Ten Ruby Conferences (and Three Camps) in Eight Weeks

In a fifty-two day stretch, beginning on Thursday, August 19, and ending on Saturday, October 9, the Ruby community will self-organize in a way that no other technical community has ever done. Ten conferences and three camps will take place, mainly in the US.

Here’s the list:

Credit goes to the organizers of this past weekend’s excellent Ruby Midwest for compiling most of the list above.

And that’s not all for the year. Later in October, there’s Acts As Conference in Orlando, and of course, RubyConf in New Orleans in November. Also, there will be a RailsCamp Perth in Australia from November 12-15. Add to that a smattering of DevNation events across the country geared towards Rubyists and like-minded developers. For nearly everyone in the US, there will be an event within a drivable distance.

The Importance of Meetup

So what does all this unprecedented activity mean? Yes, this proves that the Ruby community is stronger than ever, and continues to grow. In most major cities, and in many smaller ones, evening Ruby Meetups are a common occurrence at least once a month. Rubyists meet, watch a couple of presentations, and have dinner or drinks together. In some places, these monthly meetings have been augmented with lunches, hack nights, or other gatherings. There’s nothing particularly unique to Rubyists about any of this. Meetup.com has been used for this purpose for nearly a decade – providing a service that helps witches, knitters, Tea Party activists, social media consultants, web designers, and software developers to self-organize.

But what’s striking about the list above is that no other technical community today could pull off thirteen organized events in the span of two months. Ruby developers today are a small subset of software developers. There are many, many more programmers who write Java and C# for a living. There are probably more Pythonistas than Rubyists. But there currently isn’t, nor has there been, a culture of self-organized regional conferences and camps for developers in other languages like there is for Ruby.

The Big Shows

Why has this phenomenon happened in the Ruby community, and nowhere else? Developer conferences are not at all unique to Ruby. Apple’s WWDC, Microsoft’s PDC and Tech:Ed, and Sun’s JavaOne (now Oracle’s OpenWorld) are well-established and heavily-attended. But huge international conferences need huge budgets and big name sponsors, which forces them to be more like trade shows than developer events. It should be noted that there’s only one Ruby conference with a “show floor”, and that’s RailsConf.

Also, Ruby has never had a large corporation to champion it. No Sun, Microsoft, or Apple to bankroll events. So the build it quickly, think small mindset that attracts many to Ruby is carried over to its community’s conferences. To be fair to Java developers, a group of them did create the No Fluff, Just Stuff series of smaller, regional conferences as a direct response to the trade show nature of the big Java shows. But even those events are driven by central planning, not grassroots enthusiasm.

How about Python?

Python, like the other languages, does have its big conferences. There’s PyCon and there’s DjangoCon. Similarly, the big conferences in the Ruby world are RubyConf and RailsConf. The Python and Ruby communities share many of the same values and attract similar kinds of developers. Many cities have Python meetups. The biggest tech company out there, Google, loves Python. It’s widely used in academia. But there is no regional Python conference ecosystem.

While the conception and production of regional Ruby events are organic, they are not without some coordination. Some time in 2006, when Ruby was exploding in popularity thanks to Rails, the wise old sages who had been organizing RubyConf since 2002 made a concerted effort to encourage local Meetup leaders to organize their own conferences. A few took the bait, others then sought to emulate them, and every year since more and more regional conferences have sprung up. The RubyConf organizers, a non-profit called RubyCentral, even have a grant program and have set up a mailing list for would-be regional conference organizers.

Tying it Together

Ten conferences and three camps in the span of eight weeks. Credit for that falls on the Ruby community as a whole, and especially to those brave few who’ve decided that organizing a conference was a good way to spend their free time. But credit also goes to Ruby Central for planting the seeds for self-organized regional conferences.

Other developer communities should be taking notes. There’s no reason in particular, it seems, for this to not be possible with Javascript, Python, Clojure, Scala, or any other “progressive” language. But it hasn’t happened. The thriving open-source platforms like Ubuntu and Android are hampered by having central authorities in Canonical and Google. Maybe the regional conference phenomenon will always be unique to Ruby.

How the Ruby community got to this moment is utterly fascinating, at least to me. But beyond the reasons above, there must have been other contributing factors. What have I missed?

blog comments powered by Disqus