RubyConf AU 2019 Reflections

I take great joy in bringing people together - to share great experiences with others. And I’m lucky enough to have the chance to do that on a grand scale every now and then.

Over the bulk of the past year, I’ve been a part of the team behind RubyConf AU 2019, which took place in Melbourne last month. Just like when I was involved in the 2015 edition, the end result was well worth all the hard work and stress while preparing - I’m extremely proud, both of what we put together, and of my fellow organisers Toby Nieboer, Sharon Vaughan, Sam Cochran, Phil Nash, and Caitlin Palmer-Bright (who also paired up with Rose Lu to be our brilliant hosts across the two conference days).

If you weren’t present but want to see the talks (or you were there and want to re-watch your favourites), the videos are all online.

At the very beginning of the conference I got to say a few words - and my largest inspiration for doing that was Matt Wicking, who has provided grace and thoughtfulness while hosting every edition of Purpose over the past few years. I’ve especially appreciated not only his acknowledgements of country - of the owners of the land on which we meet - but also of the context more broadly in society of how and why we’re meeting, and what we have ahead of us.

I also took a leaf from Marieke Hardy’s welcome at the Opening Ceremony of last year’s Melbourne Writers Festival - you can catch the last of her remarks at the very beginning of their recap video - and from Sandi Metz’s remarks in the last few minutes of her opening keynote at last year’s RubyConf AU.

And here’s the end result:

RubyConf AU 2019 Opening Remarks from Pat Allan on Vimeo.

Or, if the written word is your preferred medium:

Good morning everyone.

We were due to have a Welcome to Country from a Wurundjeri elder this morning, but sadly she’s been unable to make it. I clearly am not qualified to do that, but I would like to offer an acknowledgement of country, and pay my respects to elders past and present, and acknowledge that we are on Kulin land, the land of the Wurundjeri and the Boonwurung, and we are very appreciative of that. I also want to welcome any other community elders here today.

It’s important to understand our past and our present so that we can better shape our future - this is just as true for developers as it is for anyone else. We look at the decisions of our peers, the legacy code we’ve inherited, the strengths and weaknesses of the technologies we work with. All of this helps shape our future code to be more reliable, easier to maintain, better, faster.

And here in Melbourne - also known as Narrm - we do need to recognise we are on land that has been occupied and looked after by the Kulin nations for tens of thousands of years, land that was invaded. That is our collective past, and our present. Our future must be better, and that can only be the case if we ground ourselves in the reality of how we got here.

Hello everyone. My name is Pat Allan. Sorry if that was a little heavy, but I think it’s important to understand where we stand, the context in which we work and live and play.

I’m part of the organising team behind this conference, and while I’m mostly going to sit back and let our magnificent masters of ceremony lead us through these two joyous and thoughtful days, I just wanted to add a little more context.

We live, clearly, in interesting times.

We’re dealing with massive societal challenges, at many levels - and those of us here have likely got it easier than most. Amongst all of that, we write code - and maybe that feels small in comparison, but let me assure you that that code matters! As Merrin Macleod - who is speaking later today - reminded us at the end of the last RubyConf AU, technology is inescapably political. Humans are involved, after all. And our code impacts humans.

But it’s not just code that brings us here today - it’s community as well. There are regular discussions amongst us about how we interact with each other, how we do things with thoughtfulness and compassion - these discussions are important, and I’m so happy some of the topics covered today and tomorrow focus on such things.

So we have, I hope, the opportunity to write better code, and to build a better community - and in the intersection of that, the sweet spot, we could write code that helps build a better society, in both large and small ways. Something to keep in mind, perhaps, over the next two days. I know many of you in this room, and so I am absolutely certain we’re up for tackling these challenges.

Oh, and one more thing…

Last year, the fairy godmother of the Ruby community, Sandi Metz, opened this conference with a great deal of wisdom, but in particular she reminded us: you are good enough. You’re not perfect, you’ve got your struggles to deal with - we all do, trust me - but you are good enough.

Please, don’t forget that. And not only are you good enough, but you are also welcome here, whether it’s your first RubyConf AU, or your seventh, whether you’ve written millions of lines of code, or none at all. No matter your gender, your race, your sexuality, your age, your ability, it bears repeating: You are welcome here.

We hope you have a great conference - we’re so very happy that you made it.

The very beginning (the first main paragraph) was spoken off the cuff, with no elder being present due to illness - I’d pre-written the rest. I’d like to point out I should not have said ‘clearly’ when talking about the fact I’m not of the Kulin nations. A person’s physical appearance is not an indication of whether they are a member of the First Nations.

And for the rest: I wanted to get us thinking beyond just code, and into how our lives and work interact with the world around us.

Sandi’s comments in 2018 - that we are all good enough - resonated so deeply with me. My sense of self worth often isn’t as good as it could be, and to get an unexpected reminder that I am good enough was a balm for my soul.

But moreso: our Ruby commmunity is continually growing, and there’s always - wonderfully! - a great many new people at every conference. So I am keen to emphasise that no matter who you are, how experienced you are at Ruby, or in any ways you may feel a bit different, that not only are you good enough to be present, you are welcome. We want you to be a part of this.

And there’s a further step along from that, inspired by Rabi Danya Ruttenberg, which I didn’t think to address at the time but should have: our community and our industry is better because you are part of it.

One unrelated note about the Australian Ruby community that’s worth noting, is that in November I became the President of Ruby Australia - the organisation that supports Ruby-related events across the country. I’ve had stints on the committee previously, but not in this role, and it’s certainly a great honour.

So many people - as beautifully highlighted at the conference by our MCs - have played a part in shaping our community. What we’ve collectively crafted is something special, and it continues to grow and improve through the efforts of countless Rubyists, often without much recognition.

We’ve been very lucky that we’ve ended up - without planning it! - with a habit of encouraging and supporting community members in stepping into organising roles. The conference teams have changed each year, and there are dozens of Australian Rubyists who’ve played a part in shaping Rails Camps over the past 12 years.

Things can always improve, though. I am very aware that I’m already a prominent member of this community, and I’m keen to see others who have less of a platform get involved, and to take on such roles - both in the committee, and in event organising teams. So we’ll be working a bit harder at making the pathways into the committee more clear, and more clearly supported - and suggestions on how to improve this further are very welcome. We’re making similar efforts for potential event organisers.

Speaking of which: perhaps you’re interested in being a part of the Rails Camp team for late this year? We’re currently accepting expressions of interest from potential organisers.

And tickets are available now for the 25th Australian Rails Camp, taking place in Perth this May. You should totally come along!

If you have any thoughts about our events, our committee, and possibly how you can be a part of it all, please do get in touch - via email, Twitter, or on the Ruby AU Slack.