and arrived just in time for my Friday night pre-PyArkansas tutorial in Conway. Held on the stunning campus of Hendrix College, I wended my way around buildings, a massive fountain, inspiring structures, until I found the building where my tutorial was about to happen. Standing in the foyer with the beautiful Foucault pendulum, I could not help but to stop for a moment, exclaiming “Oooo!!!!” aloud, wishing I had gotten there thirty minutes earlier.

My tutorial was intended to encourage women in computer science by serving two purposes: discussing the source code and functionality of a particular project, and openly discussing some of the issues they faced in their current programs and surroundings. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that these women needed no technical or social encouragement. They are already enthused, technically and socially well prepared, and on their way to a very bright future in engineering or computer science. I was pleasantly surprised that they were very comfortable in the bash shell, and as comfortable in their current college curriculum. Like children at play, they picked up the moderate-levelled tutorial code quickly, made great strides in such a short time, and had a lot of fun doing it.

It was profoundly encouraging to see such a small computer science program achieve diversity as well as such a high level of skill. It made me wonder why larger colleges and universities cannot accomplish the same on bigger budgets, with larger staff, and a more diverse mix of students. It touched me to hear and see the enthusiasm, eagerness, and skill of the students in this program. Their learning experience under the Department Chair, Dr. Burch, comes as close to perfect as I have ever seen.

The next day’s events at PyArkansas were held at the also-very-nice campus of University of Central Arkansas, where an entire day’s worth of tutorials took place. Two Python 101 tracks were held: one for programmers and one for non programmers (a great concept). An all-day Django Track was given, where the advanced course was taught by Jacob himself. I held an afternoon tutorial addressing advanced Python concepts, with downloadable example code, where we compared and contrasted build and deployment tools, played with regex, and showed examples of some internal Python oddities involving static variables. I unfortunately missed the Python Blender tutorial, held at the same time as mine, and I heard it went quite well.

The campus facilities were very accomodating. Everything was well organized,and up and running for us when we arrived. This is a very welcome surprise to anyone who has travelled a bit to do tutorials. I was specifically told by Dr. Chenyi Hu, the Department Chair of UCA, that he really does care about diversity, and it is something they strive to achieve. This was truly touching, quite impressive, and a pleasant surprise from such a small town.

Kudos to Greg Lindstrom, Dr. Carl Burch of Hendrix College, Dr. Chenyi Hu of UCA, and everyone else involved. You induced a big technical “tremor” through your small town, which echoed far and wide. It is yet another example of the great people drawn to the Python community, and the amount of quality effort they are willing to give back. I feel honoured to have been part of this event, and I hope to be involved in many more to come.


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