Sometimes, foundations and other organizing groups are
almost invisible to the people that they serve. That can be a good thing
in some ways, because it means that most of what the group does is
running so smoothly that nobody notices the well-oiled machine humming away in
the background. But there are downsides too, as people may not be aware of
all of the opportunities for funding and other assistance that the
organization can provide. Python Software Foundation (PSF) director Brian
gave a talk at PyCon 2013 to try
to ensure that the gathered "Pythonistas" at the conference were up to
speed on the PSF.
Curtin started out by noting the visibility problem for the PSF. Most
people know that it exists and perhaps a little bit about what it does.
But there are things that PSF does that are not well known, so people are
unaware of ways the PSF could help their projects. There are also
activities that other groups are doing that could help the PSF. Basically,
there is a bit of a disconnect between the PSF and others in the Python
His talk was meant to bridge that gap.
The PSF is a 501(c)(3) US non-profit organization, which means that it is
tax-exempt and that donations to it are tax deductible (in the US). It is made up of both
individual members and sponsor members, which are organizations that
make an annual donation to the PSF.
The PSF Mission Statement
makes it clear that the organization is "for everybody", Curtin said. It
is meant to support core developers, people writing Python code, people
using Python programs, the people at PyCon, and so on. It is "big P
Python", not just "/usr/bin/python on your latest MacBook", he said.
Part of PSF's mission is to promote the language, and events like PyCon are
one way to do that. There were also a variety of tutorials surrounding PyCon
that promoted the language to children and to programmers who use other
Protecting the language is another piece of the mission. That includes
the Python trademark, for example, as it recently did in a European dispute. It also involves maintaining the PSF license for Python.
The final piece of the mission is to "advance" Python. That effort
is partially to fund Python development, but there is more to it than just core
development. It is meant to push the Python community forward through
funding a variety of activities.
Who is the PSF?
The 200+ individual members of the PSF were nominated by existing members
based on their efforts to "promote, protect, and advance Python". Beyond
just core developers, the list
includes community and conference organizers, developers of Python web
frameworks, evangelists, and so on. It is people who are "trying to make
the Python world better".
There are also roughly 30 sponsor members, who are companies or organizations that
like and use Python. Those members donate annually because
they believe in the mission of the PSF. They see a great benefit from
being able to freely download and use Python throughout their
organization. In return, the PSF tries to keep the Python world running
smoothly so that those organizations can continue to be successful.
There are several PSF committees—made up of both members and
others from the community—that are charged with handling a specific piece
of the PSF's mission. For example, the Sprints committee is responsible
for helping fund development sprints. Originally, sprint funding was
focused on CPython (the C language Python core), but that has changed.
Now, anyone who is "making Python better through code" is
eligible for funding. The committee has funded PyPy and Django
sprints as well as efforts to create new web sites for user groups.
Typically, the money is used to buy food or rent meeting space, but other
things are possible too. The Cape Town users group was one of the first to
use PSF sprint funding. It used the funding to make socks and coffee mugs
with the Python logo for sprint participants who went on to do lot of
work to make matplotlib and Genshi work on Python 3.
There is an Outreach and Education committee which does much what its name
would imply: funding educational and community building efforts. The
Trademark committee looks after the Python trademark. It was instrumental
in resolving the recent European dispute, but more generally works to
ensure that user groups and others are following the trademark policy. There
is also an Infrastructure committee that handles the web servers for
python.org, the Python wiki, the Mercurial repository, and so on. The PSF
recently added two part-time system administrators to help keep the
infrastructure running well.
The PSF also grants money for specific projects. For example, Kivy, NLTK,
and Pillow were
recently granted funding to complete specific features or releases. In the
past, the PSF funded Brett Cannon to create a Python developer's guide to
help get new contributors up to speed.
Conference grants are another big part of what the PSF spends its money
on. In 2012, it granted $33,000 to 18 conferences in 15 countries. It
wants to help other conferences "all over the world" grow to be more like
PyCon. The smaller conferences have trouble attracting sponsors sometimes
(unlike PyCon, which had multiple chock-full sponsor pages), so the PSF
helps out. Curtin said that the PSF plans to double its contributions to
each of the conferences for 2013.
The Sprints and Outreach committees both have their own budgets, so they
can make funding decisions without needing to go to the board of directors
for money. Sprints has a $5000 annual budget, and will reimburse expenses
up to $300 for approved sprints. It "works well and people like it", he
said, and the committee would like to see it grow. He gave a long list of sprints that had
been funded all over the world. There have been a lot of
repeat groups applying for funding, which is good, but the committee would
like to see new groups representing new geographical areas apply. The
Outreach committee has funded a wide variety of workshops and other
activities including PyStar Philly, PDX Python, PyCamp Argentina, and more.
The PSF also gives out awards to give back to contributors, so that they know
their work is appreciated. There are two community service awards given
each quarter, which include either a $500 check or free PyCon registration
plus up to $500 travel reimbursement. The Frank
Willison memorial award is given yearly at OSCON to an outstanding
contributor, and is awarded
by O'Reilly Media based on a recommendation from the PSF. In 2012, the $5000 distinguished
service award was added to recognize "sustained and exemplary
contributions" to Python. The inaugural award was made posthumously to
creator John Hunter.
The PSF is always looking for more ways to advance "big P" Python. It is
currently "kicking around" some ideas on how to serve local Python
communities better, perhaps by way of regional representatives to the PSF.
That would help ensure that word about what assistance the PSF can
provide gets out
to all of the local groups that could take advantage.
In order to have money to give away, the PSF has to raise money. PyCon is
the biggest fundraiser for the organization, but the sponsor members also
help replenish the funds as well. There is a (non-voting) associate
member class for those who donate to the PSF. Curtin would like to see
that program built up and to make it more attractive for people to
contribute that way with T-shirts or other incentives. He ended his talk
with a pair of questions: Can the PSF help you? Can you help the PSF? He
encouraged anyone with ideas in either direction to contact the
If PyCon is the major fundraiser for the PSF, it seems likely to have a
long and prosperous future ahead of it. This was my first visit to PyCon
(with luck, not my last) and it is an impressive conference. Lots of
excellent technical talks, with an engaged and excited community in
evidence. Getting 2500 enthusiasts together in one place for a few days
will do that.
One fear when attending a conference with an "expo hall" is that it will
have gone down the path of LinuxWorld (or the RSA Conference
and other large "industry" conferences), where much of the content is
targeted at executives and other non-technical folks. Those kinds of
conferences have their place, I suppose, but they don't offer much in the
way of intellectual stimulation. PyCon was certainly not that kind of
conference, though it had a large contingent of company and organization
booths. While I didn't spend much time on the expo floor, it was always
crowded with attendees.
While PyCon 2013 will be known to some because of an unfortunate incident that occurred, that
incident does not typify the conference at all. In fact, it is clear that
PyCon (and the PSF) have made great strides in trying to even out the
gender imbalance typically seen at free software conferences. Of the 116
talks in six tracks, 22 were given by women. That ratio is roughly the
same as that of the conference as a whole, which was 20% women. Progress
has certainly been made; one can only hope more will be.
There were lots of talks that I sat in on but wasn't able to write up and
even more that I wasn't able to sit in on at all. There is a whole lot
going on in the Python world and that is clearly reflected in the
conference lineup. For anyone with an interest in the language,
PyCon 2014 (in Montréal, Canada) should get strong consideration.
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