Like many other leaders in the open source software world, Naomi Ceder, board chair of the Python Software Foundation (PSF), took a non-traditional path into the Python world. As the title of her 2017 keynote at PyCon España explains, she came for the language and stayed for the community. In a recent conversation with her, she shared how she became a Python community leader and offered some insight into what makes Python special.
From teaching to coding
Naomi began her career in the Classics; she earned a PhD in Latin and Ancient Greek with a minor in Indo-European Linguistics, as she says, "several decades ago." While teaching Latin at a private school, she began tinkering with computers, learning to code and to take machines apart to do upgrades and repairs. She started working with open source software in 1995 with Yggdrasil Linux and helped launch the Fort Wayne, Indiana, Linux User Group.
A teacher at heart, Naomi believes teaching coding in middle and high school is essential because, by the time most people get to college, they are already convinced that coding and technology careers are not for them. Starting earlier can help increase the supply of technical talent and the diversity and breadth of experience in our talent pools to meet the industry's needs, she says.
Somewhere around 2001, she decided to switch from studying human languages to researching computer languages, as well as teaching computer classes and managing the school's IT. Her interest in Python was sparked at Linux World 2001 when she attended PSF president Guido Van Rossum's day-long tutorial on Python. Back then, it was an obscure language, but she liked it so well that she began teaching Python and using it to track student records and do sysadmin duties at her school.
Leading the Python community
Naomi says, "community is the key factor behind Python's success. The whole idea behind open source software is sharing. Few people really want to just sit alone, writing code, and staring at their screens. The real satisfaction comes in trading ideas and building something with others."
She started giving talks at the first PyCon in 2003 has been a consistent attendee and leader since then. She has organized birds-of-a-feather sessions and founded the PyCon and PyCon UK poster sessions, the education summit, and the Spanish language track, Charlas.
She is also the author of The Quick Python Book and co-founded Trans*Code, "the UK's only hack event series focused solely on drawing attention to transgender issues and opportunities." Naomi says, "as technology offers growing opportunities, being sure these opportunities are equally accessible to traditionally marginalized groups grows ever more important."
Contributing through the PSF
As board chair of the PSF, Naomi contributes actively to the organization's work to support the Python language and the people working with it. In addition to sponsoring PyCon, the PSF funds grants for meetups, conferences, and workshops around the world. In 2018, the organization gave almost $335,000 in grants, most of them in the $500 to $5,000 range.
The PSF's short-term goals are to become a sustainable, stable, and mature non-profit organization with professional staff. Its long-term goals include developing resources that offer meaningful support to development efforts for Python and expanding the organization's support for educational efforts in Python around the world.
This work depends on having financial support from the community. Naomi says the PSF's "largest current source of funding is PyCon. To ensure the PSF's sustainability, we are also focusing on sponsorships from companies using Python, which is our fastest-growing segment." Supporting memberships are $99 per year, and donations and fundraisers also help sustain the organization's work.
You can learn much more about the PSF's work in its Annual Report.