Friday, February 10, 2017

Discovering the Python Community in Zimbabwe at their first PyCon

On the heels of attending a successful PyCon in Namibia in 2015, a small group of Python enthusiasts in Harare, Zimbabwe vowed to organize the first-ever PyCon held in Zimbabwe.

After months of planning on November 25th, 2016 they achieved their goal in dramatic fashion with an enormously successful sold-out conference at the ZESA National Training Center in Harare. I was privileged to give the keynote to an extremely attentive audience. For an hour, we had a tremendous time in discussing how to contribute to open-source successfully and how to grow ideas into successful open-source projects.

In all my years of speaking, I've never had such an incredible audience. Often at technical conferences audience members are more engaged with their smartphones than the speaker. Not so at PyConZim! Questions were thoughtful and engaging. Truly a pleasure.

Throughout the conference many enjoyable talks were given. I enjoyed Dennis Murekachiro's inspiring talk on how to be a game-changer as he encouraged Zimbabwe technologists not to settle for "good enough" but to work hard to use technology to better themselves and the communities they live in. Tendai Marengerke's talk on how to create reproducible research in Python was absolutely fascinating; it's a must-watch for anybody using Python in an academic setting.

Petrus Janse van Rensburg from South Africa gave an outstanding overview of challenges that low-bandwidth connections create in Africa and how he is working to solve them by re-designing the way e-commerce platforms operate. I can virtually guarantee we'll be hearing a more about him and his work in the coming months and years.

One of the most astonishing things about PyConZim is the way in which every single attendee is brilliant and, without fail, engaged with pragmatic ideas about how to use Python to make a better life for their communities. One could go to every PyCon on Earth and never find one as inspiring as PyCon Zimbabwe.

The highlight for me, though, was having the chance to meet Marlene Hangami and Ronald Maravanyika.
Marlene and Ronald have single-handedly started an organization to teach Python to young girls across Zimbabwe.

Fueled by a desire to simply improve the lives of girls in their country, they've started free workshops in community centers and now operate in over forty community centers across the country.
They've had to battle a number of difficult obstacles that would discourage most people but they're continuing on.
As a direct result of my trip to PyConZim, I've started working with Ronald and Marlene to start a program to bring female software developers to Zimbabwe to work with selected girls on Python-based projects to help out in their communities.

Mentors participate in projects that girls work on by volunteering as little as four hours of their time and conduct their mentorship via video-conference and email. It's a very simple way to advance the case for women in technology in Africa and beyond. More information on mentorship programs and application information is available here.

My humble thanks to everybody at the Python Software Foundation for sponsoring my trip to Zimbabwe and for sponsoring the conference itself.