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PyCon 2011: Behind the Scenes

People are asking about the cap for PyCon this year. The answer is that we have approximately three hundred and fifty spaces left. So no, we are not sold out at PyCon yet - but things are moving so fast (and we are receiving so many questions) that we thought it was worth opening our kimono a little bit and letting you see into the underbelly of planning for an event like PyCon.

Hotel Negotiations

The first and most important part of hosting a conference is negotiating with the hotel or convention center to get a place to stay. Some of that negotiation took place a couple years ago - we signed on to be at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta a couple years ago - but big parts of that contract are contingent on a conference attracting enough attendees to fill hotel rooms to make the hassle worth it for the hotel.

For those who are working with the hotel numbers, we measure what are called room-nights - booked hotel rooms. These are not the same as individuals attending PyCon, because people share rooms, drive in, stay at other hotels,etc. They are, however, a good comparative indicator of how many people are going to be someplace.

Last year (our biggest PyCon to date), PyCon generated a total of 2406 room-nights. At this level we didn't sell out our reserved block, but we had enough of our block filled (the contract specified over 80%) that we didn't have any penalties.

This year, PyCon attendees have already registered 2647 room-nights - 96% of our allocated block. The hotel always keeps a little in reserve above our block, but we may not only sell out PyCon, we may sell out the hotel, too.

A Public Service Announcement

Especially in light of the above, please note that online booking of hotel rooms at the PyCon rate will close this upcoming Friday, February 18. We have to provide a list of booked rooms to the hotel on that date.

In short, register for PyCon and book your room now!

Note however, we will continue taking additional reservations and changes via email ( and phone (847-759-4277), but after Friday they are not guaranteed and will be based on availability with the hotel itself.


Another aspect of holding an event like PyCon is catering. It is not something that most people think about, but getting good food to 1500 people efficiently is really hard - and doing it on a budget so that it is affordable is even harder.

The hotels build in the price for their services into the cost of the food. That means that sodas are about $4.00 each; coffee costs from $75-$100 a gallon; and that croissant you just ate for breakfast was only $6.00. A nice plated lunch like the ones that we give at PyCon? Only $35-$40. A bargain!

When I first saw these prices, I nearly fell over - being much more frugal myself - but I have come to understand that there is much more to feeding 1500 people than there is to feeding 10, 20, or even 200. The operational complexity of preparing, serving, and cleaning up that much food all at once makes it a specialty operation. It is a lot like the principle that dealing with 1000 requests/second is much easier than dealing with 10K requests/second. Scale matters - in software and in food.

As an aside, if you are going to PyCon, we would love to get a response from you about dietary restrictions and PyCon. If you could answer the one question on our survey, we can use that information to better tailor what we are making to what people will be eating.


We are very excited about our tutorials this year. We were excited to get so much feedback about what people are interested in seeing. We changed some of the offerings in response to that feedback - and the response has been immense.

The tutorials at PyCon have always been something special - but I think this the tutorial days are one of the underrated gems of PyCon. PyCon attracts some of the very best instructors in the US (and in the world!) to give instruction, and the cost per tutorial is far below what other conferences and commercial services cost.

In fact, it is such a good value that we have had more than one company that have adopted the PyCon tutorials as their employee training in Python. That is ok too - that is part of growing the community. The tutorials are an example of us putting our money where our mouth is to make PyCon a community-oriented conference.

The tutorials always sell out first - though - and a few have already sold out - so register for any tutorials that you want now before they are all gone.

Themes - Data and Startups

One of the hardest but most interesting parts of PyCon involves discovering the theme for each year. Yes, I said "discovering," not "inventing." For the past several years, we haven't had a theme in mind when we have called for talks, tutorials, and sponsors -- but each year, the submissions and discussion around PyCon have converged to give us a focus for the conference. We don't usually make a big deal of these themes, because it can be so overdone, but once we discover it, it helps guide our thinking about how we will use the conference to build up and reflect what people are naturally doing.

This year, we had a lot of interest and submissions centered around using Python in the big data/natural language processing space. Python is becoming one of the favored tools for doing data hacking - and that is why we are so excited that Hilary Mason will be giving our first keynote. Looking across all of the submissions, though, we saw a second theme - the use of Python not only to make sense of data, but also - with apologies to Perl - to be the swiss army chainsaw of a growing number of startups. With this perspective, we were able to find our second set of keynote addresses - "Startup Stories" about companies that made it (and are making it) with Python.

Some of those same Python startups are helping get the word out about PyCon. We are using Convore for some conversations about PyCon and Lanyrd is tracking conference attendees who tweet "@lanyrd attending #pycon."


I also want to thank the incredible number of sponsors that have stepped up to help make PyCon happen this year. Our sponsors make it possible for us to keep PyCon a community conference (and not a CIO-only blahfest) by stepping up and helping shoulder the costs of making PyCon go. I hope that each person reading this will look at the companies listed on the PyCon site and make a point of noting - and thanking, if you have a chance - the representatives from these companies who will be coming to PyCon. These companies are part of the PyCon ecosystem and PyCon wouldn't be the same without them.

Besides funding PyCon, sponsorship also goes directly to making Python better. It is no coincidence that the conference co-chair, Jesse Noller, is also behind the Python Sprints project. Any excess that is not used for funding PyCon (this year or for as seed funding for future years) is used to help fund projects and developers in the Python ecosystem via the Python Software Foundation. Stay tuned here, too - there will be some big announcements in this area at PyCon.

I also want to put out a call to anyone reading this who uses Python at their work, but is not already a sponsor: Please contact us or sign up to sponsor! We want to get you involved with PyCon and recognize your contributions. Your sponsorship goes directly to making PyCon and Python better.

Recruiting at PyCon

One side-effect of having so many great companies involved with Python is that there is a lot of demand for Python programmers. If you are looking for work - either a new job or an upgrade - a lot of the companies at PyCon will be hiring. It doesn't matter if you are a data hacker, web slinger, sysadmin, or game programmer, we will probably have someone at PyCon that wants to hire you.

We will be sending out an email to all attendees right before PyCon with information about some of the available positions at sponsor companies. Come prepared with a resume and a repository URL!


Room-nights have gone up by almost 100 since I drafted the first part of this post yesterday. We are now at 2757 room-nights.


Additional Discussion:



It would be nice to have an "Other" option on the dietary restrictions survey. Even without a text area to provide details, even without actually doing anything about the people who select this option, it will let you see how well you are capturing the requirements of attendees. Without such an option, people with other restrictions can supply no input, and the data you collect will make it appear as if you are capturing everyone's requirements.
Kami said…
+2 for the "other" option
VanL said…
Good suggestion. "Other" has been added.

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