Ruby Conf Sydney 2014

Only 2 days ago I was feeling a bit apprehensive about attending Ruby Conf in Sydney. I wasn’t sure what I would get out of it, I thought I wouldn’t understand any of the lectures and that because I wasn’t a real programmer,  I wouldn’t fit in.

However, after the very first keynote, I was inspired, reinvigorated and so glad I came. The take home for me from that first keynote was that – yes, programming and developing apps is an exciting and totally possible way for me to influence the world around me – and I want to keep going ahead and trying to do that.

The Highs of Ruby Conf

  • The talk about alternative pathways to becoming a programmer
  • The venue – Luna Park-  with beautiful views of Sydney Harbour, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
  • Getting to go on the rides!
  • Seeing the people I had met at Rails Camp, Roro and other events.
  • The second keynote, which was on diversity, humility and civility by Pat Allan. You hear some horrible things online about the brogrammer culture. These words, coming out of the mouth of a popular Australian programmer, made me feel really hopeful.
  • Missing out on a few of the talks, which meant that I got to have longer, more interesting conversations with people outside the frantic/loud group time in between talks.
  • Being reminded AGAIN about how lovely, welcoming, helpful and interesting the members of Ruby Australia are. One of the mentors from Rails Girls Brisbane, which I attended last June, remembered me and came over to ask me how my coding was going. Just so lovely.
  • Getting some thoughts, from a range of programmers, about the apps I am currently building.

The Lows of Ruby Conf

  • I didn’t go to the Yum Cha, which meant I also missed out on surprise Karaoke!!!

What I Learnt at Ruby Conf

  • We need to keep innovating, and learning how to do new things, because there is skill erosion when things are too easy
  • That with the rise of the international community, and the ability for remote working or outsourcing, you can either be a commodity or part of the creative class – i.e. what value will you add above being able to code?
  • That maybe I should start using MiniTest instead of Rspec, because MiniTest is lightweight and ships with Ruby.
  • That I should do a Computer Science course online (or at least the first few subjects) – Stanford was recommended to me.

Things I need to look up now

  • Learn how to use MiniTest
  • What is mocking/stubbing?
  • What is a struct?
  • Database theories – ACID vs CAP
  • What is a distributed system (databases)
  • Wtf is a node? (Database)
  • MongoDB (everyone making fun of this)
  • Clustered Databases
  • Node.js
  • Middleman?
  • Blocks vs Procs vs Lambdas

Diversity in the Speakers at Ruby Conf

The idea of female speakers is something that has been discussed in programming circles online a lot recently. The final keynote speaker at Ruby Conf, Eleanor Saitta, finished her speech with a slide of names, (all women I assume) saying something along the lines of “These are just 34 names of female speakers I found within 5 minutes of searching on Google, and who would have been great speaking at this event.”

Unfortunately she was the last speaker, and just after she finished they got all the speakers on the stage – which demonstrated quite clearly, how white and male the lineup was.

Of course the Ruby Conference had tried to get female speakers, and it featured a male speaker who spoke of the importance of diversity in his keynote. But as Eleanor pointed out on Twitter, all she can judge it is by the results – not by the trying.

That old favourite “but we just want the best speakers” was also trotted out. Conference organisers don’t want to choose female speakers, just for being female. They think their attendees deserve the best speakers no matter what their sex. But, with the massive gender imbalance in coding, the odds of getting the best speakers is always going to be in the males favour.

Saying you want female speakers, but only if they are the best speakers, doesn’t immediately result in diversity. Because in an 80% male industry, the best speaker is more likely to be male.

To make it more even you would have to either

a) increase the number of women to be 50% – and there is a lot of work being done to encourage this, but of course it is a longer term goal; or

b) provide more opportunities for women to get experience in speaking (so that they can be better speakers) or other kinds of training to improve their speaking. Maybe more assistance to help them put together great topics by the conference organisers?

I’m not 100% sure what the answer is, but I know that just saying “We tried, and there just aren’t enough great women speakers” probably isn’t enough to increase diversity. It’s just leaving it to chance.

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