Last week was my first time attending Brighton Ruby. It was great. I’ve missed conferences in general, and Ruby conferences in particular, and Brighton Ruby was everything I was longing for: an energising mix of technical considerations and humanist values, shared by smart and colourful people. Nerdy and yet friendly, like a grown-up version of the role-playing games clubs of my youth. Beware: this post will be a test of how many synonyms I know for “great”.
The venue and the organisation
The conference took place at the Brighton Dome, which is more impressive than I was expecting. The main hall is lovely, its seats confortable enough, and the stage, lighting and audio were perfect. I came in early, and the welcome process was very smooth – no queue nor waiting of any kind. However, the small hall where everyone could gather before and between the actual talks was a bit too small for the attendance, and quickly got crowded and very noisy. That would be my only complain as far as the organisation goes: by all other accounts, everything was excellent, from the coffee and pastries to Andy’s wholehearted MCing.
I bought my ticket without knowing anything of the conference’s program, and only discovered it once within the venue. Reading it got me excited. Eileen Uchitelle! Librarians! Contrarian-sounding topics! The program promised and lot – and delivered.
The highlights, for me, were probably Paul Battley’s lightning talk about Ruby through the past 20 years, Nadia Odunayo’s talk on a “vanished variable”, and Joe Hart’s comedy-and-live-debugging bit. But, honestly, all the talks – even the lightning ones – were fantastic.
Apart from my personal favorites, three of the talks stood out, I think. First, even though I had already seen it, Eileen’s was both insightful and powerful – I highly recommend watching it. Second, Tim Riley’s, for its awesome performance – even if I’m now 100% percent convinced that Hanami is not for me (this project’s priorities are definitely not mine, but YMMV and it’s nice to have something for everyone in the Ruby ecosystem). Third, Schwad’s talk on Scarpe, which was an admirable hommage to _why (and I was glad to see how many people still know about him, even among the new generation of rubyists).
Finally, I must underscore the model of diversity that this line-up was. A broad mix of ages, genders, backgrounds, ethnicities and topics was assembled, which was certainly not by accident – even if I dare hope that achieving this was easier in 2023 than it would have been 10 years ago.
Talks are always nice, but the essence of a conference is the attendance, and the opportunity to meet new people. Now, like many in this line of work, I’m more on the shy and solitary side of the social spectrum. Even though I really, really enjoy having small talk or deep conversations with friendly strangers, it takes me some time and energy (possibly in the form of drinks) to switch to extrovert mode. Which is fine, especially in the Ruby community where everyone MINASWANs. Besides, I already knew a couple of attendants, including a true social hub, which helped quite a bit (thank you Benoît!)
Still, due to the people density and loudness in the rest area, I didn’t spend that much time socialising during the breaks, unfortunately. But I enjoyed good drinks and wonderful company after the conference, when a bunch of us gathered in local pubs.
Now, here’s the thing. Fifteen years ago, I managed to convince my then boss to switch our stack to Ruby by promoting the exceptionality of the people in this community – yes, rubyists were hard to find, but they were a humble elite among a sea of unfortunate code monkeys. Well, I may be biased here, but even after all this time, a couple of years of fame (that’s 15 minutes in VC time) and hordes of bootcamp graduates, my assessment still stands. The people I talked to at Brighton Ruby were all terrific, and I’m pretty sure that my sample was 100% representative of the attendance, and more broadly of the Ruby community.
This general marvellousness is all the better considering my personal worries about the Balkanising of our societies, including code communities. It’s one of the things that keep me up at night – expect a blog post on of these days. I see fracture lines creeping up everywhere, splitting every group into smaller and smaller polarised (if not outright hostile!) tribes, and the Ruby community, and even more so the Rails community, are not spared. And maybe it’s just me because I’m on my way to my fifties, but I tend to see one of these fractures lines in the generational gaps in our craft1 especially after two years recruiting outside of my usual tech pool.
Well, it turns out that there were a lot of youngsters[^2] in the attendance, and they impressed me a lot. Enthusiastic, (very) knowledgeable, smart… Exactly the kind of people I like to believe that my comrades and I were back in the day.
In fact, I came out of Brighton Ruby feeling both happy, reassured, and also a bit like shit. That’s because so many people were so fucking impressive. Be they 15 years younger than me and already as experienced as I feel[^3], or people my age with five times my list of achievements, I felt surrounded by raw talent across two or three generations of developers. Which is a tremendous thing for the community (and the future or programming), but made me feel small. At the same time, it’s never too late catch up!
Brighton Ruby was super-duper. I’ll be back.
Edit: as a viral blog post by Justin Searls showed, it turns out that it isn’t just me at all. I always feel better when someone smarter than me thinks as I do. [^2]: I’m 46, I’m allowed to use this word. Now get off my lawn. [^3]: Time to quote The Hellacopters: And I’m older but sure ain’t as wise as I pretend to, it’s mostly a lie. ↩