Supporting the Ruby Community Since 2001
How this year's RailsConf 2023 tracks will help you become a more well rounded developer
Last year in a preview for RailsConf we highlighted the conference tracks (organized lineups of talks and workshops that focus on a particular themed category) and featured program committee members who shared why they were excited about the tracks they submitted, who they recommended each one for, and what it might be like to try following a track throughout the conference. As RailsConf 2023 approaches, this year’s program committee is doing things differently, setting a new paradigm for not only RailsConf but possibly future Ruby Central conferences to come.
I caught up with the program committee chairs to hear more about their approach to creating this year’s RailsConf tracks, what they’re excited about when it comes to CFP submissions this year, and how you can help shape this year’s conference whether you’re applying to give a talk or simply registering to attend.
A collaborative CFP process
With all of the exciting changes and conversations happening in the Ruby world — like the influx of social media users to Mastodon (a Rails platform) and the corresponding increase in interest in Activitypub and use of the Fediverse — this year’s RailsConf promises to spark some lively discussions. The conference tracks are being designed with an element of collaboration in mind. The program committee’s goal is to tune in to the conversations that are most important to the Ruby community at this moment and build the program from there. By offering broader track categories rather than selecting specific discussion prompts to guide submissions, the committee hopes to welcome a wider pool of potential participants to create a space for themselves in the program. This, in short, means almost all talk ideas are welcome!
“I was really interested in creating a voice for the community through the tracks,” says RailsConf 2023 program committee co-chair Chelsea Kaufman. “I think it’s really important…to make sure that we have talks coming to RailsConf that represent what the community wants to hear. We’re excited on our end that we’re going to shape the tracks and talks once we have all the CFPs,” she says.
Although there’s seemingly much more leeway for conference talk topics, the program committee decided to do away with the general track in favor of track themes.
“These tracks are not meant to tell them what we want to hear about. These tracks are designed to give them ideas,” says Jonan Scheffler, RailsConf 2023 program committee co-chair, to those considering submitting a talk proposal. “If their ideas do not conform to these tracks…we especially want to hear about it!” He encourages.
The program committee encourages potential speakers to help create a conference from the perspective of the whole developer. “We wanted to provide content that would help people generally…in their careers,” explains Scheffler.
A closer look at the RailsConf 2023 tracks
The track categories listed on the RailsConf 2023 CFP offer some topic suggestions, but they each also explicitly invite the community to submit their own alternative ideas. The program committee will help guide selected talks into the track that is the best fit, allowing for an exciting potential variety of talks in each area. As you’re preparing your CFP submission or (if you’re not presenting) simply doing some early planning, it might help to hear more about the program committee’s goals in creating each track.
The Tech Skills track is perfect for Rubyists who are “excited to share technology that they have been playing with, or a new gem that they’ve written, or something they’re interested in learning more about or sharing with their community,” says Scheffler.
For those attending or keeping their audience in mind, talks in this track will be ideal for those “looking to keep up with what’s coming out, or if you’re looking to improve or expand the scope of your technical ability,” he adds.
“To me, the People [Skills] track is about the individual person, but also what does it mean to work with lots of different types of people,” says Kaufman. This track encourages conversations on management and leadership… diversity, inclusion, mentorship — “not just about how to find a mentor, but how to be a good mentor,” adds Kaufman.
For those submitting to the CFP, she hints at a topic she’s excited about: how to be a compassionate engineer.
Perhaps the most straightforward category, the Community track is about “how we nurture and grow the Rails community,” says Scheffler.
“For community organizers much of what it takes to keep a community engaged and thriving comes naturally, but remember that many of your peers find this topic particularly challenging," he adds. "If you're having a hard time coming up with an idea consider speaking about your own experience as a developer. What works, what doesn't, and which pieces of your strategy you personally found surprising.”
“Oh, man...this is my favorite track!” shares Kaufman of the Career track. “Especially in this climate with all the layoffs happening, there’s a lot of folks looking for the next thing; we have a lot of amazing people coming into the industry.”
She hopes to see a wide range of talks come into the CFP, including topics like finding the networks that help you continue to grow; and navigating the job search at any stage in your career — even as senior management.
In a time where there is an influx of tech workers looking for jobs, Kaufman and the RailsConf 2023 program committee encourage speakers in this track to contribute to “finding ways to support them and rally around them.”
The best approach to RailsConf 2023
The potential breadth of topics is also something to be excited about for those attending the conference as non-presenters. Unlike other similar conferences focusing mainly on technical content, “RailsConf is special in that we like to talk about the whole person,” says Scheffler.
“I think that the way that we are shaping the conference, you have an opportunity to learn a little bit in a lot of different areas,” Kaufman adds.
Both program committee chairs agree that you’ll get the most out of this year’s RailsConf by attending talks in several different tracks. Attendees can take advantage of the wide variety of skills and advice available to round out their professional toolkits, both within and outside their niche.
“I recommend that people find talks that are interesting to them and mix and match according to their own interests,” says Scheffler. He also encourages folks to attend talks in tracks they may not have normally considered. “If you’re a tech person, stretch yourself and go to the community track. We want you to explore, don’t let the topics restrict your enjoyment,” he adds.
Don’t be afraid to choose a talk or two that feel unexpected or that don’t seem like the most popular in their track “You never know what you’re going to learn.. and you get an opportunity to really make some good connections with people, even in smaller settings,” Kaufman points out.
How to make the most of the hallway track
Of course, if you’re not attending a talk, workshop, or any of the other official activities during a session but still want to participate in the conference, the hallway track is here for you. It can be a great way to take a break — which is an important part of a successful conference experience, Scheffler notes — while staying engaged. “Hallways are for making friends; talks are for having something to talk to your new friend about,” he says.
The possibility of making new connections in the hallway can be exciting, “but it can also be very intimidating,” acknowledges Kaufman. “For new folks that this is maybe their first conference, or they’re earlier in their career; for all of our introverts out there, me included, the hallway track can be scary to, like, walk up to somebody.”
Kaufman says it’s up to experienced Ruby community members to contribute to making a hallway track that is rewarding and worthwhile. Including people in conversations and talking to that attendee who is “maybe looking a little lost, or doesn’t know where they need to go next” all help create the welcoming environment that holds potential for the best conference connections/hallway experiences.
“We as a community get to shape the hallway track,” she says.
Whether you’re looking to submit a talk or just signing up to attend and participate in all the other aspects of the conference, this year’s RailsConf 2023 will be shaped by what you contribute. You can make the most of your experience by intentionally exploring the topics all the tracks have to offer and creating an enriching and kind environment in the hallways and conference third spaces.
And if you’re submitting a talk, don’t hesitate to bring out your most unique, unexpected, and unconventional ideas. Those are the ones that will make the tracks even more exciting and create a conference that allows us all to learn a holistic view of success in the Ruby community.
If you want personalized advice on your talk and you’re reading this when it’s published, there is one final coaching session happening today! If you’ve missed the coaching session, check out these blog posts, which offer encouragement, and a wealth of valuable wisdom on creating a powerful conference talk. You can think of them as a coaching session in blog form.
Bottom line, if you’re considering submitting to the CFP, the support is all there. So we hope you follow that impulse.
“There’s a lot of imposter syndrome around submitting talks. No one has ever seen the world in the way that you have, and everybody brings a different perspective,” Kaufman affirms. “That’s what’s going to make the conference a success.”
February 21, 2023