PyCon 2023 keynote

Thursday 4 May 2023

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of delivering the opening keynote at PyCon 2023. I’ve put up a text-and-slides version of the presentation, complete with a link to the video: People: The API User’s Guide.

When Mariatta invited me to do the keynote in January, I accepted, then knew that I would have a hard time thinking about anything else for the three months until the conference. My talk prep is always like this: I worry endlessly over tiny details. The sentences I’m planning to say become earworms in my head. I fiddle with the CSS of my HTML-based slides.

This period of preparation is stressful: I alternate between excitement at how great it’s going to be, and anxiety because I have nothing useful to say, or the flow is terrible and disjoint. When I express my worries, my wife says, “your talks always go great,” and I respond, “but only because I worry about them!”

In truth, I had started thinking about the ideas in this keynote about five years ago. Literally some of the bubble chats on the slides existed in that form in 2018. Over the years, I considered different ways of presenting them. When the keynote invitation came, I knew I’d be talking about the People API User’s Guide.

One of the most fun parts of preparing was working on the cartoons with my son Ben. I’m constantly amazed at his ability to craft a line that looks simple but expresses complex subtleties of emotion. He’s a freelance illustrator, you should hire him!

Frantic dude trying to keep up with Slack and email notifications

Giving the talk was exhilarating, and I talked to so many people afterward who liked it. PyCon is the kind of technical conference that welcomes non-technical talks like this.

Afterward, it’s hard not to go over what I did on stage that was different than planned. I ad-libbed a lot, some of it good, some of it meh. There were things I intended to say that I forgot. But that is all in the past now. Other types of performers have chances to do the same show multiple times, and so can hone their performance. But I don’t know how they survive it: do they have lines running through their head all the time? How do they ever set it aside?

Once something like this is done, it’s difficult to predict where it will go. In my experience, some talks reverberate and get recommended to others long after they are done. Others seem good in the moment, but don’t echo much. Only time will tell. Whatever happens, it was definitely a high-point for me.



What a fascinating backstory to a really important keynote topic. I love the digression into typesetting. Knowing a little of your backstory at DEC, I was guessing there was going to be a mention of PostScript. But instead I learned something interesting and a perfect analogy. Thank you for sharing all of this. –erik

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