Interview with Nicholas Tollervey, Principal Engineer at PyScript

Nicholas Tollervey, a classically trained musician, philosophy graduate, teacher, author, and software engineer, founded the London Python Code Dojo, created the education track at PyCon UK, coordinated the Python aspects of the BBC micro:bit project, authored four technical books for O'Reilly, and has worked across many diverse sectors as a software engineer. He is currently cultivating a community based project called CodeGrades, and is employed by Anaconda as a principal engineer on the PyScript team. He regularly speaks about Python at technical events all over the world.

Nicholas will be joining us at GITEX on the 18th October in Hall 26, DevSlam Stage at 2pm covering the topic of Creating a Coding Culture.

In the build up to the event, we interviewed Nicholas on his education in the coding industry, influencing the new generation of coders, and AI's effect on coding best-practise.


Why should we care about coding education?

Because asking what sort of education we want is the same as asking what sort of society we want to become. Education is the process through which we interact with our future colleagues, collaborators and customers. It's easy to find online education courses.

If we don't cultivate effective, creative and innovative coding education we risk living in a technically illiterate society. If so much of our culture, commerce and collaborations are experienced through technology, then such a society will have a weak, disengaged and disempowered place in the world. Would you want to live in such a place?


What makes a thriving coding culture tick, and how do you sustain it?

I think the answer is in your question: the thing that makes a thriving coding culture tick is that it is self sustaining. What's the process by which a culture sustains itself? You'll be entirely unsurprised to hear that it's education!

Look at the amount of effort the open source Python programming community has put into learning, education and engaging with teachers. From the very beginning, Python has been designed to be easy to learn and teach (the language's creator, Guido van Rossum, evolved Python from his work on a teaching language called "ABC"). Unsurprisingly, the IEEE recently reported that Python is currently the world's most popular programming language and we all know that Python is powering most of the innovations in AI, data science and in many other fields.

Folks looking to get into coding will be drawn to those communities and technologies that make it easy for beginners to engage, are welcoming spaces, and empower you to build cool stuff. It sounds obvious when you write it down like this, but it takes a rare visionary (such as Guido) to embed these educational perspectives into a technology such as a programming language. But I'm glad Guido did manage to do this because we get Python and everything it enables.


In the new age of AI, how can technology and education be positively brought together?

This is a great question.

The obvious answer would be a vague assertion that AI provides lots of opportunities to revolutionize education.

But I'd like to focus on a more subtle way to answer this question.

Every few years something becomes the "hot" topic in computing. Currently it seems to be AI, and has been data science, the metaverse, blockchain, virtual reality, augmented reality, and so the list goes on of many other "world changing" technologies (so the hype tells us).

In each case, within the hype is a serious kernel that, if used innovatively, effectively and in the right context, is indeed powerful and of huge value. But our world is littered with failed "Uber for cats but on the blockchain" type startups who lacked the skill of spotting the opportunity while attempting to ride a bandwagon. Clearly it's important to learn how to discern the truly valuable inflection points and potential uses of a technology.

So how can technology and education be positively brought together? In such a way that folks learn a sophisticated discernment of the core value and uses of whatever the next technical innovation may be (as AI is now), along with the acquisition of both technical and commercial skills to bring the benefits of such opportunities to the wider world.

You can learn this stuff. If you can learn it, it's within the realm of education. Did I mention how important education is to our technical endeavors?


What would your suggestions be to someone looking to get into coding?

1. Manage your expectations: learning to code is not a quick process, so be prepared to put in the time and effort, pick yourself up from failures and cultivate the humbleness to be able to say, "I don't know" and thus find new learning opportunities.

2. Choose the right language: this is an easy one... choose Python. It's literally everywhere, used in everything, and is one of the easier languages for beginners to learn.

3. Step up: in the same way musicians eventually have to give a first performance, or martial artists eventually have to spar with others, coders have to contribute code to a project or product. Be brave, get stuck in, respect your peers, learn from them, contribute and grow.


In 20 years' time, we know we've succeeded as a technological culture because..?

Let's exercise our imaginations shall we..?

We know we've succeeded because GITEX 2043 will bring together folks from across the solar system in a crucible of creative coding that enlarges and improves our world[s] for all humanity. I know I'll try to attend as an old "grey beard" engineer who is proud of their small part in making such a thing possible.

Finally, I'll be delighted to see how Dubai is a center for creative, innovative and humane technical research and learning that reflects the precious "can do" culture of the UAE.


What are you most looking forward to at GITEX this year?

Apart from giving my talk, I'm looking forward to stimulating conversation, challenging debate and learning about interesting technology with the new friends I will have made while participating in GITEX.

And yes, all the things I mentioned in the bio above are going to be aspects of my talk - even the classical music bit... come along to the talk and see how!

Source: Interview