RailsConf2022 boasts an exciting variety of tracks and talks that highlight the creativity and interdisciplinary nature of the Ruby community. As a tech sector newcomer, I thought it would be fun to curate a series highlighting talks that immediately captured my curiosity, and get to know their respective speakers a little better. Read on for today’s speaker spotlight…

Title of Talk:

Leveling Up from Planning to Production

Speaker: Thomas Countz

headshot - Thomas Countz.JPG

How Did you get into Ruby?

I was learning how to code from books and resources on the internet. Originally, I was really into Python because I enjoyed the “There should be one– and preferably only one –obvious way to do it” ethos codified in the Zen of Python (link: https://peps.python.org/pep-0020/). Python felt learnable to me.

Then, I found a resource called The Odin Project (link: https://www.theodinproject.com/) that vibed with the way that I enjoyed learning. It used a language called “Ruby” and taught a framework called “Ruby on Rails,” and that’s when I discovered web development, which seemed like a great way to enter the software engineering industry!

As luck would have it, at the same time of discovering this thing called “Ruby,” I was working at a coffee shop where a regular customer would come in and work. I got a peek at their screen one day and… WHAT?! “IS THAT RUBY?!” Sure enough, it was!

Not only was it Ruby, but the woman writing it ended up becoming my best friend and mentor. The story of “how I got into Ruby,” cannot be separated from, “how did you meet your best friend Christine,” because meeting Christine is the story of Ruby. Rubyists support each other, they teach, they get excited about expanding the community, they create resources, give back, and on top of it all, they’re wicked smart.

Having her invest and believe in me is the inciting incident that lead me to where I am today.

What’s your favorite part about working on Open Source Software?

The reach, impact, and community. Working on OSS, rather than only using it, means you are on the forefront of solving issues that can have a huge impact! I love solving problems and it seems like the larger the impact, the more satisfying it is for me to contribute.

That being said, it’s not something I’ve done a lot of. Those who are consistent contributors are also often great community leaders. What motivates me most to becoming a contributor means giving back to the community which has given me so much!

What’s your least favorite part about working on OSS?

The barrier to entry. I don’t know that there’s a silver bullet to this; maintainers can invest A LOT into getting people onboarded to contributing, but going from OSS user to OSS contributor can feel like a wide chasm.

That being said, because it’s my “least favorite part,” I’m fiercely interested in finding out how to make it easier for folks to get started!

What inspired you to give this talk?

As I became more senior, I felt the structures around me beginning to fall down. As a junior, those “structures,” were patterns of work that I’d been taught to use in order to navigate small tasks: write tests, ask to pair, read about code smells, develop good PR hygiene…

As a senior, it seemed like there were no structures—no guidelines—for approaching bigger responsibilities. Everyone kind of just figured it out for themselves. How do we communicate about larger and larger systems? How do we look at a business priority and systematically know how to approach it from an engineering perspective? How do we become responsible for work that can span months, not just days?

I had to get more comfortable not knowing what I was doing. Getting good at not knowing sounds like it’s easy, but it’s actually a huge responsibility! You have to admit to what you don’t know and make a plan for how you’ll reduce those unknowns over time. As I had chats with colleagues about this, it turned out that lots of them felt this same dissonance.

What do you want people to take away from it?

I hope that people will take away some practical examples of how to lean into unknowns, rather than shy away from them. Not only is it okay not to know something, it’s our job to recognize gaps in our knowledge and to develop a strategy for navigating them in order to get our work done.

What are you most looking forward to at this conference?

I was really looking forward to maybe making a friend or two… As it turned out, I’d made dozens! Everyone at RailsConf was so eager to learn from each other. It was truly inspiring. I’m still riding the wave of encouragement and inspiration!

Did you do anything fun in Portland during conference week?

While I was in Portland, I went to arcades and coffee shops and diners and bars… it was never ending, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Thank you, Thomas, for sharing a bit of your story. See you at RailsConf2022: Home Edition!