Steel City Ruby Conf review: Part 1: It's About People

The inaugural Steel City Ruby Conf was over two weeks ago. I was so excited by it that I vowed to change my life in several ways. Although I was way too busy with work, and a wedding to fly to (that Abby and I expanded into a full-blown vacation), I knew that the excitement would fade if I did not do at least one thing in order to remember and revisit the experience, so I wrote up a very short blog post immediately after the conference in order to publicly commit to both writing more and also doing something new.

Here’s part 1 of my actual review of the conference.

The keynote of Corey Haines

The conference opened on Friday, August 3, after some delays because of the long registration line, with Corey Haines giving the keynote.

This was my first Ruby conference, and I had never seen Corey Haines before, but I knew of him as one of the founders of Coderetreat, an unusual workshop an instance of which I attended and reported on last December.

The talk was geared toward people attending a conference for the first time, but having gone to some conferences in the past, I found it informative and inspiring nonetheless.

Corey pointed out that the primary purpose of a conference is to meet people. We all really know this; there is only so much one can actually get out of sitting around at technical talks (I will write more about that in part 2 of this series).

Introversion versus shyness

Yet, as Corey pointed out, many of us are introverts. He identified himself as an introvert. And we also tend to be shy. Corey correctly pointed out that there is a substantial difference between the concepts of introversion and shyness, and that introverts don’t also have to act shy.

I’m an introvert; that is part of who I am and will never change. I have also battled shyness all my life; in fact, my level of shyness was for decades extreme and severe and hampered me greatly. I am far less shy now than I have been in the past, and I continue to work on being even less so.

A call to action

Corey advised us not to eat alone. He also said to sit with people you don’t already know, because why should we go to a conference and just hang out with our colleagues whom we already see every day? He even challenged us to meet twenty new people over the conference weekend.

My response to Corey’s keynote

At the conference

Inspired by Corey, I did many things differently at this conference than I have done in the past.

I decided that in between talks, I would do some switching of where I sat, so that I would mix with more new people.

I decided that in between talks, I would, apart from getting up to take a break, actively seek out conversation.

I knew I would not meet twenty new people (I did not take Corey’s advice literally but rather in spirit), but I did end up meeting and talking with more new people in two days than I usually do in several months.

I took the opportunity also to talk much more in depth with local people I had met in the past but mostly had engaged in small talk with.

I ate lunch with different groups of people, all new and some from out of town. At Saturday’s party sponsored by ModCloth, I met yet more people while eating appetizers.

(Update of 2013-08-23)

One personal detail I did not make note of here in this post was that I approached Jim Weirich and thanked him for the time he came to Pittsburgh to give a talk, and played music on ukulele with some members of the Pittsburgh Ruby user group, before giving his talk, “The Polite Programmer’s Guide to Ruby Etiquette” (which was a fine presentation I learned a lot from). This was on December 2, 2010, and was my second attendance of the group (my first was the November 4, 2010 meeting). I was taken totally by surprise by this musical prelude to the presentation! My gut impression was that any community that celebrated having fun with music was one worth continuing to check out.

Not only did this fun draw me into the Ruby group, but also it played a role in encouraging me to take up playing music, and indeed, ukulele eventually! The full story is here. One part of the story is in 2012, I was afraid to participate in the lunch time music jam with Jim and other people, but in 2013, I stepped up, and played ukulele.

After the conference

I followed more people on Twitter and began connecting with more people (local and not) with LinkedIn.

I vowed to start giving talks at local user groups, starting with the local Ruby group.


Corey Haines really set the tone for my experience of Steel City Ruby Conf. His keynote was a catalyst for my setting in motion some changes I already “knew” I should be making in my life but out of inertia had not followed up on. I thank him for saying what needs to be said.

If you were at Steel City Ruby Conf

If you were at Steel City Ruby Conf, I want to know what you got out of it:

(Update of 2013-08-23)

I never finished writing a “Part 2” to this post. It was supposed to focus on the technical side of the conference, with the observation that it was not just about Ruby, but about practices that are independent of programming language and/or have to do with larger issues in the world of software development beyond the “coding” part.

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