Last week I took a trip down to Bend, OR to attend the 6th Annual Ruby on Ales conference. Between the mixture of sunshine, drinks, and a great community the conference did not fail to make my first programmer conference experience an amazing one.
tl;dr Day One at Ruby on Ales was amazing! I’m excited to be part of the Ruby community and the experience has driven me to want to attend other conferences. Sunshine, drinks, and amazing people were in ample supply.
I’ve never been much of a conference junkie, personally. I’ve spent time at Marketo’s User Summit and even crashed a few other industry conferences that I stumbled across on vacation but mostly they just seemed to exist to sell new products/services and give sales/marketing types an excuse to drink and network. All that being said, I’ve never been to a conference quite like Ruby on Ales.
I need to start this off by saying that I wouldn’t have been able to go to Ruby on Ales at all without the help of Operation Code. For those of you who don’t know, Operation Code is a veteran-founded and led non-profit working to ensure veterans have access to technical education and opportunities in the 21st century. Through their scholarship program and guidance I was able to purchase a ticket to the conference (relatively last-minute) and make the trip down to Bend. If you want more information about how you can help or how they can help veterans, check them out at OperationCode.org or on Twitter @operation_code.
I arrived at the event location (the historic Tower Theatre in Bend, OR) at 8:00 AM, about an hour before registration was due to begin. I’ll admit I normally try to get to larger events as early as possible just to scope things out and generally get more comfortable with the area. Knowing the layout of the surrounding streets and where certain businesses (read: coffee shops) are helps keep my anxiety low.
The registration process started pretty much on time at 9:00 AM and went about as smoothly as you could expect. Boxes with packets were ordered by first name (a unique system but it worked) and people were more or less cognizant of their surroundings so they didn’t stand in the way too much. Having been to other conferences utilizing high-tech check-in setups and others using a similar box system (mostly 5k runs and such), this went better than I expected.
After picking up your packet your options were to either go grab a seat in the theatre, visit the vendor area, or mill about the free drink area (beer, cider, wine, and kombucha). I’ll admit that I didn’t realize the drinks were free until pretty much the second day of the conference and even then I didn’t partake (let’s blame that on Thursday night…). That’s not a mistake I’ll make again 😉
The first speaker up was Mike Moore with his Open Source Survival Guide talk. As a newer developer I really enjoyed this talk as I’ve been wanting to start working on open-source software (OSS) but the task itself seems daunting. All the rules, cliques, and sometimes larger-than-life names seem incredibly overwhelming at first but Mike did a great job of writing down some of those unwritten rules, encouraging collaboration, and pushing the community towards encouraging people to contribute.
After a short break, the next talk up was Including People by André Arko. I liked the fact that André started off by addressing the elephant in the room: he is a white male talking about diversity and inclusion in the community. He went on to address some common reasons people/companies give for avoiding diversity/inclusion and then provided some clear-cut examples of how these reasons are bullshit at best. Talks like this are an important part of developing and growing any community and I was happy to see that it was being so openly discussed.
I’ll admit that during lunch (11:30 AM – 2:00 PM) I was feeling a little anti-social but was rescued from having to make friends/meet folks by the founders of the company I work at. They were in Bend for a meeting and happened to be downtown near the event venue so we met up for lunch at a wonderful place named Hola!. Billed as “nouveau Mexican-Peruvian cuisine” but all I can attest for is that the salsa was damn good and the burritos were large and delicious. I quietly stuffed my face while they discussed their pitch deck and planned my next move.
I decided to make an executive decision and go check into my hotel after lunch and catch a quick nap (I’m sure it was totally unrelated to the food from Hola!…totally). The Econo Lodge (I’m on a budget, gimme a break) wasn’t a bad place at all. While I did have some items I accidentally left behind go missing, it served its purpose and I received an important reminder to always double-check to make sure I’m not forgetting anything when I check out.
My nap went a little longer than expected so I missed Tobi Lehman‘s talk on Object Oriented Orbits. Thankfully I did make it in time for Ernie Miller’s presentation on Choices along with a fun little live chat app he built into one of his slides. In a delightful moment of “oh crap he’s right” he called the audience out on messing around with the chat app rather than continuing to pay attention (granted this was part of his talk so it was all in good fun).
Next up was a talk on Writing a Test Framework from Scratch given by Ryan Davis. This talk held a special bit of fanboy-ism for me as Ryan wrote Minitest, the testing framework we use at work. I know it sounds silly but getting to see the person who wrote something you use everyday just feels like you’re finally making that connection between the reality of your every day coding life to those “beings” who sometimes seem to exist only online/GitHub legend. Ok ok…that was a bit grandiose, but still, it was a great talk.
The final presentation of the day was from Aja Hammerly on Sharpening The Axe: Self-Teaching For Developers. Being a relatively new, self-taught/code school developer I’m always interested in hearing how other people learn and what tools they use to facilitate the process so this was the talk I had been waiting all day to see. Aja definitely delivered and I enjoyed the “PG-13” slides and her tips and tricks for learning while still working as a professional developer. One of the big take aways for me was that I may want to look into in-person study groups where accountability can be maintained to keep me focused.
After Aja’s talk let out and Jonan (the MC) had the closing remarks for the day, we were set loose upon Bend for dinner prior to a planned after party at Astro Lounge (sponsored by CloudCity.io). Initially I was lost and quite clearly looked like it as I stumbled around the front of the Tower Theatre trying to decide where I was going to go hide for the rest of the night. Luckily a small group of people noticed my “deer in the headlights” look and invited me out to dinner at Zydeco.
The food at Zydeco was amazing (had the free-range roasted chicken and mashed potatoes…and a few ciders) but what made it truly special was the company I had. Among the folks that were there was Clay Hobson from Shopify, Justin Hart from Ibotta, Brian Pearce from Unbounce, and Brian Rue from Rollbar. We shared stories about where we worked, our thoughts on the talks, and even a little about the differences we’ve noticed between Canada and the United States from our own perspectives.
The best part of dinner for me was after Brian Rue asked what I did/who I worked for, I asked him the same thing. “Oh I work for Rollbar.” So we made casual conversation about Rollbar and Honeybadger (error reporting tools for applications) while we ate. Later, before we left Zydeco, we all started the near obligatory Twitter handle exchanges and that’s when I noticed Brian’s profile: “Co-founder @rollbar, helping developers fix bugs faster.” “You’re the co-founder of Rollbar?! You just said you worked there!”. To which Brian replied, “Well technically I wasn’t lying…”. Yes, this is me being having another fanboy moment…I just had dinner next to a co-founder of a company with a product that I’ve used. Best part: Brian is really down-to-earth and a blast to hang out with.
After dinner we all went out separate ways in preparation for the after party (read: introverts going to recharge for people-ing again). This actually was great to see as I’m often surrounded by extroverts and I always felt weird about needing time away from people to recharge between events/outings when attending other conferences like Marketo’s User Summit or TSIA’s Customer Success Summit. I may still be weird and introverted, but at least I now can confirm that there are others like me out there!
The Astro Lounge had been rented out by the conference/Cloudcity.io and provided us with an open bar. AN OPEN BAR. You can imagine the look of elvish glee as my attempt to open a tab was turned down and the heaven’s opened to reveal free booze. Without going into incriminating detail I ended up having several drinks with both Brian’s and Justin from dinner (amazing guys, I can’t say that enough). While milling about before the rest of the dinner crew arrived, I ran into a fellow new Rubyist (Richard Temple) who was looking for work. If anyone in the Portland area is looking for a developer you should checkout his GitHub and resume.
As the night went on many laughs, drinks, and pretzels were had. Once the crowd started to clear from the Astro Lounge I meandered over to Corey’s Bar and Grill where there was supposedly some epic karaoke action going down. I had a few glasses of water there while I listened to an amazing rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” before heading back to my hotel for the night.
All-in-all it was a great end to the first day of my first ever programming conference! I’ll continue on in Part 2 to cover Friday’s talks and shenanigans but in the interim I’d love to hear about your experiences at conferences and any tips you might give a conference newbie in the future.