Railsconf 2015 – Being a human, Atlanta, Race and community
This is my third RailsConf, having attending them in Portland and Chicago. I have found the Rails community as mostly open, people generally easy to ask questions off, and a good range of talks. Railsconf are well organized conferences, they feel professional and evolve each year.
This year the courses seemed to concentrate between the beginner and the intermediate with occasional spikes into the advanced. A lot of the course titles were a little abstract and thus encouraged you or discouraged you (depending how tired you were) from reading the actual description.
It was noticeable this year the number of women that attended (i.e. a larger number) and equally notable how few Blacks there were attending the conference. There were a lot more talks about how software developers are human and soft skills.
The main thing I get from the conference is the people I meet, the conversations I have, the things I learn from attendees.
I felt all four were really good and worth attending and worth watching when they become available.
DHH Rambled a bit, but got to a good point that Rails is a backpack to build a medium sized company like Github or Shopify. He took on the criticism about Monolith architecture and termed the phrase Majestic Monolith and ‘integrated systems’. Again this created some great lunchtime and evening conversation. We also talked about two features in development for Rails 5 Turbolinks 3 and Active Cable. His talk.
I see you have a poorly structured monolith. Would you like me to convert it into a poorly structured set of microservices?
— Architect Clippy (@architectclippy) February 24, 2015
Sarah Chipps talked about her journey. I love that she gave up part of her talk time to some students and their journey to coding and drones.
Aaron Patterson did his usually trolling and then talked about the areas he is now working on – some great stuff on controller and integration tests. I love that he walks us through the process, I learn each time he does. His talk.
I found that day two and day three had more topics I was interested in. Here are some of my favourites:
- Good education talks included Sandy Metz on Nothing is Something (talk) followed by React.JS by Michael Chan. I call them educational because I learnt something from them.
- A great comparison talk on Processes and Threads – Resque vs Sidekick by James Dabbs
- Interesting journey/scaling talk on High Performance APIs in Ruby using ActiveRecord and Goliath by Dan Kazlowski and Colin Kelley
I heard some good things about:
- Ernie Millers‘ Humane Development
- Bending the Curve: How Rust Helped Us Write Better Ruby by Yehuda Katz, Tom Dale
- Playing Games in the cloud presented by: Nadia Odunayo
- Why we’re bad at hiring (and how to fix it) presented by: Kerri Miller
New things at the conference
Each year the conference improves 🙂 I am impressed with how well organized overall the conference is for a non-profit organization relying on volunteers.
- The theming of topics was really good and helped participants navigate talks
- The Rails core team talk was very informative
- Having many big boards with schedule on, was great
- Having a mobile app was very useful
- I think the notice board was a lot bigger
- Lightning talks had a lot of talkers
- Separate page for sponsored parties. It would be good to have this one page for all the after parties. Often they get booked really quickly but only the people in the know.
Old Things and still good
Railsconf has a scholarship scheme which gives free tickets to a number of people who are coming to the conference for the first time and might otherwise be able to. I love this. I was a scholar in my first year and have being a guide in the last two. I think Ruby Central is awesome to provide this.
Are a great way for people to try out presenting or were not able to be fitted onto the whole schedule. I would suggest moving this to a morning, they are good but often get tagged on the end of the day and maybe a little tired.
This was very useful with both the schedule and the map. Meet the team is a nice touch, maybe add what role they are playing at the conference.
I loved this, I feel having more would be great, I suppose I miss the fourth day!
Venue – The Mart
Of the three RailsConfs I have attended, this year there was either a lot of noise pollution (e.g. Bang Bang, or the equivalent to a freight train going over your head). In the main room there was a lot of echo, if you managed to avoid the really big pillars. In the smaller rooms, there were several issues with the projectors not being powerful to counter the lights and no one knew how to turn the lights down. All of that said this was the best WIFI hands down.
Sorry this was not a great venue.
The first lunch was a little light. The second and third lunches were really good. The snacks were all gone by the time I got there, though there was fruit 🙂
Was it worth the trip?
Conferences are essentially a social experience, as most of the videos/decks appear online, thus the most valuable part is the people I meet at conferences. I wonder what the future of conferences is, with all the content being streamed, will they become totally virtual or in fact will they become more social. The problem with big conferences is that you can get comfortable with sticking with your team or people you know and not meet new people. For me this is what I get:
- I meet new peers and mentors
- Discover new perspectives
- Discover how others solved a similar problem
- Share what I know and become a useful part of the community
- I can ask questions in talks to clarify my understanding
- Sometimes a talk will teach you something new, or you learn to communicate something complex in a new way or you realize that you know this topic.
- Find people you want to work with
- It was not my favourite year for talks
But I am an extrovert, I will actively introduce myself to a lot of people. That said it tires me out!
This year I sent three people and myself (from Vancouver, BC). There were some great talks, but more average talks then I had seen in the past. I feel the social aspect is one of the areas we could evolve and make the conference even better. It is also what I think will keep bringing people back. For the social members of my team the conference was good, for non social the talks were not compelling enough on their own this year, in part due to the level of expertise and in some cases because of venue distractions during the presentations.
Ideas for next year
Its not just our code base that needs to evolve and grow, the conference does to, here are some thoughts/ideas/suggestions that may improve the experience.
1. Making the conference more social
You can see all the talks online, why attend if not for the social aspects?
- Publish the attendance list. As people register, ask them Name, Company, Title, length of time coding, and what they want to get out of the conference.
- I suggested a couple things last year in my rails 2014 blog and rails 2013 blog
2. Upping the quality of the talks
- Coaching for first time talkers, from communication experts, education experts and experienced presenters (I will volunteer for this)
- Learning style guide – help speakers think through the styles to make easier for all to absorb
- Feedback for each talk by participants to be fed to the speaker, this would be great in mobile app
- Room instructions – How do I turn lights down/up, who fixes the projector
- Pretest room for computers and projectors
- Hands on masterclasses and workshops with very experienced people like Metz and DHH
3. Interview DHH
This would be even more fun if it was Aaron Paterson who did it..
4. Grow the conference committee to include people who have sole responsible for:
Scholars champion – Have a person own this and evolve it each year. Make sure there is a table that scholars can go to and make sure they have space to see the keynotes, check on the beginners track to ensure the content is actually beginner friendly.
Connections champion – Work in ways to help other newbies/lone travellers meet others. Be the person who can introduce people to other people.
Presenter Experts Volunteer Pool – Ask the community to apply to help out first timer presenters and those that would like a sanity check pre-conference and in-confrence.
5. A non interruption space and a “singles” want to meet people space
Most of us occasionally need to work/code get shit done. Maybe we could have a space when we have power and can code without interruption or sound sshhh. And then another space where I will code/play/experiment but happy to be meet people, in fact please interrupt me. Its kind of like a singles bars, in that it is easier to approach people, making it a bit easier for all. You could have board with I would love to speak to people about x and here is my twitter handle (in case I am not in the room at the time you step in).
Great food and calming accent. I also visited Martin Luther King jr. centre and Human Rights Centre were emotionally overwhelming as well as educational.
There was a stark contrast between the Race of the attendees of the conference a lot of white and some others, against all of the people who served the food and drink who were Black.
As a community I think we are welcoming. Bootcamps seem to help those with money. Ruby Central offers scholarships (reduced ticket price to free) for all minorities and those with little money, which is awesome.
I feel the lack of certain communities in software development is not just a Rails/Ruby problem, but wider. I wonder what we can do as a wider community to add more to our diversity? We are after all in the hometown of Martin Luther King, Jr. Is it an issue of poverty, education, role models or something else. How do we make it better? If there is a software community that could consider this and maybe make it better – I think it is the Rails community…