Ruby Conference Review: RubyConf Australia 2016

This is the second article of a multi-series blog post about Ruby and tech conferences that @thomas_witt visited in 2016.

The setting

I guess I don't have to lose too many words on Australia: It's an absolutely endearing country - unfortunately located very very far from everywhere. It's got breathtaking nature, stunning wildlife and super-friendly people (more on that later). If you've never been to Australia, you should go there. It's great.

RubyConf Australia (@rubyconf_au) took place at the Gold Coast, to be precise, at the Sea World conference center. For non-aussies: Gold Coast is an one-hour-flight away from Sydney. It's rather a touristy destination directly at the sea shore (the name of the city is actually "Surfer's Paradise" – questions?). When you arrive, you feel like you're in Miami South Beach. It is actually very similar, big hotels, party in the streets everywhere, surfer girls and boys - and yes, even the artificial atmosphere of Miami is there. So it's definitely a fun place for some days, but not for longer.

The conference

Really. The organizers put so much love in the organization of conference, you could feel it everywhere. They opened the conference with an aboriginal Didgeridoo player, which was impressive.

But it doesn't stop there. There was a fresh lovely coffee station …

… and even a Gelato wagon, so you could get tasty ice cream between the talks and chill in the sun:

They've even replaced the toilet signs to a more gender-neutral version.

After all, they really tried to please everyone, and from my impression, that worked out perfect. I know that this doesn't come by accident, but that there's rather a lot of hard work involved. So, kudos to the organizers.

The only thing which went terribly wrong was the opening party. Apparently when you signed up later, you couldn't sign up for the opening party - or you simply missed to tick the right checkbox. This led to the embarrassing situation that many people who queued up for the party simply were not admitted in the first place, because they weren't on the guest list. An opening party only for half of the participants? Seriously, guys? This was a major, major screw-up - everything was so perfectly organized, so how could that happen (talking about inclusion - maybe you start with yourself...)?

So the folks who couldn't go to the party (including me) went to a nice Pub, the drinks were on Scrivito, we've invented the #checkBoxGate hashtag, and Scrivito paid the drinks. Fortunately, later everybody got an SMS one after one that there'd be enough space anyway and that we should come over. So we did, and everything turned out fine in the end.

Besides of that, they've also organized great social activities accompanying the conference. You could go on a hike. You could go to a wildlife sanctuary and cuddle with Kangaroos and Koalas (which are the most lovable animals on earth by the way, besides cats). There was a closing BBQ at the beach. They really cared that everybody felt good during the whole conference, not just during talks.

There was a lot of Twitter activity during the talks under the hashtag #rubyconf_au. A LOT. Definitely more than at most of any other conferences, which is great.

I especially loved the handwritten notes by @sienatime, for example:

They've even handed out special edition t-shirts to the most active tweeters, which was a nice gesture:

The talks

The schedule was basically a good mixture between soft/social talks and more hardcore technical talks, which was good. Many of the soft talks focused on equality and inclusion in tech.

My personal highlight was, first and foremost, the talk of Dr. Nic (@drnic). Not so much because of the talk itself (which was a bit confusing), but just to see him on stage. When I started to learn Ruby on Rails, I literally grew up with Dr. Nic. Back in the days around 2007-2008, he was basically one of THE guys. And he didn't disappoint on stage because his talk was simply really funny.

Despite of that, there were many great talks, but in my opinion three talks really stood out:

First, the keynote by Jeff Casimir (@j3) was held without any slides, but the content was excellent anyway. Talking about failing in business and how to cope with it was a great, an entertaining and thoughtful intro which once again set the tone of the conference (that's what a keynote should do, right?).

Second, the absolutely hilarious talk by Adam Cuppy (@adamcuppy) called "What If Shakespeare Wrote Ruby?" turned into a super entertaining improv theatre on stage. Adam was once an actor, and you could definitely feel that - the crowd was really giddy with excitement after the performance.

Third, Senator Scott Ludlam (@SenatorLudlam) from Australias Green Party held a very thoughtful and intelligent talk about politics, citizens rights and how technology-savy people can contribute. This last talk of the conference ended with well-deserved standing ovations.

And of course there was a Friday Hug

Socializing and meeting people

All the people I've met were super-friendly and nice. Period. I guess it really had a lot to do with the tone of the conference which has been successfully set by the MCs at the beginning. It was just a good and positive atmosphere.

As already mentioned, they've also put a lot of effort in creating a great social environment to meet with people and talk. In the coffee and gelato line, at the various social events, etc.

Next to the (in-the-beginning-screwed-up) opening party, there was also another nice drink-up and dinner in the same pub where we already celebrated #checkBoxGate: food was great, unfortunately we had to eat in several rounds because they simply couldn't accommodate that many people. Afterwards some people actually went to a karaoke session, which was also big fun.

The conference ended with an entertaining party at a movie world theme park, again with a lot of networking, debates about the talks and more:

So, plenty of opportunities to meet interesting people!

In general: Rails is big in Australia. I met some very interesting Rails and skilled development firms, most notably RedAnt, Terem Technologies and reinteractive. I'm looking forward to do Scrivito projects with them als local implementation partners.

What else?

Staying at Gold Coast is a fun thing, but definitely you should add some days or weeks in Sydney, or maybe fly to Melbourne, where most of the tech companies seem to reside. A trip over to New Zealand is also only a few hours, so don't miss out Auckland and Wellington, where I also met interesting Rails Dev Shops like rabid and TouchTech.

What could have been better?

There's definitely room for improvement regarding the opening party (I guess I wrote enough about that). Also I'd definitely like to see conference badges a) on which you actually can read the name of the participant and the company and b) which actually are not literally hanging too low (so you don't have to bend down to read them), and c) contain the same information on both sides.

The absence of lightning talks was notable as well.

But besides of that: No complaints at all, only praise.

Would I go again?

Absolutely! Yes, yes and yes. Australia is a gorgeous country to visit and the conference was simply just great. Up to now, definitely the best Ruby conference I've ever been to. So, if you have the chance: Go there! You definitely won't regret it.

Hopefully see you next year in down under!

More great blog posts from Thomas Witt