PyDev of the Week: Lilly Ryan

This week we welcome Lilly Ryan (@attacus_au) as our PyDev of the Week! Lilly is a pen-tester. She is an organizer of PyCon AU 2018 and 2019 and an experienced speaker. In fact, Lilly will be giving a keynote at DjangoCon Europe later this year. You can learn more about Lilly by visiting her website. Let’s take a few moments to get to know Lilly better!

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

I’m a pen tester from Australia. When I’m not hacking, I spend my time researching for talks, cooking, knitting a variety of strange things, and looking after two very cuddly greyhounds.

I was previously a software developer, a QA, an English tutor, and a medieval historian. My formal education has all been in medieval history, where I specialised in fourteenth century inquisitorial manuals. I started to pick up more detailed tech knowledge after learning that Linux existed, becoming super curious, and spending a lot of my free time diving into learning how to install it on a laptop and debugging desktop installation quirks.

Why did you start using Python?

When I started exploring a career in tech, I stumbled across a free introductory Python workshop being run by the OpenTechSchool in my home city, and went along. I figured that if I could learn Latin, I could learn Python, and it turned out to be true. Python was my first proper introduction to programming, and it stuck with me.

After joining the infosec field, finding excuses to work with Python has been very easy because it is a favoured language of hackers and other curious folk, so I run into it often.

Throughout my career Python has remained my absolute favourite language because of its readability, its amazing collection of useful libraries, and the lovely people in the Python and Django communities.

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

During my time as a consultant I have worked with JavaScript, Ruby, Java, and COBOL. Out of all of them, I’ve especially enjoyed using Ruby, and I still have cause to use it often because my personal website is built with Jekyll.

These days, however, as I’m not programming as much as I am scripting, my main tools are Python and bash.

What projects are you working on now?

For a while I’ve been interested in circumvention of facial recognition technologies, which led me to develop and evolve a conference talk on the topic. I’ve also been developing a practical workshop along the same lines which will provide the tools for people to conduct their own experiments. I was recently interviewed by Wired UK about this, too: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/avoid-facial-recognition-software

I’m also working on an as-yet-unnamed project (naming being the hardest part!) which aims to get software developers thinking about the fact that eventually all of their users will die: effectively, how to program for mortality. This includes collecting existing resources on compassionate, thanatosensitive application design, as well as ideas on how to begin conversations about the topic of death at work without being dismissed as melodramatic. My hope is that another arm of this project will act as a resource for people to begin thinking about their own digital legacies, how they can record their wishes, and how to have their say in the way that tech companies might do better in planning for their users’ final log out.

What non-Python open source projects do you enjoy using?

Off the top of my head:

  • Jekyll for static sites, as I mentioned above;
  • Atom for text editing;
  • KeePass and SyncThing for password management.

How did you end up becoming a speaker at tech conferences?

I have always liked the idea of writing as a form of expression, but it’s difficult for me to get the words down because self-imposed deadlines just don’t work for me. I found that conference speaking was a better outlet for organising and sharing my ideas and research with others because the deadlines for talks are very final – you either have to come up with a presentation, or stand in front of an audience with nothing to say!

I submitted my first proposal to a conference in 2014, and was stunned when it was accepted. After doing more research on conferences which I thought might be interested in the topics I wanted to speak about, I wrote more proposals, and ended up at many of those conferences, all over the world, sharing thoughts and getting other people just as interested in my topics as I was.

I continue to speak at conferences and meetups because I really enjoy the people I get to meet while doing so. There are some conferences that have grown excellent communities around them, and I have learned so much from other speakers and attendees who have offered up so many fresh opinions and ideas after every presentation I give.

Do you have any advice for other people who would like to speak?

If you have the passion to speak about a topic, then you are probably the right person to speak about that topic.

The first step towards speaking at a conference is to submit a propsal for a talk to that conference. Even if you aren’t accepted, you will learn more about the submissions process and what is expected of speakers. If a proposal of yours is being knocked back often, consider asking friends and colleagues for feedback on it to see how you might improve it. And don’t be afraid to submit to the same conference the next time it runs.

I have a lot of thoughts about the things that work for *me* when I give talks, but what works for me may not always work for you. I know many excellent speakers who prepare and deliver their talks in a variety of different ways. Experiment with your process until you find something that both makes you comfortable on-stage and gives the audience the information they need to know in a way they can all digest it.

The best repository of information about public speaking was started by VM Brasseur and you can find it here.

Thanks for doing the interview, Lilly

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