Melbourne Ruby Retrospective for 2013
The Melbourne Ruby community has grown and evolved a fair bit in this past year, and I’m extremely proud of what it has become.
Mind you, I’ve always thought it was pretty special. I first started to attend the meets back when Rails was young and the community in Australia was pretty new, towards the end of 2005. The meets themselves started in January of that year - almost nine years ago! - and have continued regularly since, in many shapes, sizes and venues, under the guiding hands of many wise Rubyists.
Given I’ve been around so long, it’s a little surprising I’d not had a turn convening the meetings on a regular basis (though I’d certainly helped out when other organisers couldn’t be present). After the excellent, recent guidance of Dave Goodlad and Justin French, Mario Visic and Ivan Vanderbyl stepped up - and then Ivan made plans to move to the USA. I was recently inspired by discussions around growing and improving the community at the latest New Zealand Rails Camp, and so I offered to take Ivan’s place. (As it turns out, Ivan’s yet to switch sides of the Pacific Ocean. Soon, though!)
And so, since February, Mario and I have added our own touches to the regular events. Borrowing from both Sydney and Christchurch, we’ve added monthly hack nights - evenings where there’s no presentations, but people of all different experience levels bring along their laptops and get some coding done. If anyone gets stuck, there’s plenty of friendly and experienced developers around to help.
More recently, reInteractive have helped to bring InstallFests from Sydney to Melbourne. They are events to help beginners interested in Ruby and Rails get the tools they need installed on their machines and then go through the process of setting up a basic blog, with mentors on hand to help deal with any teething problems.
For the bulk of Melbourne Ruby community’s life, the meets have been announced through Google groups - first the Melbourne Ruby User Group, then in the broader Ruby or Rails Oceania group. It’d become a little more clear over the past couple of years that this wasn’t obvious to outsiders who were curious about Ruby - which prompted the detailing of meeting schedules on ruby.org.au - but there was still room for improvement. reInteractive’s assistance with the InstallFest events was linked to their support with setting up a group on Meetup.com - and almost overnight we’ve had a significant increase in newcomers.
Now, many of us Rubyists are quite opinionated, and I know some find Meetup inelegant and, well, noisy. I certainly don’t think it’s as good as it could be - but it’s the major player in the space, and it’s the site upon which many people go searching for communities like ours. The Google group does okay when it comes to discussions, but highlighting upcoming events (especially if you’re not a regular) is not its forte at all.
We’ve not abandoned the Google group, but now we announce events through both tools - and the change has been so dramatic that, as much as I’m wary of supporting big players in any space, I’d argue that you’d be stupid not to use Meetup. We’ve had so many new faces come along to our events - and while we still have a long way to go for equal gender representation (it’s still predominantly white males), it’s slowly improving.
With the new faces appearing, we held a Newbie Night as one of our presentation evenings (something that’s happened a couple of times before, but certainly not frequently enough). Mario and I were lucky enough to have Jeremy Tennant step up to run this and corral several speakers to provide short, introductory presentations on a variety of topics. (Perhaps this should become a yearly event!)
We’re also blessed to have an excellent array of sponsors - Envato, Inspire9, Zendesk, reInteractive and Lookahead Search have all provided a mixture of money, space and experienced minds. We wouldn’t be where we are now without you, your support is appreciated immensely.
Mario and I have also spent some time thinking a bit deeper about some of the longstanding issues with tech events, and tried to push things in a healthier direction:
At many of the last handful of meetings for this year, instead of pizza, we’ve had finger food from the ASRC Catering service, tacos from The Taco Guy, and a few pancakes as well. In each case we’ve ensured there’s vegetarian, gluten-free and lactose-free options. This trend shall certainly continue!
The drinks fridge at Inspire9 (our wonderful hosts for the past couple of years) now have plenty of soft drinks and sparkling mineral water alongside the alcoholic options - and we’ve been pretty good at making sure jugs of tap water are available too. There’s also tea and coffee, though we need to be better at highlighting this.
We’ve also adopted Ruby Australia’s Code of Conduct for all Melbourne Ruby events. This is to both recognise that our community provides value and opportunity to many, and to make it clear we want it to continue to be a safe and welcoming place, offline and online.
We’re by no means perfect, and I’m keen to help this community grow stronger and smarter over the coming year - but we’ve got some great foundations to build on. The Melbourne Ruby community - and indeed, the broader Australian Ruby community - is growing from strength to strength, and a lot of that is due to the vast array of leaders we have, whose shoulders we are standing on.
Alongside the regular city meets, there are Rails Camps twice a year, RailsGirls events becoming a regular appearance on the calendar, and the second RubyConf Australia is in Sydney this coming February. I’m looking forward to seeing what 2014 brings - thanks to all who’ve been part of the ride thus far!