Conf Report: Rubyconf 2020
December 21, 2020 Jamey Alea 0 Comments
This is my first individual conference wrap-up post in a while, but after Rubyconf 2020, I felt compelled to write about it. I’ve attended quite a few virtual conferences since the pandemic began, and while it has been interesting to compare how different organizers have decided to host their events and get to use all the different virtual event software solutions, none of them had really captured any of the magic of seeing one’s friends at an in person event.
Until now. Rubyconf 2020 was an amazingly good time and a salve to my soul. The last time I saw all my Ruby friends in one place was at Minneapolis Railsconf in April 2019. That’s a dang long time ago at this point! I was worried that another virtual conference would just rub salt in the wound that I didn’t actually get to be around them, but that wasn’t the case at all. There was something about Rubyconf that felt a little bit closer to what an in person conference feels like, in a few ways that I’m going to attempt to explain.
Of course, there were lots of great talks, which I expected to be true in any case. I’d still love to recommend a few of my favorites! They had excellent keynotes as always. Kerri Miller talked about failure and perseverance in a really open and compelling way, using her motorcycling hobby as a unique context. Kent Beck’s (slideless) keynote really spoke to me, particularly his ideas about reversible vs. irreversible decisions, which I think has profound real world implications both for our careers and our personal lives. Heidi Waterhouse did an excellent talk about accessibility which should be required watching for everybody in my opinion. My favorite talk of the whole conference was Brandon Weaver’s “Tales of the Autistic Developer.” Brandon is a good friend of mine and I’m really proud of him for being so vulnerable and saying something so important with this talk.
But in addition to the regular talks and workshops, there was a new type of session added to this virtual incarnation of Rubyconf: the Hallway Track. A number of fun “engagement sessions” were scheduled, intending to try and recreate the feeling of meeting and running into people in the hall during the conference. I admit I was a little bit skeptical, but even though they weren’t a perfect recreation of that feeling, the engagement sessions were extremely fun and I enjoyed them immensely. The highlight for me was when Justin Herrick had 80 developers all trying to program a FizzBuzz method at the same time using the Twitch Plays Pokemon rules. I was literally in tears laughing during this. Valerie Woolard did a mani/pedi party where we all just painted our nails and chatted. There was yoga and baking and cocktail mixing and puzzles and even a talent show, it was honestly a ton of fun. (This song by Nat Budin was the highlight of the talent show, I was in stitches.)
And I hosted an engagement session too: “Let’s Make a Zine!” where 132 (!!) people came and let me talk at then about why I love zines so much and teach them how to fold paper. We all made little 8 page zines, made out of one piece of computer paper, and I had prompts for each of the pages to guide people through making a zine that tells the story of their career in tech. I wasn’t positive how interested people would be in zines, but it went over really well, folks were engaged and some of them even shared photos of their zine with me! Someone even taught their five year old daughter, who made the best zine ever, of course, because children are incredible at zines. It went so well that I hope to do this workshop again!
Another thing that has been missing from a lot of virtual conferences is unofficial social events, but the Ruby community stepped up here too. Someone organized a social dinner called the Great Rubyconf Sammich Make-Off, where sandwiches (and not sandwiches) were made, eaten and judged based on the ever-popular Cube Rule. I met quite a few people on Roundsy, a webapp that sorts folks into rooms and shuffles the rooms every 15 minutes, which is a fun way to make sure you’re seeing different faces! And PJ Hagerty hosted a virtual incarnation of #rubykaraoke, so it really felt like an actual Ruby conference. (Honestly, I didn’t think virtual karaoke would be fun, but it was extremely fun. The trick is that whoever is singing finds a karaoke track on youtube and shares their computer audio as they sing along. Duets, unfortunately, are nigh impossible, haha.)
So I want to congratulate and thank RubyCentral for putting on a successful conference even under the most frustrating circumstances possible. (And a special thanks to Abby Phoenix, who is stepping down from being RubyCentral’s Executive Administrator. Abby has been an important part of RubyConf and RailsConf for as long as I’ve been attending them and I appreciate her contributions so much!) And the next RubyCentral conference that it’s safe to attend is going to be LIT, and I will absolutely see all of you there! 🔥