RubyConf AU 2017

On 9-10 February, I had the good fortune of attending RubyConf AU 2017 in Melbourne. It was my first RubyConf, my second time in Melbourne, and my first time attending a tech conference outside of New Zealand. I had a fantastic time, met a heap of cool people and learned more than my brain could efficiently process.

Now, in the two years that I’ve been a web developer, I’ve attended three other tech conferences, and I’ve done a blog post review of two of them: (WDCNZ and Codemania). These post-conference analyses provide customary synopses of a handful (or all) of the talks, followed by a general consensus of the conference as a whole.

This time, I’m going to do something a little different: more of an impression of what attending a tech conference is like, particularly for a still-novice developer. If you want to know more about the talks themselves, you can watch them on the RubyConf AU 2017 Youtube channel or read this fantastic Twitter thread by @mistydemeo.

I was super excited to attend RubyConf – I spend most of my time at work writing Ruby and Ruby on Rails, so was looking forward to spending two whole days learning new stuff that I could apply directly to my day-to-day job.

I was nervous, though, too. I’m still new to the industry, still unsure of my skills and knowledge level (classic Imposter Syndrome, I know), so I always feel a bit nervous before attending industry events. Will I feel out of place? Will people talk to me? Will I understand anything? Thankfully, I’ve found that these feelings generally evaporate on arrival or soon after, and RubyConf was no exception.

One thing I really like about the Ruby community is the diversity. At other tech events I’ve been to, I was one of only a handful of women. At RubyConf, however, there were a lot of women and the audience felt much more inclusive, and least in terms of the binary gender balance. I can’t speak for any other marginalised groups, but I definitely found it a much more comfortable and welcoming environment as a result.

Despite my imposter-y doubts, even I had to admit that I’ve definitely levelled up in terms of my comprehension and understanding – the proof is in the pudding: I get the jokes now! No more do I have to sit there awkwardly after a speaker makes a tech joke, laughing halfheartedly while looking around in confusion while the rest of the audience erupts in uproarious guffaws. This was probably my personal most valuable takeaway from the conference; I GET THE JOKES NOW! Made all the more gratifying when the whole room celebrated my achievement by chanting, “One of us! One of us!” (Ok, that last part didn’t actually happen, but I imagine it would have had they realised the significance at the time.)

So my bosses don’t think they sent me all the way to Australia just so I could get some jokes, I definitely learned other stuff, too, some of which is:

  1. Everybody in the Ruby community LOVES Elixir (Note: this might be an exaggeration, but only just).
  2. Seriously, functional programming is where it’s at.
  3. We are very lucky to have Bundler (things were really not good before).
  4. Clear, readable code is better than clever code. Future/junior devs especially will thank you.
  5. Self learning is a marathon.
  6. Growth mindset > fixed mindset. (Find out more about growth and fixed mindsets.)
  7. But really, have you tried Elixir?
  8. Also: Elm and dry.rb.

I was really happy to see the range of experience levels in the speakers – at least two of them were relatively new to the industry, just like me! One of them, Shana Moore, came to programming from another career entirely – her story was so similar to mine in so many ways and it was inspiring to see her tell her story at such a large industry conference – you can watch it here. (I wanted to talk to her about it after, but didn’t. Talking to speakers is hard. Everyone wants to talk to them so you can end up in a queue-like situation which just feels awkward.)

I have to say, I prefer the more culture-driven, people-focused talks to the really full-on technical talks. I find it hard to stay focused – particularly as the conference progresses – while page after page of code flashes across the screen as the speaker goes on and on about something like monads (what are monads, you ask? I have no idea. True story: there was one joke about monads. It was, “Who even knows what monads are, anyway?”).

Ok, I’m going to talk about one of the talks, because it was my favourite and illustrates why I prefer the culture-y talks. Called Open Source: the Power and the Passion by Pat Allan, it was like a rallying cry to make Open Source more inclusive. Pat talked about Open Source and whether or not it is sustainable. Because there is an expectation that the work is done for free, often only a certain group of people are able to contribute (young, single, lacking responsibilities or commitments, generally men) which means that it can become exclusive and exclusionary. Using Github contributions as metrics for hiring then becomes super problematic, as Open Source contributions are a result of a certain amount of privilege. Pat discussed all of the barriers to contributing to Open Source, and stated that we won’t be able to make it better until we acknowledge them. I highly recommend watching his talk, it is great!

All in all, RubyConf was fully exhausting yet energising, overwhelming and inspiring, and I learned a whole heck of a lot. A big thanks to Rabid for sending me!