Thursday, April 27, 2017

Brian Costlow, “the quietly amazing rock” Python volunteer: Community Service Award Recipient

Brian began volunteering unofficially, when he threw out a pile of pizza boxes. He was at PyOhio in 2009 when, as Brian recalls, “Lunch was delivered pizza and the organizers had to clean up after the conference. I felt bad that I had attended a great event, entirely free, so I started to help them sweep the floors and throw away the pizza boxes." The next two years Brian worked the conference as a volunteer. In 2012 he joined the organizing committee and he went on to chair the conference in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

The Python Software Foundation is pleased to present Brian Costlow with the 2017 Quarter 1 Community Service Award for:

RESOLVED, that the Python Software Foundation award the 2017 Q1 Community Service Award to Brian Costlow for his work organizing PyOhio, chairing PyOhio, and for being the head volunteer for PyCon US captioning.

A Jack-Of-All-Trades PyOhio Organizer

“I was working in IT for a large printing and media company when I started to use Python for a number of projects. I joined the Ohio Python Mailing List and when the planning for the first PyOhio began, I made plans to attend,” Brian recalls. Regrettably Brian was unable to attend the inaugural PyOhio conference. He did, however, attend the second PyOhio, where his volunteerism began with a simple act of cleaning empty pizza boxes. Since 2010 Brian has worked alongside PyOhio organizers like Catherine Devlin and Eric Floehr, the founder of the Central Ohio Python User Group, chairing the conference, recruiting workshops, seeking new speakers.

Katie Cunningham, one of the leaders of the Young Coders project, first met Brian when he invited Young Coders to join PyOhio. During their first year Young Coders encountered a few technical hiccups. Cunningham recalls, “Brian wasn’t fazed. He helped keep the room together." She adds that “he is one of those quietly amazing people who quickly goes from someone you know to someone you couldn't do without. In an industry rife with people who tend to be a bit flighty, he's a rock”.

On a personal note, I first attended PyOhio in 2015 as both an inaugural speaker and attendee. I was terrified. Following my talk I had the pleasure to meet Brian. He was excited to hear about my experience as a novice speaker and we continued our discussion after the conference. Brian has been continuously interested in learning how to recruit more women and underrepresented individuals to both attend and speak at PyOhio. What makes PyOhio unique as a place to begin one’s speaking or Python career is the simple fact that PyOhio is free to attend. According to Brian, PyOhio never deliberately set out to be accessible, “it just happened organically because the Python community really is a community, and we all wanted to give back to the community that gave so much to us”.

Continuing to Give Back at PyCon through Captioning

Brandon Rhodes, PyCon 2016 and 2017 chair, reached out to Brian a year early in 2015 seeking assistance with captioning. Brian, mindful of Rhodes's support for PyOhio, says, “Brandon has always been a great friend to PyOhio. So when he was selected as chair for PyCon 2016 and 2017, I reached out and said if there was anything I could help him with, I would gladly do it."

Captioning was a remote volunteer position in 2015. “Brian first helped out in Montreal and then took the lead in 2016 at Portland. Every year Brian takes part in the process, takes careful observations, and notes what works and what doesn’t,” Ewa Jodlowska explains. Given some of Brian’s feedback and other lessons learned at 2015 the PyCon organizing team opened to turn the captioning position into a staff position. “We learn lots year after year and make several improvements thanks to Brian's involvement,” Jodlowska adds.

Brian continues to work with the captioning staff team. He says, “If someone wants to get involved, just reach out to Ewa or me, we're always open to suggestions for improvement!"

Brian Costlow, by his willingness to work behind the scenes on jobs big and small, demonstrates the spirit of Python's community. It’s about supporting one another and always looking forward to doing things better and bigger that makes the community so vibrant.


Look for Brian at PyCon 2017! He may just want to share with you some exciting ways you can help with PyCon captioning in the future.