Programming languages: how Python builds a community of millions of developers
The Python Software Foundation (PSF) has been the driving force behind the Python project since 2001. In addition to licensing the open source programming language, the nonprofit organization is responsible for supporting the growth of the Python community – a vast global network comprising more than 10.1 million developers, many of whom contribute to the continued development of the language.
Still, things can take time when you rely heavily on part-time volunteers to get things done, especially when each contributor has their own interest in the language.
“I think it’s something we’ve learned to live with,” says Ewa Jodlowska, who resigned from his role to the general management of the PSF at the beginning of December.
“I don’t think that’s a problem, it just takes a lot longer to do anything because getting community consensus around any kind of direction or change takes a lot of time. In Python and in many open source communities, the decisions don’t come from the top down: they just make sure the community is involved in the discussion.”
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The community has always been at the heart of Python. Only a handful of developers work full-time on the core programming language, with most code contributions coming from an army of volunteers.
Rallying this army requires a significant amount of outreach and a strong, collaborative community dedicated to advancing Python. “Building the outreach structure and evolving it into a global community has been great and probably my favorite part of the work we’ve done,” Jodlowska said. ZDNet.
“If it hadn’t been for this awareness and taking the time to make sure that people around the world could have the funds to actually learn Python and all that good stuff, it wouldn’t be the number one language like this. that he is today.”
Jodlowska has spent more than a decade at PSF, having started as Events Coordinator in 2011 and taking on the role of Executive Director in 2019. Much of her leadership tenure has been spent navigating the uncertain waters of the pandemic.
Two years of global uncertainty have inevitably created setbacks for the PSF and put some of its wider ambitions on ice – particularly with the cancellation of PyCon in 2020, which prompted the PSF to look for new ways to fund Python who were less dependent on the conference.
“We probably lost about $600,000 in expected revenue that we didn’t get, which kind of delayed a lot of the goals that [the PSF] had set for the year,” says Jodlowska.
Yet the PSF fought back – with great success, adds Jodlowska, all things considered, with the organization still able to recruit full-time developers in 2021 – Director-in-Residence Łukasz Langa was hired in July 2021 , with Shamika Mohanan get on board as a packaging project manager the next month.
“When you’re looking at hiring a full-time lead developer, you know it’s a good investment to put into it. But we were still able to do it. A lot of sponsors kind of stepped up to provide grants for us to be able to fill these gaps while achieving these goals.”
Corporate sponsorship remains important to Python. Microsoft, for example, is propelling efforts to dramatically speed up the programming language, led by Guido van Rossum and Mark Shannon, while it was thanks to Google that the PSF was able to fund the Developer-in-Residence role now held by Łukasz Langa. .
But companies will always have commercial interests in mind. With Van Rossum no longer leading the Python project, it will be up to the Python Steering Council to maintain stewardship of the programming language and ensure that changes to the language serve the entire developer community.
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Jodlowska identifies this as a key challenge for Python project governance going forward: “There still needs to be some sort of collaboration and record, understanding transparency [and] ensuring that user use cases are taken into consideration when changes are made by these teams, which I think is something the Steering Council is going to have to agree to very soon.”
The PSF is currently studying how it can better understand the needs of its users and contribute to the development of the Python programming language accordingly. Core development and packaging – which Jodlowska says is a “hot topic these days” – is at the top of that list, and with Langa now tackling CPython’s massive maintenance backlogs, one hope more resources will be freed up for R&D, especially on things like Python for the web.
“There’s been work, but not much work has taken a lot of momentum. Part of it, again, I think comes from the script that a lot of this work is done by volunteers, and that’s is a substantial amount of work.”
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Jodlowska also hopes to see the PSF champion diversity and inclusion. “That’s one of the things that I hope core development will spend a lot more time on in the future – not just R&D stuff, but also making sure we can diversify maintainers and core developers.”
As for her next moves, Jodlowska is entering the cybersecurity space. While she describes her departure from the PSF as “bittersweet”, Jodlowska is convinced that Python’s future is bright.
“I would say that one of the things that Python is going to go down in history is not just a language that people use as a career path, but something that people use in other careers just to support the work they are doing already done,” she adds.
“I get goosebumps thinking about it. It’s kind of sad not to be part of it, but I’ll definitely be cheering on all their hard work from behind the scenes.”