Richard Rodger: [0:00:00] Welcome to the Voxgig Podcast. We talk to people in the developer community about developer relations, public speaking and community events. For more details, visit voxgig.com/podcast. All right, let's get started.
I have a wonderful guest today, Vicky Lee, a coder, speaker and community organizer who has made a big impact on the world of the Python programming language. Vicky is a software engineer by trade, who has been a pathfinder for the future of tech events, showing how to improve participation, diversity and inclusiveness by actually doing it. Join me for a great chat with Vicky, where we learn the importance of planting your friends in the audience. [0:00:41]
Vicky Twomey Lee
Richard Rodger: [0:00:44] Vicky, thank you very much for joining us today. It's great to have you here. [0:00:47]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:00:48] And thanks for inviting me to come have a chat with you. [0:00:50]
Richard Rodger: [0:00:53] You do an amazing range of different things, but I'm going to start with one of the questions I really like asking. What was the very first event that you organized and was it successful? [0:01:08]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:01:11] Is – the very first. Is this tech or non-tech? [0:01:13]
Richard Rodger: [0:01:14] Tech or non tech. [0:01:15]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:01:18] This is -- I only realized this after – a number of years after running tech events, that my very first event was pretty much a non-tech event. It was – I also – on the – before all these tech organizations that I founded. I'm also Irish Chinese born, so I run an Irish-Chinese forum and blog.
And the very first meetup was actually meeting some of the people from the forum, likeminded people like myself, especially those who speak Cantonese. I don't know it was – from my perspective it was a success, because the people said that they'd turn up and they turned up. There wasn't that many; I think there was two or three, and it was complete strangers, and I met up with them. And this was before Meetup came along. So, I- [0:02:05]
Richard Rodger: [0:02:05] So, they actually turned up? [0:02:06]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:02:07] They turned up.
Richard Rodger: [0:02:07] That's success. [0:02:07]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:02:09] They were saying, "I want to meetup." I said, "Okay, I'm pretty terrified, but I should be okay meeting up in a public space during the daytime. It should be grand." And so, it was good to see someone face to face and talk to them, especially in a language that I don't get to speak that often when I'm here in Dublin, which is Cantonese. So, I say that was a success even though it was a small meetup, but I didn't think of it at the time.
I thought it was just – at the time, I was – I wanted to meet a lot of different people at the time. Back in the days when forums were – do you know the message boards were quite popular. – there was a lot of chatter around that. And people tend to talk and have fun, but meeting face to face was quite are. So, when an opportunity arises and said, "Do you want to meet up?" I said, okay.
And then following on from that, I've met more folks like myself that were born here and try to speak Chinese, but we ended up speaking in English. But we had regular meetups, more food related, so we'd meet up for dim sum and things like that. But I never thought of those as my very first events. I just thought it was, 'hey, just meet up and have a chat over coffee. [0:03:17]
Richard Rodger: [0:03:19] But none of the – you were the person who made them happen. That's the key thing, isn't it, to be the organizer. [0:03:25]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:03:26] Yeah. I didn't think of being the organizer. People were saying, "Let's meet up," and say okay. And I just arranged a time and a place. Probably that how – really for me, I just want to connect with people; that's how I got started. And say, "Yeah, let's do a meetup," before Meetup came around. And I only thought about officially being an event organizer when I started running Python Ireland meetups in the mid – mid-2005. When you asked that question there, I thought back saying, I ran stuff way before Python Ireland, and it was community based as well. [0:04:01]
Richard Rodger: [0:04:03] It's interesting to think about how people end up as organizers, what motivates us to do crazy things, sitting there waiting for people to turn up at our event, hoping that we don't end up having to drink all the beer ourselves. Can you tell me a little bit about how you ended up running events, your life story? [0:04:25]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:04:26] My journey – after I – for my first – very first tech event was running Python Ireland meetups. When I – I encountered Python in the early 2000s thanks to my now husband. We're always looking for new ways of making life easier for ourselves when we're at work, and Python definitely helped. And back in the early 2000s, you'd barely get one or two technical seminars or meetups, gatherings. And you normally find them via the Irish Linux user group mailing lists or word of mouth.
So, I was delighted to be able to see a Python meetup, and talking to people about Python outside of my company, even though there wasn't that many Python people, because at the time it was relatively new. And when you look up any job search sites, only two jobs appear, two developer jobs, compared to nowadays. And it was the person who founded Python Ireland Meetup who – she was seeking Python developers.
So, we turned up. It was a quite good turnout; about 30-35 people turned up. That took a hiatus; that was back – I think that was in 2004. And another person took over and rebooted Python Ireland the following year. Hardly anyone turned up, as in zero people turned up apart from the organizer in the first month or two. [0:05:47]
Richard Rodger: [0:05:48] There you go.
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:05:50] So, he - I was telling him, "Why did you put up the sign?" He said that was the worst part. He put up the sign, but he was still drinking on his own. Eventually a few of us turned up and I joined. And we were really excited about Python and – because it was new technology. And I decided to help them out running – finding speakers and finding a venue.
And I just start – I just kept doing it until relatively recently, probably a few years ago, when I decided to step back completely, around 2015-2016. And I was helping people to do the handover to the community then. And that was an amazing experience, the community – I was – I've been for the community for that long, because they were so welcoming. Everyone was willing to learn and willing to teach.
And where I am right now wouldn't have been – I wouldn't be where I am right now without the Python community. Be it here in Ireland – and I got to meet a lot of people internally as well, like the Python UK folks, the European Python folks or the EuroPython folks, and some of the US as well. and the journey has been amazing.
So, I've been help – been curious about how to run a conference because we run – folks wanted to run the European Python conference here. We just weren't set up for it back in 2009. I remember that fateful night in February 2010 when we were sitting in Neary's, as you do, where all good ideas come out or so.
I was the only sober one, trying to calm people down, saying, "We cannot run a conference, our very first ever conference in two months' time. It's just – we just don't have anything." Or the most people we ever had in our meetups were 20-25 tops. That was – and running a conference at the time, EuroPython had 250 or 300 people, which is huge, from our point of view. And so, I managed to talk them down from two months – or talk them up from two months to try to prepare a conference in four months later or five months later. [0:08:02]
Richard Rodger: [0:08:02] Which is still a pretty tight deadline. [0:08:04]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:08:04] Tight, yeah. Given that we had nothing; we had no sponsors, no venue, no nothing. We had no clue, apart from running small little meetups every month. And we got there in July, and we – what did we – we had about – we were planning to have about 40 people turn up, so double the amount of people that had come to our meetups. And we had nearly 100 people turn out, and we had people from international waters coming along.
Bear in mind that around that time, around 2010, the Python events around the world, there wasn't that many. There was the big Python US; there was EuroPython; there was the French/German ones. I don't know if the Spanish one was around, but definitely the UK one. And then we were the sixth or seventh Python- [0:08:52]
Richard Rodger: [0:08:52] Just such a – something to be really proud of. It sounds like there's this symbiosis between this great community and a great event, and it feels like you have to have the great community first. [0:09:04]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:09:05] Yes, because you need the support of everyone. Even though it feels like you're running this on your own. I was lucky to have my other half; he was supporting. He has a supporting role, because I remember the first – very first conference we ran. I was supposedly – supposed to be on a holiday to visit family in Hong Kong. And my mother keeps laughing that we spent most of our time in Starbucks on their wi-fi hotspot while I was handling T-shirts, speakers and all that kind of stuff. Whereas- [0:09:36]
Richard Rodger: [0:09:36] From Hong Kong?
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:09:37] From Hong Kong. My husband was dealing with the scheduling and we were both working on the website. And he was making sure that the schedule looked okay for the program that was supposed to print, so I was talking to printers as well. So, I was dealing with all that, even though we had a team of people, but it became me and my husband running the show the first year or two. But we had a lot of people turn up on – closer to the event, a lot of people helped. But on the leadup to it, people were too busy, and I was committed at that stage. And it was a learning experience; it was great learning. [0:10:14]
Richard Rodger: [0:10:15] Yeah, it sounds like it. You were doing this – did you have a mentor or guide, or did you guys just figure it out yourselves? [0:10:22]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:10:23] We had it ourselves. We had – we based a lot of our stuff on our – with our – from our nice friend space who ran Python UK. A lot of our stuff were based on their community ethos and values as well and how they run things. I was asking them a lot of questions. And on tour very first conference, we had the chair of the Python Software Foundation, who looks after Python language itself, came over.
Just because we were suddenly a new PyCon in this – in the world and there weren't many PyCons to speak up. And he was curious on our conference. So, he came along and helped us on the day as well, gave us tips and gave us encouragement.
So, yeah. So, we – most of the time we were learning, but I was asking questions as well, and from running that, I learned a lot of – I learned a lot. We – the conference grew year on year, so we had 150-180 that year. And we went up and up until we have about 400 now adays. We capped it at 400-and something, because that's how many you can fill in a plenary session in a hotel room. If it's bigger than that you might as well call it huge. [0:11:33]
Richard Rodger: [0:11:34] Exactly.
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:11:34] So, that's.
Richard Rodger: [0:11:35] And what would you say was your biggest – because people – t learn how to do things like conferences, I always feel it's better not to make – better to avoid mistakes rather than to do things right. In some sense, mistakes are worse. But what do you think was your biggest mistake, maybe the first year or in establishing it? [0:11:56]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:11:57] Putting your eggs in one basket for it after a conference. One – we had an after events in a pub, and they were supposed to do – there's – they allowed us to bring in catering. They pulled out on the week of, and so we were panicking. Because we had venue where to host the events, but we didn't have anywhere to host. Over – nearly 100 people trying to – and some of them mightn't join with the after party. So, where were we going to – what were we going to do with the food, and what about the entertainment? What's going to happen?
And I want to shout out to Radisson Blu on Golden Lane; they were the ones who were super helpful. They were the ones that said no customer is too small for them, no client. And they helped us out that year; they let us use their bar; on that week, we just reserved the bar and restaurant area. And they – so, things like that, being able to panic and saying, "Where else can I host this?" that was not having a backup plan if things go wrong. I think that was the major one that I learned. So, be able to make sure when you run something that you also have a backup or two. [0:13:11]
Richard Rodger: [0:13:12] So, don't assume that just because you booked things, AV people, they will come through. You've got to have a plan B list of alternative suppliers. [0:13:22]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:13:23] Very much so, yes. And also, be prepared; you will lose out on some expenses, so have a backup. I don't know what you call that, fund, like you what you do with houses when you plan to build houses, like a sinking fund or something. Have -- prepare some kind of funding that something might go wrong, that you might lose a deposit or something, but you need to put – you need the money for something else if that – if whatever serve you're using is not available anymore. [0:13:52]
Richard Rodger: [0:13:53] Yeah. So, if I wanted to run a conference – let's say it's a community conference, in a new, emerging language or something in the tech space, where do I start? What advice would you give to somebody who is inspired by what you've done, or inspired by a great community and wants to turn that into a conference. [0:14:22]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:14:23] We reach out to the community first; that's what I do, I would ask would they be interested in getting involved, or if I hear them speak, I would ask would they like to speak or give a workshop. And if they – and also ask who would be interested in – who would they like to hear at the conference. And also ask them would they like it to be hosted in – do they like Dublin; do we host it somewhere else?
And it depends. A lot of my events are hosted in Dublin just because it's easy for me to go onsite and do a lot of things, because I'm very hands-on when I run events. But I'm open to running things in different cities, as long as I have someone onsite over there to help me follow up on logistics. So, the big thing is, community first.
When – it's completely – it's something completely new, especially if it's something that I'm just getting into, I will talk to the community. Because there's bound to be a meetup have started up, or – and if you say, "there's you can do the very first conference here in Ireland, the first Irish conference."
So, first thing I would do is reach out; ask people if they'd like to get involved. Who do they want to hear? What do they want to do? Do they want to do a workshop, or is it talks and panels or a networking event? To me, I'm a very small piece in the conference. For me is – the main priority is the community. What do they want to listen to? What do they want to do? So, yeah, that's what – first thing I would do. [0:16:01]
Richard Rodger: [0:16:02] Yeah, it's – it goes back to that – it goes back to the fact that you need a great community first ultimately to run a great event. I'm just curious about your background. You're a self-described Pythonista. What is a Pythonista? [0:16:20]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:16:21] I like Python; I like to code in Python. And that sounds- [0:16:25]
Richard Rodger: [0:16:25] It's more than that though, isn't it? [0:16:26]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:16:29] The core is that you like to code in Python and you like to spread the word about Python, tell people that you use it. Even though it's not the end all be all tool. There's – each technology solves a certain solution. So, Python doesn't solve everything, but for me, it has solved a lot of the things that I worked on. It helped me be more lazy. [0:16:49]
Richard Rodger: [0:16:52] That's a virtue of programming. [0:16:53]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:16:54] Yeah. And I try to – I want to engineer my way out of problems, so I – my other half Keith gives out to me, saying, "You find a problem you can't engineer." I say, "Yes, I can." It's more because I don't work as a coder, as in professionally. I don't – I have – I'm more of a volunteer in running tech events, so I don't code as much anymore. So, any opportunity I find if there's a problem, I'll try and see if there's a way I can write code and solve it. [0:17:18]
Richard Rodger: [0:17:20] But you started your career working for Sun Microsystems, I think, which is – that's pure engineering; it's coding all day long. Is that what you always wanted to do? Is that the career that you saw for yourself? Or how did you end up – it's always interesting to know how people ended up in the career that they started out in. [0:17:40]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:17:42] I've always been curious about technology, and big thanks to my dad; he's always been interested in new innovation and new tech. He's always attracted to shiny things. And I'm – that's the reason why I'm attracted to shiny things. So, when I was even very young, when I was three and four years old, I remember waking up, suddenly waking at three or four in the morning, and seeing him in front of this thing, this monitor. His face was glowing green because of the reflection from the monitor.
And I can hear this tick-tick sound, and he was typing away, clunk, clunk, clunk. But he's been – he always liked getting new computers and stuff, and he lets me play around with it. He doesn't say that I'm going to break it or anything like that; he just lets me play around. And he – as I've got older, he was happy to build my own computers and stuff like that. And then I was able to – and we were lucky enough that we had internet access in the good old days. Was it 1997 or something like that? Around that period, '96-97.
And that's where I started to look at creating my own web pages, because html was just – was relatively new and very basic. And I was just playing around and I was sharing pictures pretty much to myself, because not many of my friends had internet access. And it just went on from there, the curiosity, starting to look into – and then the early 2000s when the blogging engines were self-hosted blogging engines. I started looking into that, so – and just writing my own blogs, again sharing pictures, before all the social media stuff came along.
So, that's how I pretty much got into it. And first time I wrote my first proper site was for the Irish-born Chinese site, because I was looking for people like me. And most of them, most of these sites were based in the UK, so the British-born Chinese sites. And I asked one of them did they have an Irish-born Chinese site? And they said, "No, why don't you start up one?" So, I was humming and hawing for ages. I had – that means I had – I was thinking, I have to deal with strangers. How do I handle this? How do I handle forums? So, I just rolled up my sleeves and did it. And- [0:19:57]
Richard Rodger: [0:19:57] Just do it.
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:19:58] Just do it. And that was my hobby side, playing around with web stuff. Whereas in Sun, I was – I started off in localization, but we had to do – we built a lot of – we built – we were in charge of the EMEA side of things for localization and built a lot of packages for Solaris. And I looked after patching in the end. And we used Python a lot to – as wrappers to improve the build process on these packages and helping with testing as well.
And so, I learned Python through – as a scripting language first, because I – those days it was pretty much sticking or gluing applications together, before any web apps and stuff like that. It was still very early days. And then I started getting into – seeing all these web frameworks starting to appear on Python and I started to play around with them as well. So, it was great to see the evolution as things gone along. Now there's just so many libraries and tools, especially in the Python side of things, that I can't even keep up. So, I just sign up to all these newsletters and see all these- [0:21:02]
Richard Rodger: [0:21:02] New shiny stuff. [0:21:03]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:21:03] Yeah. New shiny stuff, but I don't have time for it. [0:21:05]
Richard Rodger: [0:21:06] I know, it's terrible, isn't it; there's too much good stuff in the world. Was Sun Microsystems a welcoming place to work? With hindsight, how would you describe? Sun had this reputation of looking after engineers, but I'm interested in what that was like on the round. And also from a subject that's very pertinent these days, is how they did on diversity back in those days. [0:21:31]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:21:32] It was an amazing place. At the time, I didn't really think about diversity. I just thought myself very lucky to be part of this humungous company. And the very first year, they – I got to go over to California. They [0:21:51]-
Richard Rodger: [0:21:51] Wow.
Vicky Twomey-Lee: - 0:21:51] flew me over, all expenses paid and all this, and get to meet the team over there. We have the US team; we have the Asian team and the Japanese team. And we were – Dublin was the main EMEA. So, each quarter, they moved between different groups to have their (inaudible, 0:22:09) , and I was invited to go over.
And that was amazing. You hear companies saying, "We'll send you to this," at the university when they're trying to recruit people. And you didn't then believe it until they actually do. My jaw dropped, just saying, "Is my passport up to date?" My – top of my head. And then I say, "Man, I have to tell my parents that I'm heading off to the US." And for someone that's just come – just graduated, it's a very big thing. And they were very – everyone was really happy in the job; everyone loved it. [0:22:37]
Richard Rodger: [0:22:38] Why? Why was Sun – why did it have such a great culture? [0:22:42]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:22:43] Definitely in Dublin, we felt that everyone was – just enjoyed what they did. And at the time, before the latter years – I left before Sun became Oracle, taking it over. Sun looked after us. They – I ended up looking after a team, and you ask for things and they pretty much signed off on it. So, you get to – because we're – we have to be ahead of the curve, and we run the – run Solaris.
We get to order in machines, not as big as the other sites; we don't order huge servers or things like that. But it's great to be able to say, "I want a set of machines," and then a month later you get them all under your name coming in through the door; you get to set them up. And it's the excitement of being able to play around with stuff. And- [0:23:40]
Richard Rodger: [0:23:41] And some of those machines were very noisy. I remember some of them gave protection with – warnings about protecting your ears. [0:23:47]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:23:48] That was the later years though. [0:23:49]
Richard Rodger: [0:23:50] 2-100s and those sorts of things. [0:23:51]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:23:51] Yeah. So, before I remember, the louds were very quiet. And then when the bigger servers came in, we had to share with another group, and they dealt with servers a lot more and their half is starting to get so noisy. It used to be a place where you can just go in; do you work. And it was like – it's like a little pod that you can go in and get away from people, until the servers got noisier and hotter as well. So, that was – the labs got really cold. [0:24:20]
Richard Rodger: [0:24:22] Yeah, it's – do you think that there was a conscious decision to support diversity in Sun? Or was it unconscious? Did it just happen naturally because there was a good cultural structure in place? [0:24:38]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:24:39] It's – when I joined, there was a good mix of people anyway. At the time, as I said, I wasn't thinking much about diversity. They hired people who were really excited about new technology, really excited to join Sun. And I joined as a graduate, so I have to tell you, to be honest, when I joined, I didn't know what I was – I didn't know what they were doing.
Even I read about it, it was words, but I didn't understand the words. Because college doesn't – they don't teach you a lot of what these companies do. These companies roll on up and say, "We're hiring," and then – and you're trying to match them up to what you learned in college. It doesn't match up, because you're doing so much theory and you say, "How do I match up to what you're offering?" I understand the words. I understand these – there's engineers, but what of all these other roles? I don't – you still have the confusion.
So, I can imagine parents nowadays trying to figure out for their kids what kind of jobs, especially in tech. There's jobs that are – haven't even been invented yet. So, even when you're in the midst of it, going into a career, starting your career, you might be still slightly a bit fuzzy about the role you're going into.
Because it's completely new. You've - because this company is very different than the one you interned for and the role's completely different. But you – that's the whole thing is, it's a challenge to learn something new. So, it's no fun going to something which you know already, and you quickly stagnate. Whereas you go into something and you learning curve goes way up. And then you get to teach other as well; you start mentoring others after a while. [0:26:14]
Richard Rodger: [0:26:15] Do you think it's better to – coming out of university, do you think it's better to work in a big company or go and work in a startup? And it's only a question that's become relevant in recent years, because back when we left college, there weren't that many startups to go and work for. But nowadays you can find startups; they're all over the place, so you have that choice. What do you think? Big company or startup? [0:26:41]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:26:43] If you want to – if you – depends if you want to get paid or not. [0:26:47]
Richard Rodger: [0:26:48] Good answer.
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:26:50] And unless it's your own startup and you know you can get the funding and you're okay that you won't need pay for a year or something like that. And you have – you know the – as with all startups, you could be very lucky, and it could be – you could do very well out of it. It depends on people. Some people have this idea and they want to join, or some people are very adventurous; I want to join a startup, because they really believe in it. And if they get paid, that's great. If they don't, maybe they must have saved money beforehand or they're living at home or something like that. [0:27:29]
Richard Rodger: [0:27:31] But it's a bit easier these days; there's a lot of growth stage startups. They may not be making money, but they've had a lot of money invested in them, so they are able to pay market wages. It's less risky than it used to be. [0:27:46]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:27:47] So, if we're joining a big company – it depends on individuals, to be honest. If you want to get a few years' experience because you're – so, when you graduate and you feel like you're super green and you want to – super new in the whole industry, and you want to save up some money maybe. I don't know if you have that much forethought, to say, "I've to save money for my new startup."
Maybe they're just happy to get some experience first as – for first four or five years or six to eight years. And then people are always saying by the time – 40 is the new 30 or 30 is the new 30. By that stage I've had enough experience built and you have the money saved, and maybe you can go onto a new venture. But then what I said now could be very old school. People don't think like that anymore. So- [0:28:36]
Richard Rodger: [0:28:37] One of the reasons I ask is, I went straight into startups. And it certainly has been difficult sometimes, because I didn't have a big name on my resumé, big, recognizable names, so people discount you a little bit. My wife, she went to work for Ericsson and SAP, and that has always stood to her, because those are instantly recognizable tech names. And do you think the Sun background has opened doors? [0:29:07]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:29:09] I think it's more the community I'm involved in from my side. Because Python is in everything, because I was – because I was the front for Python Ireland for over a decade. I run the events, monthly events; I run the conferences, the first four conferences. And I talk to a lot of people; I try to welcome everyone. I talk to a lot of companies because of sponsorships and stuff, or hosting. From that, for me, it was – that's the – that's how I got into it anyway. [0:29:09]
Richard Rodger: [0:29:09] That has been far more effective for you. And that's one of the big arguments, isn't it, for getting involved in events, is it's a much better way to get to know people and- [0:29:53]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:29:54] As I mentioned in the past, it doesn't have to be – if you've any involvement in the community, it does not have to be just in Ireland. As I say, I mentioned, we wanted to host the EuroPython event here. We haven't done that; we haven't been able to, but that's okay.
But for me, I was really curious and – how they run a 200-person conference. Now their conference is up to 2,000 people. So, they grew a lot in the last 10 years. But I was very curious around 2012-2013, and they were looking for new board members. And I go, "Why not, I'll just join them and see." [0:30:31]
Richard Rodger: [0:30:31] That sounds dangerous. [0:30:32]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:30:33] Yeah, completely new. I was talking to people remotely; we had meetings. We were figuring how they run, because they moved. They hosted in a city for two years and then they move on to the next city. So, everything was – for them was complete new every time they'd go to a new host city.
But they've changed the way they run things where they have more work groups now, which is very interesting, where they spread the workload amongst volunteers all over Europe except for the core stuff like logistics, in that particular city. (Inaudible, 0:31:05) like sponsorship, attended participation details and all that kind of stuff.
But everything else like calls for proposals, working on the websites and the program itself, all the people working remotely all over Europe to help out that EuroPython for that particular year, even though it's not in their city. And it was interesting to see how that community worked, and I learned a lot from that, especially with contracts. A lot of things that went wrong and how we tried to resolve them.
And then from via that, I also ended up being invited to join in the overall Python Software Foundation who looks after Python. I ended up joining their grants work group. I was invited to help out to read applications from folks who want to run Python related conferences or workshops all over the world. And I'm one of the – I think we have nearly – someone in each continent?
So, we get to review all these global applications alongside the board as well, because they can't handle all these applications as well. And we either approve them or not approve them. Last year, I was privileged to be part of that group, because last year we had about 220 applications we went through, we all went through. And we granted, I think about a quarter of a million dollars to various groups. That was 2017. So, that was pretty cool to be able to be- [0:32:40]
Richard Rodger: [0:32:40] That was amazing.
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:32:40] -a small part of it. And then they- [0:32:42]
Richard Rodger: [0:32:42] It sounds like Python has a fantastic future. [0:32:44]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:32:45] Yeah. It's a great community. That's – but since then, I've moved back a little bit from Python, looking for other conferences to attend. So, I was – I'm curious about functional programming, something that melts my brain. So, I was lucky enough to attend a conference- [0:33:05]
Richard Rodger: [0:33:05] Melts everybody's brain. [0:33:05]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:33:07] A few years ago there was a conference called Capconf here in Dublin, and I really enjoyed it because I could not understand a word they were saying. As opposed to going to a conference where you hear slight differences or variations of something you know already, you've heard of. You're already – and because when you go to a few conferences – a few of the conferences, but they're different – in different cities. If you're lucky enough, you might hear the same speaker going through the same talk.
So, it's refreshing to hear about something new and unknown, and all these – and the community is just as amazing and fun and welcoming as well. So, for me, I'm more going towards more language agnostic conferences. I'm trying – I'm still interested in Python, because that's where I build – it's a foundation of where I am, of how I got to where I am right now.
But it doesn't stop me to – it hasn't stopped me going on and seeking other technologies that I have a look at -. Because – so people are saying, "You're just Python." I'm saying, "No, I'm not." Even though I don't have a clue about other stuff, but I'm still willing to learn. So, everyone's – it's good to keep on learning and be curious as well. [0:34:16]
Richard Rodger: [0:34:17] And do you think – would you – given your experience, do you think you would look at those communities and then decide to start events or conferences in those spaces? Or what approach would you take? Or is this just personal learning, a personal learning phase for you right now? [0:34:35]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:34:35] It's a personal learning phase, and I will collaborate. My husband, who is interested in Elm, so – and so, he started the Meetup group. I remember when he started Meetup. I was looking at my email and saying. "You're being invited as organizer of Dublin Elm Meetup." And I looked at it. "Hang on a minute. Who's invited me? Who's doing – oh, my other half." My other half- [0:34:58]
Richard Rodger: [0:34:58] It's that guy. It's that guy again. [0:34:59]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:35:00] He's been selecting that community aa lot; he was involved with Python Ireland as well, as I said earlier on. So, he started up this group. He's a bit busy, so it hasn't been running as many meetups, but I'm happy to help him out because he helped me out so much. And I'm also wanting to learn more about Elm as well.
And at the moment, other – with other technologies, if I'm curious about them, I rather the people who – the – to help the community and collaborate with them. Because I don't think I can handle starting up another meetup or – go for all Python. Start up another organization again. I've just too much on my plate. [0:35:37]
Richard Rodger: [0:35:38] Yeah, it's pretty stressful. But you've all that knowledge and experience, and the mentoring is a multiplier, isn't it, in terms of the impact you can have. [0:35:49]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:35:50] Sharing that knowledge is – it's definitely a plus. Because you get even more involved, because you're putting yourself out there and you're sharing what you know with people who want to learn. And it's great that you're sharing that, and then they get to share that, what they learned, to others as well. And it's – so, instead of word of mouth going to meetups, it's word of mouth educating others in a technology and the word keeps spreading. And that's the joy of being in a community. [0:36:21]
Richard Rodger: [0:36:23] And I wanted to ask you about one of the specific tasks that you have to do in running events and conferences, which is the MC role, because that involves public speaking. Do you have any specific advice on that? Because as you said, if you decide to run a conference, one of the things that ends up happening is that the poor old organizer has to do the MCing as well, which is a public speaking role. And you give workshops as well, don't you? So- [0:36:50]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:36:50] Yeah, I give workshops. [0:36:51]
Richard Rodger: [0:36:51] Advice on public speaking in general and specifically on the MC role. [0:36:54]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:36:56] The MC role, that's easy. Because you're running the conference, you can pick someone to do the MC. [0:37:00]
Richard Rodger: [0:37:02] So, don't do it. [0:37:02]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:37:02] The only thing that you can't get out of is opening the conference. So, you have to open up and introduce the main special keynote, and then you've to close the conference. So, you can't get out of the opening and closing of conference, but you can pass on the MC to other folks as well, especially in the conference. You have so many people to – because a lot – some of them could be friends as well, so you can pick on them, to do the MC.
With these workshops, there's a lot – it's a tiny bit easier because it's smaller. You don't have to talk in front of 400 people, 2-400 people. You're talking to about 15-20 people. It is a bit nervewracking initially. And I hate this when people tell me it's down to practice. And it is true, and I really hate saying this to someone because I know when I asked initially how – about anxiety in public speaking, people say practice.
But the best advice is, if it's your first time, look for that friendly face in the crowd, if it's – especially if you have friends. Maybe seat them in several places so you can pan around looking for them and see a friendly face. And also, if you don't have – If you're in a conference and you don't know anyone, look for the people who nod their heads and smile, and not the ones who are nodding off because they're tired from the previous night, not because you're boring. Because that can be off-putting, seeing someone who isn't paying attention or looking at their phones. And they could be tweeting, for all you know, about what you're saying. [0:38:36]
Richard Rodger: [0:38:36] Exactly. They could be giving your wonderful tweets. [0:38:38]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:38:39] So, look for friendly faces. People say, "Look, imagine people are nude," and that doesn't work. Just- [0:38:44]
Richard Rodger: [0:38:44] No, it doesn't, no. [0:38:45]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:38:45] So, definitely for people who are – if you have friends in the crowd, look for them, because they'll smile, and that makes you smile and relaxed. And then look for – if you don't have – if you're in a conference all by yourself and you don't know many people, look for all those nodders and all those people who smile. And definitely practice in an empty room and talk out loud like you're a mad person. [0:39:07]
Richard Rodger: [0:39:09] One thing I like to do, and it can be quite tricky, because of scheduling and that type of stuff, is to try and – especially with this thing where you turn up to a conference and you don't really know anybody – is try to do a tiny little bit of networking in the room before you're about to speak, so that you've at least had some human interaction with some of the audience. I find that helps. [0:39:31]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:39:33] It's hard when you're introvert. I tend to – when I attend, I tend to end up putting blinkers on, and I try to figure out what I'm going to see next and figure out if there's a workshop. Or just trying to figure out – for some reason, even though I'm trying to welcome people to interact with each other, when it comes to me when I attend, I end up going – I become very reserved. I just want to focus on what's happening there and then, and then I find it very hard to interact with people then because I'm just so focused on the conference content itself.
But I think what helps is because I go to so many things that people recognize me and wave me down. So, out of that focusing on just the program itself and you get the chat. And then that opens up and then I come out of my shell a little bit. When I go to events, I'm very quiet and quite shy person.
But when you're running an event, you don’t have a choice. You have to go and welcome people; you have to make sure everyone is comfortable and people are talking to each other; no-one's left out. That's why people think that I'm very open and say – but if I'm running and organizing something, that's one; that's me. But if I'm attending, I somehow flip to another personality where I'm very quiet. [0:40:50]
Richard Rodger: [0:40:52] It sounds like you have to manage your own internal mental state to achieve what you want to for the event. [0:41:00]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:41:00] Yeah. I think that's why it's important for organizers to make sure everyone is welcome. It's like that – what is it someone said? Use the Pac-Man approach, when you're talking in a circle, make sure you have an opening, so someone new can join in, instead of feeling left out and not be able to walk in in the middle of a crowd talking, because they might feel that they're rude.
So, it's all down to –unfortunately down to the organizers themselves making sure everyone is welcome. Even in the conference, you have to make sure that people who are helping you; make sure everyone is – that people are not left out standing by themselves. Or maybe people want to stand by themselves and they don't want to be – don't want to interact; that is also okay as well. So, it's how you read the situation.
So, that's where I think events, like big – especially huge conferences, it's important to give people a quiet space so they can go in and say, "Leave me alone. I just want to have quiet and not have a lot of people chatting and everything is really loud." You feel the pressure, having to network all the time, and some people find it overwhelming. [0:42:11]
Richard Rodger: [0:42:14] I would classify myself as an introvert as well, and the ability to retreat to somewhere quiet is – I would need to do that multiple times, if I'm attending an event, to recharge. It's important; it's an important thing to be able to do. Is there anything in particular you'd like to mention that you're doing at the moment, that we should know about? [0:42:44]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:42:45] I do have – I still run monthly meetups called PyLadies Dublin. It's open to everyone; even though it has ladies in the title, it's diversity friendly events. We have quick talks and lightning talks in the beginning, and people are welcome to bring their laptops in.
And they can work on their own projects; that's grand. They can pair up and do tutorials. They can deep dive with the speakers on that particular topic that evening. They can chit chat and network; they don't have to use the computer if they don't want to. It's a free form, free structured, and it's the free events as well. [0:43:25]
Richard Rodger: [0:43:26] And that's on Meetup.com, I assume. [0:43:28]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:43:28] Meetup.com, yes. Currently, I'm also involve d with Women in Code Dublin; we do have monthly events as well. And that is on the beginning of each month. And then there's – I'm one of the co-directors, and we currently have about four co-directors and one city lead. It's starting to – we revamped it because we were very quiet for a while. We're very actively in running monthly events. And that is free also and you can find that on Meeup.com.
I'm currently also trying to organize a couple of events, and one of them is – if people are interested is in games, in games making in general, a board game and a digital game making kind of game jam. And that's hopefully in September; I don't have much information about that yet, but the organization that I'm running that under is called Chain Craft. And my main thing that I – the other – one other organization that I cofounded is called Coding Grace.
That's diversity friendly coding workshops where I mentor sometimes as well. And we have a lot of mentors from – who are professionals from the field. And I'm currently hopefully working on some workshops, workshop content in the coming months. So, I don't – all that is on Meetup.com, so all those groups, so if people want to contact me as well via Meetup.com, I'm happy to answer any questions or run events or collaborate. [0:45:01]
Richard Rodger: [0:45:03] That's wonderful. I don't know how you find time to sleep at all. That's an amazing list of events and community stuff to be involved with. Vicky, thank you so much for talking the time to talk to us. This has been really interesting and quite inspirational as well. It shows how if you – you can start getting involved in the community. You can work your way up to running events and speaking at events and all that sort of stuff. So, it's really great to have a role model to show us how it's done. [0:45:34]
Vicky Twomey-Lee: [0:45:35] As – the only reason why I got involved with community is, if you need something done, you whine about it for so long until you realize, I can do this as well. So, that's how things get started is, if there's something missing and you know you can do it, go and do it. The worst that could happen is, the group can get huge and you don't have to be the organizer. That's the worst possible thing. [0:46:00]
Richard Rodger: [0:45:59] That's the worst that can happen. [0:46:00]
Richard Rodger: [0:46:01] You can find the transcript of this podcast and any links mentioned on our podcast page at Voxgig.com/podcast. Subscribe for weekly editions, where we talk to the people who make the developer community work. For even more, read our newsletter. You can subscribe at Voxgig.com/newsletter, or follow our Twitter @voxgig. Thanks for listening. Catch you next time. [0:46:28]