Friday, February 18, 2011

PyCon 2011: Interview with Zed Shaw

Speaking and teaching for the first time at PyCon is Learn Python The Hard Way author and software developer Zed Shaw. As the author of numerous open source projects involving a number of languages such as Lamson (Python), Mongrel (Ruby), Mongrel2 (C), and Tir (Lua), I asked what brought him to his involvement with Python.

He began in 2003 with a server that interacted with fingerprint scanners, complete with a web front end to manage them. “My interest in Python is now more as an educational tool. It's really the only language with the right balance of not too much punctuation or ‘syntax junk’ and not too little,” he says. Python seems to hit the sweet spot for him in terms of the amount of punctuation needed to build structure, “but not so much that you're filling out forms in triplicate just to get something printed to the screen.”

The idea for his Learn Python The Hard Way book came from his experience with Mickey Baker’s “Complete Course in Jazz Guitar.” “I learned a lot from it because a trainer sort of inverts how you're taught by having you do exercises, then explain them, then apply them,” says Zed. “It's easier to explain something that someone has already experienced,” he claims, which explains his “Do Not Copy-Paste” introduction. Readers are encouraged to manually type all examples, as copy-paste defeats the purpose of learning. “The point of these exercises is to train your hands, your brain, and your mind in how to read, write, and see code,” he says in the book.

Zed’s Python For Total Beginners tutorial uses his book to give a lab-style introduction to the language. Along with the tutorial comes a bonus offer from Zed: if enough people are interested, he’ll keep going and teach the whole book throughout the conference.

He has also offered to be somewhat of a guide to new Python users in the group. “I thought that if there was a cadre of folks who helped newbies at least understand the culture then they'd have more fun. This year I decided to give it a shot and see how well it'd work,” says Zed. The plan is to mix in Learn Python The Hard Way lessons with talks, including post-talk discussion to dive in further. If you’re interested in this, contact Zed and let him know.

Along with the beginner material, Zed plans to kick it up a notch with an extreme talk on ZeroMQ. The talk, titled Advanced Network Architectures With ZeroMQ, jumps right into the swimming pool of messaging and heads quickly for the deep end. He starts with pub/sub, works through distributed queues, inter-language communication, and onto whatever other deep things he can get through “all in a short talk with only code, no diagrams.”

He’s pretty well invested in ZeroMQ, choosing it as the messaging platform for his Mongrel2 web server, which hit a major release three months after starting. “My favorite thing about ZeroMQ is not having to care about it. It just works and I can do all the stuff I generally do with raw sockets,” he said when asked what he liked the most. He goes on to say, “I just love that it's easy to use it for various architectures that would be a huge pain to create otherwise.”

We welcome Zed back for another PyCon and hope to see him and his extended tutorial group around the conference. Check out his talk, tutorial, and get your tickets soon. They are running out. Seriously.

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