Last month I had the privilege of attending my first technical conference. Before my acceptance as an intern at Chef, I applied for and received an Opportunity Scholarship to attend RailsConf 2016. Opportunity Scholars are new to the Rails community and are at RailsConf to have their first tech conference experience. I applaud RailsConf for organizing this program. Getting to know the other Opportunity Scholars and conference staff was the absolute highlight of my time at the conference and an exemplary way to conduct tech scholarships. Only a few weeks after accepting the scholarship, I discovered I would be interning at Chef and am happy to have had the opportunity to meet several of my co-workers at the conference as well (hi Robb, Nathan, Nathan, and Nathen!).
Being my first tech conference, I was nervous when I landed in Kansas City on May 4th, and not because I found out I wasn’t actually in Kansas after all — (I already confronted this realization when I bought my ticket). Tech conferences have a reputation for feeling exclusive and in-group focussed generally, but this is especially true for women and those new to tech. I can happily say RailsConf 2016 was nothing like this. Ruby and Rails are fantastic and inclusive communities for the most part. Everyone I met there was extremely friendly. The first night I got to have dinner with the creator of Sidekiq and the maintainer of Bundler. I met the guardian of all that is Object Oriented Programming, Sandi Metz. I had a discussion with Katrina Owen, creator of one of my favorite open source platforms, Exercism. It was amazing to get to talk about software with people whose software I having been using and appreciating for the past year. Last year when I was first interested in programming, even before I joined the Ada Developers Academy, I never would have imagined that I would one day attend a conference and meet the people who got me interested in software engineering. And not only that, but that they would treat me like a software engineer.
Beyond the people who made up RailsConf 2016, I especially enjoyed the sessions and talks. As a student and nerd, I was probably too excited. My conference pamphlet was full of “must see this”, “gotta go to this one”, and “why do these have to be at the same time???” Besides the keynotes, my favorite talks were the following:
- Succession by Katrina Owen: A talk that Katrina has given previously, she dove into refactoring an algorithm and balanced the tradeoffs of readability, efficiency, and complexity skillfully. She employs one of the Exercism exercises which involves printing out a very repetitive nursery rhyme. I remember solving this exercise previously and my mind racing to all the ways that I could write the DRYest code possible. When Katrina started with “What if we just print the whole thing as a string?”, I thought about all the over-thinking I had done anticipating future needs for refactoring that didn’t exist yet.
- Making a Rails App with 140 Characters or Less by Nate Berkopec: This talk started with `rails new` and worked its way back to a Tweet with Nate explaining along the way why everything in the fresh install was put there in the first place. It was part of my favorite track at the conference, “Behind the Magic”.
- Your First Legacy Codebase by Coraline Ada Ehmke: This talk was extremely helpful and timely as RailsConf coincided with my third week at Chef! Coraline (2016 Ruby hero!) lays out OODA, her prescription for any junior developer when looking at a new codebase: Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.
- Workshop – Collaborate on a Surrealist Rails App with Terian Koscik: This was the only workshop I got to go to and I am so glad I did. We split the room into groups of six and then the groups of six into pairs. Each pair in the group of six had the opportunity to hack on part of a Web App (backend, frontend, design), but there was a catch. We never knew what the other group members were building. This lead to some incredibly useless and hilarious apps.
- Skunk Works Keynote by Nickolas Means: An amazing keynote that barely touches the software industry in name, Nickolas gave the most captivating 48 minute talk on airplanes you’ll ever hear.
Overall, if it’s not clear at this point, RailsConf was a fantastic experience for me. It gave me a lot of confidence as a new software engineer because I felt that no matter how important or experienced others were in this industry, I had something to offer the conversation. It inspired me to start brainstorming for talks I could give at conferences in the future. Finally, it gave me a desire to attend more conferences and fully engage with tech communities in the future.