Discovering the Beauty of Python with Patrick Arminio, Chair of Python Italia

I belong to the generation, who learnt coding using Fortran and C. I was not that bad as a developer, but, I cannot forget the headaches! Today, there are a number of tools for learning coding and a number of very versatile and easy-to-learn programming languages. Currently, Python is one of the most popular programming languages becoming extremely relevant among developers involved in IoT solution projects. We are going to explore the “beauty” and the benefits of Python with Patrick Arminio, Chair of Python Italia.

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Saverio: Why is Python so relevant for the current software development scene?

Patrick: I think Python has become a popular language over the last few years especially thanking to web programming and more recently data science and machine learning. It also seems to be one of the most friendly languages for beginners. In fact, it is a lot in educational contexts, from university to coder dojos. I started using Python from a friend’s recommendation a bit more than 10 years ago, I then started using it for almost all my side projects and finally integrated it in my daily job. Something that struck me of Python is definitely the community, and I’m sure I’m not the only one that has the same feelings. The community is super supportive and open. I think I really owe a lot to this community.

Here are some references:

https://stackoverflow.blog/2017/09/14/python-growing-quickly/
https://wiki.python.org/moin/SchoolsUsingPython
Saverio: Which are the most important application areas for Python?
Patrick: Well, right now AI is huge, thanks to frameworks like Keras and Tensorflow. Same thing for data science, with libraries like Pandas, Scipy and others.
I come from a web background and frameworks like Django and Flask, very user friendly and useful when creating back[end applications. Also having python supported on AWS Lambda is really good since it allows us to play with this new paradigma that is taking over the backend world.
Saverio: The market needs more software developers and more Python developers. How do we create them?
Patrick: We, with Python Italia and other organisation (like Fuzzy Brains) are trying to bring more people into programming organising Python Meetups all over Italy (we started this year) and also organising DjangoGirls events (thanks to Fuzzy Brains) in many Italian cities as well. We are also translating the official python docs in Italian eliminating a barrier for Italians trying to learn to program in Python.
Patrick Arminio was born in Switzerland, but grew up in Southern Italy. Patrick started his journey with Python during high school when a friend convinced
him to try it after chatting for a while on IRC. I then started going to all the 
Italian PyCons, starting from PyCon due back in 2008. From that moment I never
stopped going to any edition of PyCon Italy, including all the EuroPythons that
have been organised in Italy (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2017). In 2017 I’ve become
the Chair of Python Italia, the association that organises PyCon Italy.
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My Journey in the Blockchain – Understanding It, Explaining It, Stretching It

Two years ago, I was a frequent participant of London-based evening meet-ups: bringing people together on a specific topic, some beers, presentations, and networking. The evening meet-ups are still going in London animating various communities. But, I am not a frequent participant anymore. The most important reason for that is that preparing for meet-ups and events takes time. You do not have then a lot of time for researching and understanding new trends and new ideas. But, meet-ups are the perfect places for discovering new ideas. And, in fact, during one of those meet-ups in which I presented, a young woman approached me. My presentation was about securing the IoT. She told me that my presentation was good, but, it had a strong weak point. I did not talk about blockchain. At the time, blockchain for me was a sort of legend said somewhere, in places that I did not know and in which I was not allowed to. She lectured me about blockchain for 5 minutes. I listened to her with attention, but, I did not understand what blockchain was about. But, her enthusiasm was contagious. She continued to say that “blockchain is a revolution”. She claimed that it will be inevitable the encounter between blockchain and the IoT. Other people joined the conversation. We all had a beer together. They all appeared to know what blockchain was about. They conversed on the topic confidently. I looked at them with curiosity without saying much. I did not know what to say! I went back home thinking about it. It was not much the promise for a better world that surprised me, but that enthusiastic relationship between those people and blockchain. Those people were all 10-15 years younger than me. I believe youth is irresponsible and with that irresponsibility comes great ideas. And that irresponsible youth made me curious about blockchain.

From the day after, I started to read about blockchain. I chose a systematic way of learning about blockchain. I run a systematic literature review on the topic starting from academic papers. It was a slow process for two reasons. The first one is that was a parallel exercise to many other activities. The second one is that the topic is not that easy to grasp. My background allowed me to read those papers, but, my knowledge of certain concepts was, perhaps, a bit rusty. The first question I wanted to answer was: what is blockchain? How does it work? And why are we doing it? The systematic literature review gave me some good ideas. I can say that my understanding of blockchain is better than it was during that night at the meet-up. The next step was to come out with an easy narrative to explain what blockchain is. Because, if blockchain is a revolution that will affect all of us, then, we need to explain that revolution to people. I should say that I still struggle to come out with something simple. I have asked for help and I have asked members of the blockchain community that I know. They argued that my explanations were too simplistic. But, they also did not have better ones too. Clearly, there is a communication issue in the blockchain community. But, put aside that, I am now exploring the connection blockchain-IoT. I am running another systematic literature review on the topic. It is not over yet, but, other questions are coming to my mind such as: which is the interaction between blockchain and edge computing, important issue in the IoT? And, then reading on artificial intelligence and IoT, is there a magic triangle between blockchain-edge computing-artificial intelligence?

After almost two years of reading on blockchain, my sentiment waves between moments of joy in which everything seems clear and moments in which I am back to that evening meet-up. Certainly, I understand the theory. I start to understand the applications. I have clues on the IoT and blockchain. But, then, this knowledge brings up new unanswered questions. I wonder when this journey will end, if it will never end! I will share my findings soon. For the moment, I invite you to undertake the same journey. It is not a revolution, but, there is so much for shaping markets and society in the future in a certain way.

Universities and innovation agencies at the core of local innovation systems via LPWAN

I have been visiting some universities around Europe that have launched LPWAN-centric initiatives. The common objective is to use LPWAN as an enabler of ideas for local SMEs and local governments. The results are really promising. The enthusiasm is contagious. Basically, LPWAN revamps the mission of universities to be an enabler for social and economic development for the areas in which they are located.

The Triple Helix Model (https://triplehelix.stanford.edu/3helix_concept) for innovation has highlighted the driving role of universities for promoting innovation, and therefore from a Schumpeterian point of view, for promoting economic growth. The Entrepreneurial University is a key concept in the Triple Helix Model conceptualising the university as a producer of knowledge, but also a user of knowledge for innovation purposes. That model is then linked to geographic-centric view of innovation such as regional innovation systems or local innovation system. LPWAN enables universities to be the Entrepreneurial Universities of local innovation systems, and, even further to social innovation systems when LPWAN is used to respond to citizens’ needs. LPWAN seen as enabler of social innovation is also highlighted in the recent call from Digital Catapult on social housing and independent living (https://www.digitalcatapultcentre.org.uk/open-calls/lpwan-solutionsphase2/). Digital Catapult is not an university, but an innovation agency, which could have the same strong role in local innovation systems empowering innovation at SME and local government levels. LPWAN is an ideal technology for that. But, policy makers should support more this view of technology, a view coming from the needs of citizens and SMEs rather than from the top of the business system. The two directions are equally important, but, historically, SME technology policy has chased technological trends rather than being part of it. Instead, LPWAN could take SMEs, citizens, and local authorities to the core of the current developments of the Internet of Things. Universities and innovation agencies can drive that.