PyDev of the Week: Neil Muller

This week we welcome Neil Muller as our PyDev of the Week! Neil is an organizer for Cape Town Python User Group and PyCon ZA. He also speaks at conferences! You can learn more about his open source projects over on Github. Let’s take a few moments to get to know Neil better!

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

I’m an Applied Mathematician with interests in image processing and numerical computation, currently living and working in the Cape Town area, South Africa. I followed an interest in facial recognition into a PhD from the University of Stellenbosch, and that led to working on a variety of image processing and numerical modelling problems at iThemba LABS.

These days I split my working time between iThemba LABS and Praelexis, a machine learning company (mainly using Python) in Stellenbosch.

In my spare time, I am obsessed with board and card games, especially Vampire: The Eternal Struggle.

Why did you start using Python?

I first used Python in 1997 to solve a simple text processing problem while working on my Masters thesis. I liked the language, but I was still mainly a Matlab user at the time and so I didn’t really touch Python again until around 2004, when several of my friends and colleagues started getting really interested in the language and encouraged me to revisit it. I rapidly fell in love with the large standard library and the developing scientific computing stack. By 2005, it had replaced Matlab as my go-to tool for experimenting with problems.

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

Other than Python, I do a fair amount of work with C and C++, and also do a bit of JavaScript and shell scripting. In the past, I’ve worked extensively with Matlab, done some PHP and a bit of Fortran.

Python is my favourite language. The saying “Python Fits Your Brain” is true for me – I like the syntax and expressiveness of the language, and find it a very powerful tool for modelling and understanding whatever problem I’m trying to solve. While it’s not always part of the final solution to a given problem, it’s almost always part of getting there.

What projects are you working on now?

Currently, OSS projects I’m working on:

  • wafer, a Django web app for managing conferences, used by PyCon ZA and Debconf.
  • Sutekh, a card inventory management program for Vampire: the Eternal Struggle based on Python and PyGtk.

I’m also one of the main organisers of the Cape Town Python User Group, am involved with organising PyCon ZA and help maintain a few python packages in Debian.

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

NumPy has been tremendously useful to me.

I have a considerable fondness for SQLObject.

I’m also a huge fan of Sphinx and the readthedocs infrastructure that grown up around that.

How did you get into giving talks at Python conferences?

I started speaking about Python as part of helping the Cape Town Python User Group develop. One of the great things about Python, because to the wide variety of projects people are doing in Python, there’s always something new to talk about. As PyCon ZA got going, it was a natural transition to start offering talks there.

Do you have any advice for prospective speakers?

Mostly my advice is don’t be afraid to submit that talk idea. Almost everyone I speak to undervalues how interesting the stuff they know well is. You’ll be amazed at how many people haven’t heard of the thing you think everyone already knows. Even if you don’t feel up to speaking at a conference, give talks to your local user group or other relevant meetups. Speaking about stuff is cool, and more people should do it.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

I encourage everyone working with Python to take part in PyWeek at least once. I’ve learnt a great deal about Python from the entries I’ve participated in, it’s a great community and it’s incredible to see what talented and determined people can produce in a week.

Thanks for doing the interview, Neil!