The 15th annual RubyConf wrapped up last week in San Antonio. Now that I’ve settled back into my routine, I’ve had some time to reflect on the conference and write down my thoughts.
I’m incredibly proud of what we put together and comfortable saying this conference was one of the best RubyConfs I’ve organized or attended. Compared to the previous years, 2015’s conference stood out in many ways.
San Antonio was a fantastic host city and lived up to our expectations as a great location for RubyConf. The hotel was an excellent venue both in terms of session space and food. The vibe around the conference was enthusiastic and our program was well received.
As the program chair for RubyConf, I had a significant hand in shaping the content of the conference. I am very proud of what we put on stage and how it all came together. As with previous conferences we had Confreaks record all the sessions, they are all online here. Hats off to Confreaks for getting all our sessions online within a week of the conference being over! There is one exception, Gary Bernhardt’s Ideology, which he’ll release separately. Though there are too many excellent talks to highlight, I would suggest you catch our keynote sessions. Another thing to note, we’re having closed captioning added to our videos for the hearing impaired. This will take another week or two to complete.
Our program was a team effort and I’m very pleased with our improved process. For the past two years we’ve had a formal program committee. Each committee member has at least one themed track that they control. It is theirs to shape as they see fit. An important piece of forming the program committee is to pick members that know the community and will bring a positive voice to the conference. We’re not interested in maintaining group think. Our community is diverse with many different view points. I see value in having these view points expressed. What better way than to have a rotating program committee that can see things beyond the immediate vantage of Ruby Central’s directors.
This year’s committee had a lot of freedom and really pulled their weight more so than in the past. Avdi Grimm, Ernie Miller, James Edward Gray and Nadia Odunayo did a stellar job of forming interesting and diverse tracks that augmented the general program of the conference. Again don’t take my word for it, go watch the videos.
Changing it up
I also love the whimsy in our community. We added some new elements to the conference along these lines. It’s not uncommon for a few sessions to look at fun ways to use Ruby. We had a Play track that highlighted this aspect as well as a keynote session on stupid ideas for many computers. More visibly, we had a session based on the British game show Just a Minute. The final day of the conference opened with a play by play session called Bikeshed! Live! that included sports style commentary of live pair programming of a coding exercise.
We shifted our Birds of a Feather sessions from the evening after dinner to the afternoons. Having the BoFs during normal session time did allow more to drop in. Traditionally Birds of a Feather sessions are more discussion focused but this year we put the BoFs in our lunch room so there were plenty of tables with chairs for hacking. The response to this shift was overwhelmingly positive and I love that we’re encouraging more interaction this way.
A new Ruby community tradition has been established at RubyConf where we have at least one karaoke night. It was my second time attending a Ruby karaoke night and I joined many folks from the conference there. This night was quite memorable with great merriment being had by all. I didn’t stay out all that late as we had our RubyConf 5k run the next morning at 7am, which had over 70 runners participating!
Well Oiled Machine
The organizing team continues to fine tune running both RubyConf and RailsConf. Even when circumstances throw curve balls at us, the team was able to minimize the impact to the attendees. Kudos to Abby Phoenix, Heather Johnson, Shirley Bailes and the volunteers at keeping things going smoothly. It’s so invaluable to Evan, Sarah and myself that we can focus on program and our community and not stress about all the logistics! It’s no small feat when you’re dealing with a conference of nearly 800 attendees.
We offered child care and a lactation room for the first time at RubyConf. We had 6 children from ages infant up to 10 years take part. Two licensed child care providers were present the entire conference giving a safe and fun place for the children to be. By all accounts, this first run was successful and we’re planning to do this for future conferences. We did a follow-up survey on the conference experience and it was notable that many mentioned how much they appreciated that we provided childcare even if they didn’t use it. I hope this inspires other conferences to make it easier for attendees with children to attend.
Back in 2012, I started a program called the Opportunity Scholarship at Rocky Mountain Ruby. I brought it to RailsConf in 2013 and since then RubyConf and RailsConf have refined the program to where it is today. For this conference Kinsey Ann Durham and Saron Yitbarek did a fantastic job of running the program with Abby providing the logistical support from the organizing team.
The purpose of the program is to provide an opportunity to attend RubyConf to someone that otherwise wouldn’t have come, along the way improving diversity. Furthermore the program provides them a friendly and welcoming guide during the conference to make the experience as positive as possible. The real hope is that they’ll become engaged members of the community and pay it forward.
By all accounts, this year’s edition was the best yet. We had 25 scholars, each with their own guide. Additionally, we were able to provide travel assistance on top of the free admission to the scholars. Interaction at the conference also seemed more engaged and active. What’s likely more telling are two posts from a scholar and a guide. Both are worth reading as they offer excellent, detailed views of the program from either side.
Decline of Ruby?
The question comes up, do we see this at RubyConf? Definitely many of those that attended RubyConf during its height of popularity (2007-2010) no longer attend. At the beginning of each conference we ask for a show of hands of who’s new to the conference. Since 2013 I’ve seen at least half the audience raise their hands. That’s amazing. We still have plenty of old-timers that attend too. With a show of hands I counted around 50 that were present at RubyConf 2006. It’s also important to note that conference attendance has not dropped off. RubyConf sold out just before the conference so we still hosted nearly 800 attendees.
Now you might wonder if this exodus is a bad thing and if it’s dooming our conferences. I do dearly miss seeing friends from the old days at least once a year at RubyConf. But beyond that, this change is healthy and good. For in the original conference crowd’s absence, new people have taken their place. This is the next generation and our future. RubyConf is an amazing way to start your programming journey and become infused with the kindness and inclusion of the Ruby Community. There’s also a sense of enthusiasm and a general trend to improve yourself not only as a programmer but as a person.
Love and Encouragement
One of the amazing things that surprises me to this day is the “real-ness” of the Ruby community. It is genuine and loving. Sure, we’re all still individual humans but when you look at how the community behaves as a whole it’s quite inspiring. I have felt it for years but as a member of the Ruby community since 2006 I likely have a different perspective. The truth is newcomers feel it immediately. Our community is friendly and encouraging. We’re willing to change and embrace a new way of being. I’ve never seen this much interest in personal growth in a community. Welcoming new members to experience this makes it all worthwhile. Whether I program in Ruby or not, having this experience is worth the cost of admission.