Thinking of applying to this year's RailsConf Scholars and Guides program? Read on to hear from last year's Scholars about what it was like and why you should take the leap and apply!


Michelle Yuen

Professional Title:

Backend Developer for Adler Planetarium

How did you get into Ruby?

I was introduced to Ruby while working on an apprenticeship in Chicago called The Difference Engine. When I landed my first coding job, I left the Ruby world and went into Salesforce Development. I left Salesforce development because I was not happy being limited to the proprietary languages and tools that Salesforce provides. I was looking to do more work in open source, which led me to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. There I was happy to see that they use Ruby on Rails to build their main backend for the Zooniverse, their citizen science platform.

Are there any Ruby projects you're working on that you're excited about? 

I was truly inspired by Andy Croll's talk on Taylor's Guide to Big Rewrites. Not to give anything away, but I have named this project the Enhanced Running Average Stats Service (ERAS Service for short); and I will be following in the footsteps of someone who currently is on tour with the same tour name. ;)

Why did you decide to join the Scholars/Guides program?

I learned of the Scholars and Guides program from my First Ruby Friend, Mina. She convinced me that I should apply since the program would aid with some of my professional development goals: mainly networking/making professional connections but also getting advice on how to improve myself as a developer. This was my first RailsConf and I knew pretty much no one and no other developer from my team was attending so it felt like a good opportunity to meet people in a more structured setting.

What was the highlight of the conference for you?

I have many highlights for this conference from dinners at the Slutty Vegan to chatting with some speakers post their session.

But I think my top highlight was my lightning talk. My guide and his colleague convinced me to sign up for one during the scholars and guides reception (and I'm so glad they did!). After my lightning talk, I got to make a connection with an experienced dev who started their Rails career with the platform that I am currently working on (The Zooniverse). I got to learn more about my team and the Zooniverse infrastructure and how much it has changed in the past 10 years.

What surprised you, if anything about your RailsConf2023 experience?

I was surprised and pretty shocked to find out that I could understand, or at least follow along to 60-70% of all the more technical talks and to know that even super experienced devs also get the imposter syndrome feeling.

Any advice for first-time conference attendees?

Don't be afraid to take breaks if needed. A lot of sessions are recorded and the conference can be a bit overwhelming, so feel free to take the time to do what you need to do to recharge.

Dinner is the best place to meet and connect with other people. Someone is always posting about getting a group together for dinner on the RailsConf slack somewhere; feel free to join.

If you're a coffee addict, like myself, and are ok with free conference coffee, know that free coffee is only available in the morning before the keynote and during lunch. Depending on where the conference is held, most places are strict about taking down the coffee stations at the given times. :(

Lots of people like to hang out in the hotel lobby until super late in the night (or even til the wee hours o' morning, hehe), don't feel obligated to stay out late unless you want to. Feel free to say hi and go to bed whenever you want.

Any other final thoughts?

RailsConf was super fun and I hope to do this again (either as a scholar or as a guide). Check out my lightning talk. If you're looking for a volunteering opportunity and interested in helping out in active research projects, check out the platform.

Thank you Michelle for sharing your story! Feeling ready to apply to be a RailsConf 2024 Scholar or Guide? Sign up here today! The application deadline is February 20th.