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6 September 2022

EuroPython: a bright-eyed, bushy tailed Engineer’s experience

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EuroPython is the oldest and longest-running volunteer-led Python programming conference on the planet, not to mention one of the biggest python events in this part of the world (hello from the UK!). The conference had been put on hold for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so they spared no expense in their first year back and 21st year in Dublin, Ireland (11-17 July 2022).

Having moved from Hippo’s service team to the engineering team in August 2022, and being brand new to data engineering, I was both intimidated and excited to attend.

Below I hope to share my experience at EuroPython as a new engineer in the hopes that it encourages someone else like me to put themselves out there, seize an opportunity, and join the conference in the future.

What it was like attending EuroPython as a new Data Engineer

The day had come. After a trip through Leeds Bradford Airport security (shudder) and a pint of Guinness in the hotel bar, I was standing in the conference hall, having collected my badge and the first of many stickers to come.

Gordon Bowe EuroPython 2022

Everyone is there to learn, beginners and veterans alike.

The first talk at the conference was exciting. It was about the James Webb telescope, and the translation through a Python program of the image results from an infrared, thermal image to the beautiful pictures of stars and galaxies that we see on the news.

It was fascinating to me, but I realised I knew very little of the physics that the speaker started their talk off with. I immediately felt like a bit of a fraud. The actual programming section mostly made sense to me; I hadn’t worked with the libraries that they did so little snippets of code weren’t 100% but I could work out their function.

After being amazed by some pictures of stars, I spoke with the engineer I came to the conference with. He wasn’t sure about the physics and engineering of the telescope either! This was my first introduction to the idea that not everyone knows everything, despite appearances.

People are genuinely interested in your background and start in engineering.

As I went down to the first coffee break, and our first look at the different booths that were on display, I was nervous. Going up to these booths to get stickers/socks/rubber ducks (and get my ear talked off about how their company is), I was worried they would look down on me. But as I spoke to them, everyone was excited and supportive of my background.

Some even said my start was a great start, as it gave me the foundational knowledge to be able to understand systems better. They told me plainly to my face that not every talk will make all the sense in the world. My ego was suitably inflated, and I walked away with my branded socks, chocolate bars, and stickers.

There’s so much to learn in the programming community. Be curious and ask for help.

Prior to going to EuroPython, I’ve always been quite sheepish about talking about my job. Being entry-level, I worried people wouldn’t value my opinion. However, henceforth I will hold my head high and proudly proclaim ‘I don’t know enough on that topic, I’m going to go and learn more before I give my opinion’. And it’s all thanks to the friendly, encouraging people at EuroPython. If you are worried that you will be looked down upon, don’t be!

In the programming community, there’s so much to learn, it’s accepted that you won’t know everything. So be curious and ask for help. The people around you will always try and give it, especially at Hippo and in the broader Python community.

What were the best talks at EuroPython 2022 for a new Engineer?

I learned a lot at EuroPython. As a new engineer, I was excited to try a little bit of everything, so I went to a multitude of talks, on a multitude of topics.

Here’s where I focused:

Improving Error Message in Python 3.11

I started off learning how the Python software foundation (the owners of Python) are improving error messages in Python 3.11, making python more accurately identify where the problems in your code are to be more friendly to new starters. Seriously, who knows off the top of their head what an EOF error means?

Data Science Talks for New Engineers

There were further talks on a Data Scientists checklist, a broader view on how to get started with Data Science projects and making sure you’re answering the right questions.

Other helpful or interesting technical talks

I went to talks on better debugging methods than continually using print, how to identify abusive comments using a machine learning network, how the BBC uses AWS to improve services for their journalists, and even how to measure the effectiveness of a translation tool.

Ethics-Related Talks

There was even room for the ethics team to get involved, with the ethics of discriminatory algorithms and ‘autonomous’ weapons being discussed in keynote speeches.

The best talks posed a problem and why their solution resolved it best.

The problem needed to be relatable – a bottleneck on processor speed for a neural network isn’t as much of a relatable issue as is preventing people from experiencing abusive messages on a chat function.

When I present what I learned at EuroPython to my colleagues at Hippo, I’m going to keep this in mind. Always know your audience. To make coding accessible, we must frame what we’re saying in a way that anyone can understand it, and appreciate why it is useful.

The only way you’ll miss out is if you don’t ask.

I learned so much from my time at EuroPython, so my main takeaway is if you see a great learning opportunity, the only way you’ll miss out is if you don’t ask. And, if you’re in a place that isn’t prepared to help you develop, I promise that Hippo is always willing to help its people in a way that works best for both parties!