If you haven’t ever attended an unconference you are missing out on a truly unique technology event. The short explaination is that the entire conference’s sessions are organized and scheduled on the day of the event, and you as an attendee have a say in what topics and sessions are scheduled. Over the years I have attended many unconference style events (a really interesting and exemplary example of the unconferences I attended was BarCampNYC), I also ran and organized a few too (DrupalCampNYC and the NOVA Node Unconference). So the format is come to the event, suggest sessions (that you or someone else can lead), vote on the sessions and then participate in the voted upon sessions. There is often a separate new to technology X, and then there is the ever popular hallway track (where folks that would like to continue a conversation from a session mill about in the hallway after the time is up on that session).
Since moving here in May of 2015 I have attended a few Ruby language related events, like I often did in NYC. Even though I am not a rubist I have always felt that I learned a tremendous amount about software engineering and whatever the next hot new technology was on the horizon. Here in the DC metro area I have made it to DCRUG and Arlington Ruby who happen to be the host for the Ruby Retrocession. Like all unconferences, there is a looseness and easy vibe for the event, where lots of folks are a bit confused and leaning on the old guard to help them find their way and this event was no exception. The day started with a panel that was answering questions while folks voted, this was a neat addition to the unconference format for me (almost distract / keep engaged the masses while people very orderly vote on sessions). An online session schedule that was created when the voting was complete, this is an example of how so many people taking initiative and doing what needed to get done. I was able to jump in and help go pick up the coffee and bring it back (coffee is super important to these type of events - think fuel for brains), this was my first opportunity to get to know a few new people.
Upon returning I jumped into the first session Advanced Newbie, a very relaxed and orderly conversation where folks were talking about their experiences with going up the learning curve or suggestions about how to help folks move up the learning curve. Next was an API discussion, where there was a lot of conversation about data schemas for APIs (JSON API, HAL) with some focus on HATEOAS as a good practice to allow for discoverability of your APIs. The next session I attended was the first time I was able to provide any real value to the participants, the session was on Productivity Hacks. The way this session was organized involved 2 different colored index cards, these were passed to folks, and you couldn’t speak unless you had an index card. I loved this process, and was able to listen and after about 20 or 30 mins felt comfortable jumping in and suggesting a few applications, processes and general tips to the group. Such a fun session to end the morning on, next up lunch where Casey yelled out that if you wanted Gluten Free options join us at Silver Diner. So I jumped at the opportunity to get a “safe” lunch and spend time with a new group of folks.
Lunch ran a bit long since Silver Diner was in the middle of the lunch rush and we were a large group of separate checks, but it was a great experience. Amazing conversations at every corner of our large table, fun getting to know more of the Arlington Ruby community. Upon or arrival back the afternoon sessions were already kicked off, and I jumped into the Making a Safe Space session. There were so many people sharing their experiences in such an open and honest way, and helping to shine a light on the types of unsafe environments that they have had to deal with. I would say that this was the most personal and affecting session of the day for me led by Evan Light and would be one that I think most people wouldn’t be a talk or session located at a technology event. This is one of the aspects that has drawn me to the Ruby community over the years, I don’t use or write Ruby day in and day out, but there is so much heart and humanity within the members that is a part of the DNA of the community.
Next up was the retrospective, where the organizers solicited feedback publicly, and received it, all of the feedback that was given was constructive and passed on with the hopes of a better future state for these events. This concluded the Ruby Retrocession, but there was still dinner and board games. If you run a conference I will tell you now…dinner and returning for boardgames to get to know attendees and other community members in a more social way is an amazing way to cap off a great event. I left after 9pm and there were still about 20 or so people left playing games or chatting in another room.
There was a great suggestion in the DC Tech backchannel (DC Tech signup) to use a hackpad for shared notes throughout the event, so here is a link to the Ruby Retrocession 2016 Notes. I am super impressed with the organizers, the attendees and the vibe of the DC Metro area Ruby communities, warm, inviting, friendly, and real is the set of adjectives that come to mind. Thanks to everyone involved for making this non-rubist become inspired to write more ruby, and keep attending your events.