Q&A with Upcoming FutureTalk Speaker Jessica McKellar

Jessica McKellar is one of the most dedicated leaders of the open source software community. She’s director of the Python Software Foundation, vice chair for Outreach & Education at PyCon, and organizer of Boston Python. Aside from all this, Jessica is a mcklellarregular contributor to numerous open source projects, including Twisted and OpenHatch, and has mentored through Google Summer of Code, GNOME Outreach for Women, and Hacker School. On top of this, Jessica is the co-founder of Zulip, which was recently acquired by Dropbox.

On Wednesday, August 20th, we’re thrilled to feature Jessica at the next installment of our free FutureTalk Summer Series in downtown San Francisco. She’ll be here at the New Relic headquarters to talk about where she sees the future of Python headed and share tips and tricks for building robust open source communities.

Be sure to check out our Meetup group and RSVP before spots fill up!

I recently chatted with Jessica to catch up on what she’s been up to and how she’s getting involved with the San Francisco Python community.

After running the largest Python User Group in the world, Boston Python, what’s it like relocating to San Francisco? Are there any community groups or initiatives you’re involved with here in the Bay Area?

I’m still getting settled in on the West Coast, but I try to make it to San Francisco Python meetups, and I enjoyed speaking on a panel with the group about the Python 2 to 3 transition. I also ran a CPython sprint at Dropbox this summer and hope to run one every quarter. These sprints are designed to be accessible to first-time contributors and featuredetailed setup instructions and a curated list of bite-sized bugs.

My work with the Python Software Foundation and PyCon is focused on the global Python community and is largely unchanged by the move.

I do miss Boston Python, my extended nerdy programming family. Fortunately, I get to see a lot of my friends from Boston at various Python conferences.

Finally, I did a lot of STEM volunteering in Boston and look forward to connecting with a great new group of organizations on the West Coast.

From co-founding Zulip, to directing the Python Software Foundation, to regularly contributing to open source projects, you’re quite the busy bee! What projects are you most excited about right now?

There are so many dimensions along which to answer this; it’s hard to give a complete answer! I am excited to visit India for the first time to keynote PyCon India in Bangalore in September. I’m excited to finish the book I’m writing: Linux Device Drivers, 4th Edition. I have a huge backlog of blog posts and personal projects I want to finish. My husband and I frequently have programming dates, and we’re currently building a constraint solver in several flavors as a fun toy project. I have been so busy, but in a great way, since the move.

Given your involvement with Google Summer of Code and GNOME Outreach for Women, mentorship seems to be really important to you. Did you have mentors early in your career who made a big impact on you?

pythonlogoMy first-ever contribution to an open source project was a documentation patch to Twisted (an event-driven networking engine in Python) during a summer internship. I remember being terrified, and quadruple-checking the patch submission process and my ticket comments for well over 45 minutes before finally pressing the submit button. As I clicked, I prayed I wasn’t doing something stupid that would cause people to make fun of me.

My fears were unwarranted, as Glyph (the creator of Twisted) and the rest of the maintainers welcomed me with unending patience and support as I fumbled my way through the patch review process for the first time.

That initial patience was a good investment! I became a core committer, a Google Summer of Code mentor, and even wrote a book about Twisted.

That first contribution left an indelible mark on me. You only get one first impression, and I try to be acutely aware of how I and the open source communities in which I invest welcome new contributors.

And Glyph is still welcoming new contributors to Twisted today. Glyph has worked on sustaining and growing diverse open source communities for over a decade, and I have learned so much from him since that first patch.

You’ve led some incredible diversity and outreach initiatives as the Director of the Python Software Foundation. Do you have any suggestions for other organizers looking to make their communities more welcoming and inclusive?

I could write a small novel on this topic, but two concise recommendations would be:

  1. Set explicit goals, and then measure your progress.
  2. Focus on building pipelines rather than running one-off events.

Asheesh Laroia and I gave a talk atPyCon 2012 about setting diversity goals with Boston Python and building a pipeline of introductory workshops and project nights to reach those goals.

Don’t miss Jessica’s free FutureTalk presentation in San Francisco on Wednesday, August 20th. RSVP now!


Noelle Daley is a software engineer at New Relic. View posts by .

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