PyDev of the Week: Meredydd Luff

This week we welcome Meredydd Luff (@meredydd) as our PyDev of the Week! Meredydd is the co-founder of Anvil and a core developer for the Skulpt package. You can learn more about Meredydd on his website. Let’s take a few moments to get to know him better!

Can you tell us a little about yourself (hobbies, education, etc):

I’ve loved programming since I was first introduced to BASIC at the age of 7. I come from Cambridge (the old one in the UK, not the relatively-new one near Boston), and I studied here too. I actually started out as a biologist, but then switched to computer science for my PhD.

I think programming is the closest thing to magic we have, and I love watching and helping people get their hands on this power. My PhD research was about building usable parallel programming systems, and now I work on Anvil, a tool to make web programming faster and easier for everyone (with Python!).

When I’m not programming, I fly light aeroplanes, which I guess is what happens when your inner six-year-old makes your life decisions. I used to dance competitively (including a few years on England’s top Latin formation team), but it turns out international competitions and startups don’t play well together, so the startup won.

Why did you start using Python?

I’d dabbled in Python a bit, but I only really started using it in earnest when we started creating Anvil. We wanted to make web development easier, by replacing the mess of five(!) different programming languages with one language and a sensible visual designer. Python was the obvious choice – it’s accessible, it’s predictable, and it has a huge and powerful ecosystem.

What other programming languages do you know and which is your favorite?

I’m a big fan of Clojure. It’s sort of the diametrical opposite of Python. Python is simple, concrete and predictable – it’s really a programming language designed for people. By contrast, Lisps like Clojure turn the abstraction up to 11, and make the person program like the compiler thinks.

I also have to tip my hat to C – if I’m using C, I must be having an adventure close to the hardware 🙂

What projects are you working on now?

These days I spend all my time on Anvil, a platform for building full-stack web apps with nothing but Python. There’s a drag-and-drop designer for your UIs, we run your client-side Python in the browser, and your server-side Python runs in our own serverless environment. We even have a Python-native database you can use.

So, whereas previously you’d need to learn HTML+CSS+JS+Python+SQL (plus all the frameworks, AWS, etc), now anyone who can write Python can build and deploy a web application with Anvil.

Which Python libraries are your favorite (core or 3rd party)?

It’s tough, but I’d have to choose Skulpt, the Python-to-Javascript compiler. We’d used before in an educational context, but we use it really heavily in Anvil. Obviously Skulpt is how we run client-side Python in the browser, but we use it in other ways too – for example, we use Skulpt’s parser to drive our Python code completion! (I talked briefly about how our Python autocompleter works at PyCon UK.)

I’m one of the core maintainers these days – I’m currently working on a tear-down-and-rebuild of the front end, which is great fun for compiler nerds. If you want to join in, please drop us a line on GitHub!

Where did the idea behind Skulpt come from?

I can’t claim credit for Skulpt’s existence – the project was started by Scott Graham, and these days there’s a whole team of us. The original impetus was around education: When you’re first learning to code, setting up a Python environment is a big hassle, and so having a playground “just there” in the browser is a massive win. I suppose Anvil is one step further – we put a full-strength application development and deployment platform “just there” in your browser.

Can you tell us the story behind Anvil?

My cofounder Ian and I both learned to program using Visual Basic and similar tools. The 90s were a sort of golden age for that: Anyone who could use one (fairly simple) programming language could build apps that looked and worked like everything else on their desktop.

These days, everything is on the web, but the barrier to entry is huge: you need to learn all these languages and frameworks, plus Linux system administration, just to build your first app. It’s exhausting – and it cuts off so much opportunity for people like data scientists or electronic engineers, who have a job to do and don’t have time to learn all that stuff. Eventually, Ian and I got fed up of moaning about the situation, and decided to build something to fix it!

Anvil’s goal is to make web programming usable by everyone, but still powerful enough for seasoned professionals. We cut out the incidental complexity, but we keep the powerful programming language and the huge ecosystem.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Oh, yes – Use autocomplete!

Thanks for doing the interview, Meredydd!

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