I’ve had the pleasure of being present at a number of inaugural North East meetups (Design Interest, Drupal Northeast, and Interaction Tyneside), and was happy to be present at another last night : Python Northeast. [EDIT: turns out I’m wrong in terms of the inaugral thing. The first actual meetup was at the Bridge Hotel in August. This was the first proper meetup with talks though.]
While I knew that Python is the language of Googlers and other hardcore developers (and that the old .py icon used to look rather freaky on my old Toshiba Satellite), my knowledge of the language didn’t go any further than some Codeacademy lessons and messing with Django over the weekend. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only person there who self-identified as a Python novice. About 2/3 of the group of 15 or so felt the same, with the rest considering themselves as having intermediate knowledge.
Organiser Jamie Curle hopes to create a community of people at various levels of expertise, and deliberately arranged for talks to aim at different levels.
Simon Oram’s talk about The Zope Object Database (ZODB) was the most technical of the night. He explained that Zope’s strengths lie in it being using Python for transactions (no need for SQL queries unless you need it), built in versioning, and that its blob-structure makes it incredibly flexible and capable of fine-grained security permissions (one of the reasons it is used in military applications and the CIA). [As it turned out, I’d come across ZODB through my former colleague Chris Chambers who was a champion for ZODB based CMS Plone.)
For those of us less-savvy Python users, Dave Jeffrey talked about virtualenv and virtualenvwrapper. Basically, as long as you’re prepared to use a command line, they’re a good way of playing with new Python installs without having global effects on your entire system. Virtualenv also lets you run different versions of python on your computer (not at the same time though!) so you can work on bleeding edge apps while still being able to do work on aging apps. Virtualenvwrapper is an added layer that lets you be more productive by using tab completion and other shortcuts.
Both can be installed using pip (if you have it on your machine), or easy-install if you don’t. (As it turns out, Jamie has written a detailed article on his blog about setting them up on OSX. Windows users: you’re on your own. No, apparently you should install Cygwin or similar so that you can use the terminal but apart that it’s pretty much the same).
There was also the opportunity for everyone to get virtualenv/wrapper going on their own machine through good old pair teaching. (It’s also worth a warning that you may have problems if you’ve installed other mac packages on your machine: I had a few problems which I suspect comes from playing with Macports!)
For future talks, people are encouraged to both volunteer talks or suggest possible topics on the Python North East Google Group. Their official blog post is also on their blog site (you know you’re into developer land when a speaker’s presentation is available via github!)