Since 2019, I have been working on trying to get our Python community in East/South/South East Asia (collectively called APAC) to move towards a more coherent direction together.
There were also plans for a poster session to introduce us to the wider North American and international community during the annual PyCon 2020 in Pittsburgh, but due to COVID-19, that unfortunately didn't happen.
PyCon US1 is an annual Python programming language conference, which is organized by the Python Software Foundation (PSF) and at the same time is also its single biggest fundraising event.
The Python Software Foundation (PSF)
First, I have to admit: When I started using Python in 2002, I didn't know about the existence of the PSF. I only begin to understand that there is such a thing as the PSF in 2010 when I attended my first PyCon.
The PSF has a very important but very much obscure role to maintain and safeguard the Python language, its ecosystems and the community that use and depends on it. Read more about what the PSF does here.
Running for a seat on the PSF board
In June 2020, the Python Software Foundation (PSF) had four seats going vacant with directors fulfilling their term. After many years working with and building the community on this side of the planet I had a feeling that there is a gap between what the PSF, as a US-centric organization thinks it's doing, with what the rest of the growing community on our part of the world think that they are doing, so I decided to run for a seat, to at least represent a voice from E/S/SE Asia.
I have to admit that at that time, my motivations to run were still not very clear.
I do know that efforts to raise money will be important and I wanted to help: I have been advocating for us to spread financial love to open source (here, my lightning talk in PyCon TH and my lightning talk in PyCon JP) for the past few years and is something which I would like to continue doing.
But I guess my feelings were much stronger to share values and give a greater voice to the communities which I am involved in with the greater Python community through the PSF.
If you're reading this because you're interested to know what are the responsibilities of a director of the PSF and what that person does on a day-to-day basis, these resources might be helpful:
When the election results was announced, I was in 11th place out of 26 nominees for the four board seats. 1,151 people were eligible to vote, while those that actually voted were 462 persons. The elected top four nominees was:
- Nina Zakharenko with 263 votes
- Dustin Ingram with 249 votes
- Jeff Triplett with 240 votes
- Thomas Wouters with 237 votes
After analyzing the results and reflecting on my own "campaign", it started to dawn on me the real issue which I wanted to address which I also strongly believe is the future for Python and its community.
I had the opportunity to participate in a Q&A session question on Slack, which was to allow nominees or anyone else interested in the elections to ask questions to the current board members. One of the questions I asked was about "active concerns for the PSF or something that the PSF had wanted to achieve in the past two years or so".
Katie McLaughlin responded that in the short term a lot of work is happening around diversifying the fundraising efforts especially given PyCon 2020 the biggest PSF fundraising event, didn't happen. In the longer term, a lot of the efforts should be around focusing on goals, and ensuring that these multi-year efforts have the momentum to continue and get completed.
Another insightful view was from Jacqueline Kazil, an outgoing PSF director. She believes that the board needs more international representation and also people from finance backgrounds to help with the financial issues and risks the PSF will face when a PyCon is cancelled.
The points that they made really rang bells in my head. What we need is diversification.
The overarching theme of what I perceive as an issue for the PSF right now is diversification, both in the context of representation of who we are, and also in the context of financial support. In my view, these are inter-connected.
It was unfortunate this time that Valeria Calderon, a PyLadies organizer based in Mexico City missed a board seat by a few votes. Other non-US based nominees such as Manuel Kaufmann who is Latin America Python Ambassador and Ngazetungue Muheue founder of Python Namibia also didn't make the cut. All of them had the potential of bringing fresh voices and views about the needs of communities that we have in different parts of the world.
Unlike the Python Steering Council elections which has a technical and trust hurdle that is required for it to maintain its core technical competency, the PSF board is open for anyone to run when there are vacant seats. The PSF board has a wider responsibility to use its resources for the betterment of the future of the language and the people that rely on it, and technical core competencies are just one part of what you might need.
This sends out a very important message: We welcome you to help shape the future and aspirations of us, whoever and wherever you are.
All of the people elected this year are active in communities and speakers at conferences, are authors of PEPs or writers of technical projects. Some are also Working Group (WG) members in the PSF and one person is a current Python Steering Council member. Half of the elected directors have directorship experience, one is a returning board member and all are US based persons.
The question is not that the directors which was elected in this and past elections shouldn't be there: If they run and received the required votes, they of course should be there. I am sure anyone elected to the board will have the best interests of all of us at heart and will do their best.
The question is: Does the 462 voters fairly reflect the current state and future aspirations of our worldwide Python community?
The PSF is in danger of being looked upon as being elitist, and is only open to a selected group of people who already have access to a particular network.
Increasing voter base
As of now, there are 8.2 million Python developers in the world. In terms of developer population growth, the Asia Pacific region is showing the highest growth, with India taking over the US within the next five years. The Latin America region is showing the second largest growth for the developer population. 2
To achieve the target of increasing diversity in representation, we need to increase the overall voter base. This is a tangible and trackable goal, which we can bring back to the table every year and report on its progress back to the community.
I know many people in JP, TW, KR, MY, ID, TH and ID who contribute their time and energy to actively participate and manage meetups and conferences that support the ecosystem and would qualify as contributing members but they are not reflected on our voter base.
Why is that?
Reflecting on my own experience, perhaps one of the biggest hurdle is indifference to the PSF within the Python community itself.
Another admission from myself: Even after knowing about the PSF in 2010, I didn't seriously understand the relationship that the PSF could have with myself and my community. From my point of view, it was an organization in faraway USA, comprising mostly of white people who are mostly friends of each other and they attend PyCon in the US.
That point of view evolved when we started to apply for grants from the PSF for our own PyCons. At that point the PSF is now an organization in faraway USA, comprising mostly of white people who mostly friends of each other and they attend PyCon in the US that also gives out grants.
I was still not aware of the important work that the PSF was doing, like supporting our infrastructure through projects that it funds, or what initiatives it has to increase inclusivity within our community.
Increasing the voter base will directly result in community members which are invested in knowing about all of the good and important work done by the PSF.
The PSF has done a great job at opening up memberships. Other than the most obvious way of being a paying member to be a voting member, the revamped membership structure also allows members who are active in other ways such as writing code or managing meetups and conferences to also become a voting member.
The door has been set in place, so we next need to get people through that door.
The PSF should approach advocating about what it does like what tech companies do now days when they are hiring: By stressing the impact of and influence its work on how their customers live their lives.
Advocating about these should not only be left to the project maintainer, but everyone involved in the process from planning to approving the projects. In this regard, the board of the PSF plays an important role to advocate and market its role.
For example, we need to explain better how does
- Funding community initiatives to increase inclusivity like PyLadies and PyCon Charlas
- Protecting the intellectual property of the PSF and it's communities worldwide, such as the name Python
- The technical initiatives funded by the PSF like the Beeware project or PyPI
affect our community, and most importantly how it will affect us in the future?
Having someone come over from the US to talk about this and getting to know communities in different parts of the world are great and shows that the PSF at least acknowledges the existence of them.
Out of USD4.5MM of revenue for the PSF in 2019, around 63% of it came from PyCon. USD1.9MM was the costs of having PyCon, which means that for every dollar spent on PyCon, the PSF gets back 1.50 dollars. 3 5
Compare that to the 32% of revenue from sponsorship fees, contributions, membership dues, and grants. What costs were involved to generate these revenue? 4
If these are recurring revenue through already established processes, costs per dollar only diminishes for every dollar we get. I believe the return per dollar invested into them are higher than what PyCon brings in.
Perhaps a target of increasing the portion from the non-PyCon revenue even if the total amount of revenue are the same will make the PSF more resilient in the future against shocks like what COVID-19 brought to us.
Increasing the portion of non-PyCon revenue will require more understanding and empathy from the wider base of our community. Who better can we tap other than those who have already shown their commitment, either by the money they have paid or the time and effort they have put in. This means building a stronger relationship to the people that matter to us.
As written when PyCon 2020 cancellation was announced, some of the ways the community can help are getting employers involved in sponsorships. Having invested members will help us advocate our mission to the their immediate communities.
Bigger investments in terms of bigger portion of grants given and time taken to reach out to non-US communities, especially to the growing communities in Asia and Latin America signals that the PSF is now shifting to investing for the future instead of the present. Bigger investment shows commitment, which breeds goodwill, trust and paves the way for a stronger relationship.
With better relationship, we should next try to expand the supporting members group, who directly contribute money to the PSF. I believe this is the one group which we should really focus more on, as the returns from investing time and effort to increase this base come at multiple levels: Not only on the financial support that they give, but from the advocacy help that they will also bring.
In the context of commercial support and donations, we can try to diversify income to non-US based companies. Perhaps we can use the percentage of grants given to a certain region as a target for the amount of matching corporate sponsorships and individual membership fees that we can expect to get from that region. Again, in order for us to do that, we need a wider base of supporters on the ground from that region to make it work.
There are many successful local companies in each region and country that directly or indirectly use Python in their businesses. Only our community members in those countries can tell us who they are and connect us to them.
It all comes down to diversifying: To gain acceptance, understanding and finally support from a much wider base of people, fitting the PSF as a worldwide organization supporting its community.
Now at the end of writing this post, I believe that it is the only future for the PSF.
Going forward the PSF is rebranding PyCon to PyCon US since they happen everywhere according to Ewa ↩
Total revenue in 2019 was $4,481,192 and $2,852,109 was from PyCon according to Ewa ↩
Contributions and Grants were $1,165,278. We can also factor in PSF sponsorship fees, which are another $248,343. If we factor that in, that is ~32% according to Ewa ↩