The Ruby community is for everyone

Reflections on RailsConf 2024

May 16, 2024 · Felipe Vogel ·

Last week I attended RailsConf 2024 in Detroit. Others have written about how it pointed to a bright future for Ruby, or about how it was the best conference of their life.

I’ll join in the praise, but from a different angle. It’s somewhat personal, so if you’re looking for a more comprehensive recap, here’s a great writeup.

My angle: RailsConf was fruitful and inspiring for me even though I’m in a busy season of life as a new parent, with no time to be an entrepreneur or an open-source hero.

In other words, RailsConf is for everyone. Yes, it’s even for you, dear reader who is a busy adult who doesn’t have time to hack on Ruby projects 24/7!

(And because after next year RailsConf will be no more, it’s worth noting the corollary, RubyConf is for everyone, and probably, the regional Ruby conference near you is for everyone.)

When I was excited to get a free ticket

In March I was accepted as a Ruby Central Scholar and got a free ticket to RailsConf 🤩 I was stoked.

Then I was too tired to be excited

My excitement mellowed in the following two months. I was increasingly weighed down by the stress and exertion of the past year, which had been a very eventful year:

I found a job, luckily. But I wasn’t so excited about RailsConf anymore. I was tired.

Plus, I’d never attended a tech conference before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. My goal in attending was mainly to expand my network—which sounds a lot like what I’d recently been spending hours doing every day on LinkedIn. Would being at RailsConf feel like the job search all over again?

Then I got there and was pleasantly surprised

As it turns out, my fears were entirely unfounded.

Everyone was kind and inclusive, even toward a tired parent and fairly new developer like me. Being part of the scholars and guides group amplified my feeling of belonging.

Sure, some of the keynote talks dared us to rise to new entrepreneurial and open-source heights. And don’t get me wrong, they were great talks—Nadia Odunayo’s story of founding and developing The StoryGraph had me on the edge of my seat. But the conversations I had were a lot more down to earth.

In a memorable chat over lunch, a new friend encouraged me not to think of open-source contributions as something I should do primarily on my own time, since the companies where we work rely on and profit from tons of open-source projects. Plus, many companies could gain even more by open-sourcing parts of their own code so that it can be improved by the community. Food for thought!

Speaking of open source: during Hack Day, in which open-source maintainers sat at tables representing their projects, it didn’t feel weird for me to walk from table to table and chat rather than tackling PRs.

In fact, low-key conversations with new friends were the highlight of the conference for me. I took full advantage of the “hallway track”, i.e. taking a break from sessions in order to mill around and chat with other loafers.

I also gave a lightning talk

As part of my scholarship, I was paired up with the amazing Michelle Yuen as my guide to help me make the most of RailsConf. Michelle was once a scholar herself, and her post-conference interview from back then is a great read if you want another perspective on being a Ruby Central Scholar. Besides invaluable tips on “how to conference”, Michelle also gave me feedback on my scholar project.

I chose to give a lightning talk, “How to Be an Exercism Mentor and Contributor”, drawing from my experience in the one open-source project that I’ve contributed to over the past six months or so. You can see my presentation slides here.

It was an uplifting experience to put together that talk and to get positive feedback about it. Like being at RailsConf, it made me realize that I don’t have to go to heroic lengths in order to be a valuable member of the community. Just doing my little part, whenever I have time and energy for it between family and self-care, is enough.

Bringing family along

I almost decided to leave this section out, but I’ll go ahead and turn the “cheesy” dial up to 11.

My wife and baby came along with me to Detroit because she didn’t want to stay home alone with a teething baby while also missing out on an adventure to a new place. So every evening of the conference, either before or right after dinner, I went back to the hotel to help put the baby to sleep.

Some would say that I missed out on a lot of what makes the conference fun: late night conversations and game night, for example.

But on the other hand, this way I didn’t miss out on the better part of a week of my baby’s little life, and I got to share that week’s adventure with my best friend.

My wife and baby made a few appearances at RailsConf, including sitting in on my lightning talk, at least until the baby started crying for wanting to go up on stage with me. The staff even said they were welcome to join in on dinners, though that generally didn’t happen since the baby was already tired by that time in the evening.

At no point did I feel my family was unwelcome at RailsConf, nor did I get strange looks for walking around with a baby on occasion. And for that I’m grateful.

Mom and baby at the Detroit Zoo
Mom and baby at the Detroit Zoo while I was at the conference.
Me and my wife and baby in Cincinnati
We spent the weekend in Cincinnati on the way home.
My baby playing in a large pot full of dirt
My baby back home in his element.
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