This episode was recorded live at RubyConf in Los Angeles. We talked to special guests, Jennifer Tran, Christine Seeman, and Jeremy Schuurmans about the Ruby Central Opportunity Scholarship Program.
Check out this new podcast called The Local Maximum – it’s hosted by Max Sklar who is a Machine Learning Engineer at Foursquare. He covers a lot of fascinating topics: AI, building better products, and the latest technology news from his unique perspective. Max interviews a wide diversity of guests, including Engineers, Entrepreneurs, and Creators of all types. You can see their bios at localmaxradio.com, and subscribe to the Local Maximum podcast wherever you listen!
02:13 – Superpowers: Flying, Changing Diapers, and Empathy!
03:21 – Scholars’ Favorite Parts of the Conference
06:58 – Conferencing as an Introvert: Having Conference Buddies!
08:06 – Meeting New People
10:15 – Challenges of Conferencing
11:55 – Navigating Conference Parties and the General Hubbub
17:35 – Overcoming Pressure
21:09 – Lightning Talks
26:31 – Live Mob Programming Event
30:07 – Advice For Future Scholars
34:50 – Coming to Tech From Different Backgrounds and All Walks of Life
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JAMEY: Hi, everyone and welcome to Greater Than Code. This is a very exciting episode. We’re all here in person, which is not normally how we record, at RubyConf in LA, so it’s very exciting. I’m Jamey Hampton and I’m here with John K Sawers.
JOHN: Thank you, Jamey and I’m here with Jennifer Tran.
JENNIFER: Thank you. I’m Jennifer Tran and I’m a junior software engineer at Acorns and I would like to introduce Jeremy.
JEREMY: Hi, I’m Jeremy Schuurmans. I’m from Portland, Oregon and I’m a student at Flatiron School and I’d like to introduce Christine.
CHRISTINE: Hi, I’m Christine Seeman. I am from Omaha, Nebraska and I work at Flywheel. We do WordPress hosting for creatives and I would like to introduce to you, to Sam.
SAM: Hi, I’m Sam Livingston-Gray and I’d like you thought you could get away from but no. As mentioned, this is a very special episode. We are at RubyConf and we thought it would be fun to talk to some participants in Ruby Central’s Opportunity Scholarship Program and what’s that you asked?
ALL: What’s that, Sam? What’s that?
SAM: This is a program that was introduced, I think at RailsConf in 2013 and the idea is that as part of efforts to bring new people into the Ruby community who are otherwise, underrepresented or under-indexed in tech, the program involves finding people and giving them a free ticket and for some conferences, sponsors can be found to help with travel expenses as well, which is really cool. Participants get admission to the conference and they also get paired up with a guide who is, at least a slightly more experienced member of the Ruby community. I think the only requirement is that you have been to at least one Ruby Conference. This is accessible to most of you, listeners I hope. It’s really fun. I’ve enjoyed it a lot and I supposed, I stop talking and we should get to know our scholars.
Christine, what is your superpower and how did you acquire it?
CHRISTINE: I think my superpower would be flying. That’s always something I wanted to do and how I acquired it, I would hope it would be something like some nice, easy way of acquiring it, not like the dip in the acid type of way, so I’m going to say genetics.
SAM: Jeremy, how about you?
JEREMY: I am a father of two young boys and so, I think my superpower is changing diapers in less than 10 seconds. I acquired that from doing it a hundreds and hundreds of times for the past six years.
JENNIFER: I think my superpower is empathy because it happened through a lot in my life and I’ve seen other people that’s through a lot and like all superpowers, I need time to recharge this. Sometimes, I’m not as empathetic as I want to be but I have to take time and charge it back up.
SAM: Thank you. That self-caring is a really important thing that sometimes we overlook.
JAMEY: Today is the third and last day of RubyConf and I’m really excited to hear from our scholars about how has your conference experience been? What’s your favorite part? Was it different than you expected? Whatever you want to, tell us about it.
CHRISTINE: I would have to say my favorite part so far is getting to know everybody. Beforehand, we kind of had a RubyConf Slack and it was our intro to the guides and scholars. We chatted a little bit beforehand but it doesn’t really hits you until you get here — how many people are part of the Ruby community, so it’d been getting to see everybody and really meet them has been my favorite part of the conference.
JENNIFER: For me, it’s been connecting with others and really finding that sense of community. I feel like it shouldn’t be hard to come by and RubyConf makes it really easy and being a part of this program makes it really easy. It motivates me and make me feel safe. I really like it. I think the key to any fulfilling life is being connected with others, so it really helps with that.
JEREMY: Yeah, I definitely agree. One of the things I was looking forward to the most was meeting other people who programmed in Ruby because I’m in the Flatiron School Self-Paced Program, so I spend the majority of my day, like eight, nine, sometimes 10 hours a day just sitting in a corner of Starbucks by myself working on exercises and projects and things like that. It was great to meet some people in person so I can talk about Ruby.
JAMEY: Was being part of the program, do you think is helpful for that? Did your guide help to introduce you to the people in the community? How did it make the experience different for you, I guess?
JEREMY: My guide was great about forcing me to get out of my shell, which I really appreciated because I would’ve been totally fine just spending the entire time joined at the hip with him who but he introduced me to people and help me make connections and that was really helpful because I found that once the introductions were made, then it was a lot easier for me to get out there by myself and meet awesome people.
CHRISTINE: Yeah, I kind of had a similar experience. My guide is Catherine Meyers. She’s quite a bit outgoing and bubbly. She’s definitely talked at conferences before. She had a talk at the RubyConf last year, so she was able to help introduce me to different speakers. Beforehand, we actually had a talk and we went over the entire schedule. It was kind of like, “What did you want to get out of this conference?” and, “This is a talk I’ve heard before. It’s really good and I can introduce you to the speaker.” It’s kind of cool because you get to get introduced to the speakers that you might have felt weird by kind of walking up to on your own. But to have somebody like, “Oh, I know them. Come meet them.” It was a nice kind of push.
JENNIFER: Yeah, my guy is Jennifer Tu and she was just amazing. Normally, I don’t go to the conference on the first day. I just sat on the lobby for like 10 minutes because I was too scared to walk through and join. Knowing that she was in there somewhere really helped me feel safe enough to go and look for her because I knew that there was an angle that I wouldn’t be alone. Knowing that there were other scholars too that wanted to meet people is really helpful. The fact that she had so many friends and connections, helped me because that was one of my main goals — to meet people in the Ruby community who like Ruby and who want friends too. I really love the program. I love having a guide and I have to pick hard.
SAM: Actually, I want to build on that for just a second. As a guide and I’ve been a guide many times, pretty much every Ruby Conference that I go to that has the program, I try to participate and one of the things that I really like is actually the exact same thing that you just said, Jennifer which is that I’m an introvert and even though I know a lot of people here and I can sort of temporarily simulate an extrovert, it’s really hard to get out of my hotel room and into the big, scary crowd of people, so one of the things that I value as a guide is having a conference buddy that I can check in with. It takes the scope of interacting with the conference from, “Oh, my God. All of these people –” to, “I have got to find, at least this one person and see how they’re doing.” I get a lot from there too.
JAMEY: It’s like regular mentorship where it’s beneficial for everyone.
SAM: You think?
CHRISTINE: It’s just this nice little RubyConf bubble because for these three days, you try not to think of anything else when you’re trying to be present and take in everything that happens at this conference because it’s so quick. It’s over so quickly.
JEREMY: I have had time to think about it —
JAMEY: I really like what you said about meeting other people and not just being attached at the hip. I wasn’t a guide at this RubyConf because I was on the program committee and I didn’t want to overbook myself but I was a guide at RailsConf earlier this year and I really liked it but I was very nervous about it too. I felt like I have this person who’s new to the community and I have this responsibility to her and she’s awesome and she deserves all of my attention all the time and I was speaking and I couldn’t give her all of my attention all the time and I wished I had, I guess more spoons for her, specifically but I introduced her to a lot of people and I would like to see her talking to some of the other guys or other people. It almost made me feel like guilty a little bit at the time. I was like, “Oh, I should be helping her and instead, someone else’s helping her. That was really helpful for me to hear that that’s a good part of it like now you can go off on your own. I’m like reframing that whole thing in my head now to be like, “Isn’t it great that she could talk to all these other people too?”
CHRISTINE: And that was your introduction.
JEREMY: One of the highlights of my experience, like before I got here, Brandon Hayes was my guide and he sent me an email, just introducing himself and he asked me, have a list of questions and things you want to know about me, specifically about my goals with conference, what I wanted to get out of it. One of the things we talked about was how are we going to do this and definitely something that we had settled on was we don’t need to feed together the entire time.
I think it helped that I had that expectation coming into the conference, knowing that at some point, I would be putting myself out there. It was just getting over that initial… It is a huge hurdle. It is. It’s hard, especially for me but I think I’ve talked to a lot of people who have that same experience. But the Ruby community is fantastic and I can’t think of any other community that I would have wanted to have this experience with. It made it a lot easier.
JOHN: Was there any unforeseen or maybe foreseen challenges, specific to be here at the conference that everyone didn’t already mention?
CHRISTINE: Well, I’m also a parent and so, like in just kind of handling my toddler — we have a three and half year old — my husband by himself. I know, he’s very much looking forward to me coming back because sometimes, doing that solo parenting is just pretty stressful. It’s not two kids but even with that one kid by yourself, it can be a little bit tricky. I’ve kind of felt like I’m trying to just be here but you’re also kind of concentrating on what’s at home and how’s everybody doing.
JEREMY: One thing that I was really afraid of was networking. It was something that I really wanted to do because I felt like this was a really good opportunity to make contacts with companies and it seemed to me that I wouldn’t be able to get this opportunity anywhere else, so I wanted to get advantage of it but it was really hard to know how to approach that and what questions to ask. I realized pretty quickly that the parties are a really good way to do that, probably the best way.
I went to the Booze. I’m talking to people at the Booze but the real connections that I made were just grabbing a glass of wine and talking to somebody at a table and then suddenly, 10 minutes later, in the middle of this great conversation, they tell me that they’re a CTO of some company. That was a big challenge and it took a little bit to figure out how to navigate but once you start it, it becomes easy, I think.
SAM: That was just a really interesting point, which is that the conference parties, as you say they’re really effective way to network with people but they’re also not necessarily accessible to people who live locally and have to drive home to their partners or children or don’t like being around alcohol or who have problems in large, noisy, crowded environments. I wanted to make some space to talk about that as well.
JENNIFER: I don’t drink, so I thought that would be a major problem because I know that’s how people connect, especially at my work. People like to grab drinks after work and it has made me feel excluded before so I thought that would happen again but there are a lot of different ways to connect and I was glad that I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything just because they didn’t go to any of the parties. I felt like it was accommodating to my needs.
JEREMY: Even though that was my experience, we also did plenty of things outside, around downtown, that didn’t involve alcohol. I went out to dinner with people plenty of times and had some — I would go on a limb and say that — life-changing conversations at this conference.
JAMEY: That’s awesome to hear. That is so heart-warming.
CHRISTINE: With me, I do drink but I was feeling a little tired. Yesterday, I did want to socialize but I didn’t really feel like partaking. As long as you’re okay with louder situations, I felt that there was plenty of non-alcoholic beverages. I didn’t feel forced, definitely to drink anything just to be there. I have this line so sometimes, it’s just annoying to have to take it out just to have a drink and so, it’s nice to just have sparkling water but still, be able to socialize and make those connections.
JEREMY: It can also be exhausting. I think for most people, I’ve heard maybe four or five people say before the conferences that conferences are exhausting, so be ready for it and I really had to decide whether or not, I was going to take time for myself at these conferences because on the one hand, I don’t want to miss out on anything. I want to be at every single talk and every gathering and meet all the people but I found that I needed to, sometimes seek quiet, maybe after lunch before the session start. Even today, we’re on Day 3 and it’s been such a busy two days.
As I got up this morning, I was needing to get out, get ready, get down for the opening keynote and I felt like, “No. Not yet,” so I just livestreamed it from on my phone, drank some coffee and then when I came back down, I felt a lot more refreshed than I think I would have otherwise.
SAM: I wish I had done that.
CHRISTINE: Actually yesterday morning, I kind of roamed around. I’m on Central Time and so, I’m trying not to adapt to the Pacific Time because I have to go back and I just don’t want to have to deal with that and so, in the morning, I found the pool area and there was absolutely nobody in there because for some reason, nobody was working out or going to the pool before —
JEREMY: There’s a pool?
CHRISTINE: There is a pool. It’s beautiful. It’s like from the 1920, so it looks like there should be a Gatsby Lane somewhere with a martini.
CHRISTINE: Oh, yeah. You have to see pictures of the pool and so —
SAM: Oh, I know what we’re doing after we’re finished recording this.
CHRISTINE: And so what I did is even though I don’t have a swimsuit, I just pulled out my candle and I just kind of had that alone time to recharge and not have to talk about yourself or introduce yourself for a little bit. It definitely helps. You kind of center yourself and then you’re like, “Okay, I’m ready for the chaos again.”
JOHN: Yeah. Finding what self-caring you needed at conferences, it’s an iterative process. We have little chats before for all those scholars to come to the conference. I try and say, “Make sure to take care of yourself. Make sure you have a lot of opportunities to run up to your hotel room and just sit in the quiet room or the garden for a while.” Also, if you’re done at five, when the keynote wraps up, just go back to your room and you can be done. You haven’t ruined the conference. You didn’t do it wrong. It’s all about keeping yourself healthy, so that when you are out in the conference, you are bringing yourself. You’re off feeling comfortable and safe and energized, rather than like, “Oh, my God. Is everybody out there and I can’t possibly face them.”
JAMEY: Yeah, that FOMO is so real and I think this is kind of what we’re starting to get and people have been talking to me about it at the conference too. I’ve been trying to tell people like, “You’re not allowed to have FOMO at a conference where they record all the talks.” You can just go back. People are like, “Oh, I missed this talk on this track. I’m so sad.” I’m like, “Well, I have great news for you. That talk was excellent and you can still see it,” but it’s still hard because it’s not just about the talks and there’s wanting to be like different places at once or wanting to feel like you’re getting the most or for our listeners at home, around the ‘most out of things.’ I think that’s a really kind of delicate balance to walk sometimes but I totally agree that there’s not a wrong way to do it. You’re getting out as much as you personally can and if that’s not the same thing that someone else is getting out of it, that’s kind of natural.
SAM: I’m curious if anybody else has other fears about what they might have been doing wrong. Somebody, just a few minutes ago said something about doing conferencing wrong and that made me think of the thing that I went through where for the first mumble years of my career when I went to conferences, I felt like I had to go to a talk in every timeslot or I was wasting my money and time. I realized an embarrassingly small number of years ago that it was okay to skip tracks because I was having a good conversation then. I’m wondering if there are any other pressures that you felt.
CHRISTINE: I definitely just have that same pressure. I actually had a thing about yesterday. I told my guide and I was like, “I’m going to go and take some time for myself,” but I literally just took five minutes and I was like, “Oh, no. There’s another talk,” and then I just went to the talk. Maybe that knowledge will come eventually but right now, I’ve been doing the talk in every single timeslot.
JAMEY: That sounds exhausting.
JENNIFER: Right from the bat, my guide told me that there really isn’t a wrong way to do a conference and so, she really validated that I could do whatever I wanted and it would be okay and I’m not losing anything by skipping a talk or just taking some time and have some tea or talk to somebody in the hallway. She reminded me a lot that I can just do the hallway track, which was really nice because I didn’t forget. At the first day, I was scared about missing out and then, I remembered that it’s all recorded. It’s fine. The only thing I might be missing out on is cheering on the person talking but I could tweet them or something.
JEREMY: [inaudible] love being tweeted. I really made an effort before I got here, at least what I thought was a reasonable expectations for myself and to try and come in with, I guess I can say like minimal expectations from conference and what I mean by that is I had a few things that definitely wanted to do like I had to meet Matz. That was the number one.
JAMEY: Did you meet Matz?
JEREMY: I did. I got a picture of him first day. It was right before the opening keynote at Day 1. I came down just probably 10, 15 minutes early and he was just there in the hallway. At first, I didn’t want to walk up to him, then I thought, “What if I don’t get another chance?” and then I thought, “No, I can’t,” and then I almost chickened out but then some other people started surrounding him and I was able to sort of like silo into the group a little bit. As he met them, he came around and shook my hand and I was like, “Can I get a picture with you?” which was really awesome, especially for a brand new programmer. I haven’t been programming less than a year.
JAMEY: I’ve never met Matz so you’re ahead of me.
JEREMY: Ruby is my first language and it was just cool. I didn’t actually thank him. I should have thanked them because learning Ruby has totally changed my life and that was definitely a highlight, so that was where I mingles and I had two or three others that I definitely wanted to get done but I didn’t want to go beyond that because I didn’t want to put that much pressure on myself.
JOHN: I got to meet Matz because my scholar wanted to meet him, so I just have to say hi too.
JAMEY: It turns out Matz was just a guy.
JOHN: He will just levitate or lightning —
JAMEY: They know —
SAM: Today, I learned that Matz has [inaudible]. I think it broke Jamey.
JAMEY: Okay, I’m back.
JOHN: I knew two of you here gave a lightning talks yesterday at the lightning talk session and it’s something we try to make available for scholars that are interested in doing that sort of thing and maybe, want to stretch themselves a little bit. I would love it if you want to talk about what that experience was like and how that fits into what your concept of your career and your conferencing is going to be.
JEREMY: Do you want to go? It’s terrifying. The last thing about being a scholar program is that you get an opportunity to be sort of first in line for lightning talks. They’re really making an effort to make sure that you can actually give one if you want to because there’s never a time for all of them. It’s terrifying. How many people in that room, do you think?
JOHN: Eight hundred?
JEREMY: But I just kept telling myself I can do anything for five minutes. In the end, you wind up being glad that you did it. One thing that’s nice is if you are more introverted, doing something like that, you will know it’s a huge undertaking or it feels like a huge undertaking, it’s a really nice way to put yourself out there because people will come up to you and recognize you in hallways and things like that.
JAMEY: What was your lightning talk about?
JEREMY: I talked about impostor syndrome from the perspective of brand new developers and how we can try and overcome this fear of not knowing something or feeling like we don’t belong in the community because we don’t know enough or don’t understand enough.
JAMEY: Very important.
JEREMY: I thought so. That actually came from a conversation I have of my guide. I was going for something completely different and then, we were just chatting about that and it came up and I couldn’t get it out of my head and so, I did that instead.
JAMEY: Well, congratulations.
JENNIFER: I also found giving the talk to be terrifying and even talking about it now and acknowledging that happened is also kind of scary to me but I need to get used to not suppressing my experiences. This is nice, thank you for asking. The fact that there are sponsors for scholars, the talk is really important because it’s giving them a voice and the opportunity to speak their voice, which is I think what not a lot of people get to do, especially people who get into technology in unconventional ways. It’s really important to hear their voice too because ultimately, we want to include them and cater to their needs and the first way we do that is by listening to what they have to say.
My talk was really personal and that was actually my first time talking about it publicly. I actually haven’t even talked about it to my own family so it’s really difficult but I thought that it was necessary because there are chances that someone out there might find this important and it will resonate with them and hopefully, give them courage that I’m trying to get into. It was really nice and terrifying.
CHRISTINE: Thank you for sharing you talk, Jennifer. It really was great.
JOHN: It was really impactful.
JENNIFER: Thank you.
SAM: I really appreciated how vulnerable you made yourself on the stage and even more than that, well perhaps as much as that, I also appreciated how instantly supportive everybody in the room was to that. Really, it said to me a lot about the community and the space we’re in right now. I’m glad you got that.
JENNIFER: Thank you. I’m really glad for that too and I kind of predicted that would happen because we have things like an ethical track and all of our keynotes talked about community and inclusion and diversity. I haven’t been in the community for long. It’s just a couple of months. I don’t know what the standard is but I’m glad that I’m coming into it for that’s being put into the spotlight.
JAMEY: I agree. The way the community as a whole at RubyConf, especially this year but in general, I think are a community that response to things like this. Particularly, I ran the ethical track and I had so many people wanting to talk to me like, “It was so great.” It means so much to me that it’s important enough to the conference and to the conference organizers to make this track that is equal to the other ones and the technical stuff.
I think this is a two-fold thing. It’s like the conference itself had to decide, “This is important and we’re going to do it,” but then also the people at the conference could have been like, “Well, I hate it,” and nobody said that. Everyone was so responsive to it and I think that at other conferences, it might not be the same and so, it was very kind of heartwarming for me to be able to talk about stuff that I think is important and have other people to be like, “You know what? I agree with you,” and that’s important so that was really validating.
SAM: Hey, speaking of being supportive and talking about interesting things, check out this new podcast called ‘The Local Maximum.’ It’s hosted by Max Sklar who’s a machine learning engineer at Foursquare. He covers a lot of fascinating topics: AI, building better products and the latest technology news from his unique perspective. Max interviews a wide diversity of guests, including engineers, entrepreneurs and creators of all types. You can see their bio’s at LocalMaxRadio.com and subscribe to The Local Maximum Podcast wherever you listen.
One of the fun thing that we did that actually, it turns out Jennifer is at the intersection of all the awesome things that we did with the scholars. We also did, as part of the after-lunch plenary session yesterday, there was a live mob programming event and we recruited participants from the pool of scholars and put them up on stage, sandwiched between an expert code typist and a really great facilitator and a programmer. That sort of give the scholars the support that they needed to actually go through a live coding exercise on stage, which as anybody who has ever even contemplated such a thing knows, is terrifying. It went really well and I think it really gave our scholars another opportunity to shine and Jennifer, I’d like to know, how that went for you as somebody who was on stage and presumably being terrified?
JENNIFER: It was really fun, actually. It felt like a lot like a game show. I thought it would feel a little bit like a test and we were like racing against the clock but the audience was supportive with their cheering and also, they whispered answers aggressively to us. That was just hilarious and it just made it really fun. I’ve never been on a game show but I like to watch them and I feel like this is something we should definitely do again because I think, a lot more people would want to participate. It’s a learning experience for the people in the crowd and for the people on the stage and for the people facilitating, the people who wrote it. I think overall, it’s for everyone.
Personally, it was like super-boundary pushing because I like to code in private, which is something I’m trying to get out of because I know that it is beneficial if you get input from other people because they have different perspectives and that’s helpful in solving problems. Mob program just gives people the chance to push their boundaries in a way that feels safe. That’s just my personal take on it.
CHRISTINE: Yeah, I was in the audience and I thought I was back a little bit further so I didn’t hear some of the whispering but the commentator was like, “Stop. Give our scholars a chance to answer.” I was just like, “That’s kind of nice,” because you knew how with the audience was totally into it and they want to help them along. It felt like there was a lot of enthusiasm, which is always great for after lunch session. It looked like everybody was having a good time doing it and it felt like it was a good thing for everybody.
JENNIFER: Yeah. Actually, I really like that the facilitator would sometimes remind the audience that they shouldn’t shout answers because it felt like validating to know that we were allowed to take time and it was okay to not know the answer right away and to be wrong, like that’s totally acceptable as part of the learning process. It was really nice to be reminded of that.
JOHN: Betsy is good.
JENNIFER: She’s fantastic.
SAM: So she didn’t sponsor this episode but I’ll plug her anyway. The facilitator of that exercise was Betsy Haibel of Cohere and in addition to being an excellent programmer, she also has some top notch facilitation skills and does those things for money, if you’re interested in finding someone for that. Also, Cohere is a friend of the show and has supported us in the past.
JAMEY: We appreciate them.
SAM: Yes. I should stop talking now.
JOHN: Now, that you’re going to the end of your first Ruby Conference, is there any advice that you might have for a future scholars coming into the program that would be doing at RailsConf and future RubyConfs?
CHRISTINE: Don’t forget the importance of bringing a power bank. Your phone is going to run out of battery and you don’t want to be tied to the back of the room, so bring your power bank, don’t bring your laptop.
JEREMY: We touched on it a little bit before but definitely, take time for yourself. One of the things that I wish I would do differently was plan out my travel from the airport a little bit early. It took a while to figure out how to get downtown, so having an itinerary would be good.
JENNIFER: I would advise to conference goers and new people to RubyConfs to not be afraid to approach people. From my own experience, it seems like everyone is super friendly. Just be wary of people’s boundaries. But for the most part, I think people are very communicative and they would let you know if you’re crossing their boundaries. Don’t be afraid to ask people out to dinner and don’t feel pressured to go out to dinner too.
JAMEY: I think that in general, people in the community really love talking to scholars because when you’re just networking and chatting with people and someone says, “Oh, it’s my first conference and I’m part of the scholar program,” or whatever, I know that how I feel is like, “That’s so great. Tell me all of it like how your conference is going,” and I think that —
SAM: You’re one of today’s 10,000.
JAMEY: — and I think that a lot of people in the community feel that way because it’s just so great to see fresh faces coming to the community and being excited and new. We hear stuff like, “Ruby is dead,” like [inaudible] and in his keynote. I also disagree with that but it’s a phrase that gets thrown around and it’s disheartening for people sometimes, so to see new people coming to the community and excited about it, makes me feel like, “Of course, it’s not dead,” and it makes me feel good, so I love talking to scholars.
JEREMY: One piece of advice, if you’re coming to the conference as a student, I would say also be proud of the work that you’ve done. I guess, a personal example, at the reception where a scholar go to the reception and I was chatting with people and somebody in the group started asking everybody what they were working on. I was terrified because all that I built are, at least to me are really basic applications, so I was really nervous about talking about what I had done. But when I did, the response was really, really positive. They asked me questions about my database and things like that. It was great. Be proud of the work that you’ve done because the work that you’ve done is better than you think.
JAMEY: Don’t devalue yourself?
JEREMY: Yeah, absolutely.
SAM: This is not necessarily advice for beginners. Everybody can use it but beginners in particular, I want you to know about this. If you want to talk to a speaker, a really good way to approach somebody is after their talk, approach them with specific feedback. As somebody who has given talks myself, what I find is a lot of people come up to the stage and two-thirds of them just want to say, “That was great. I really enjoyed it. Thank you,” which is super great to hear but it doesn’t leave me a lot of places to go with a conversation from there, so if you have a specific question, something that you are concerned or that you’re confused about or you would love some clarification, that is a really great way to start and engage the conversation that you can then carry out into the hall and then you’ve made a new friend.
JAMEY: Or even, “I really liked your talk, this specific thing that you said really spoke to me.”
JOHN: Yeah, that’s very helpful.
CHRISTINE: But it is helpful that it’s constructive, actionable feedback. I actually was there one time, listening to somebody gave the negative, not-really-wanted feedback right then, that was kind of done in a very more aggressive manner. It’s something that it’s great to have passion about it but maybe take a step back and make sure it’s a feedback that they can actually work with.
JAMEY: I got some negative feedback on my talk that made me laugh. At one time, I went five minutes over my presentation time and then, I got an official feedback from the survey that was like, “This talk was too short,” and I was like, “Thanks, I guess.”
CHRISTINE: It’s kind of cool with the guide and the scholar program is that it’s all different ages too. Like you said, fresh faces but I’ve been a programmer for 12 years but I was a Java programmer for 12 years and I just switched over to Ruby five months ago, so people that are in the code bootcamps, there’s a lot of really young Rubyist but there’s also the kind of older ones too. Sometimes, it can be a different perspective when you are working full time and have kids and then, are trying to get into the Ruby or like I thought my background was a typical background. I did a computer science degree then I got a job right away in Java and I did that for 12 years and then now, I happen to work in Ruby and it’s great to see all the different perspectives you could bring. You’re fresh but maybe not young.
JAMEY: That’s a great point about people’s background. I think it’s really interesting to hear people talk about their backgrounds because, just as an example, one of the talks on the first day, the speaker was Cecy Correa who is amazing and her talk was amazing. She was talking about how her background was in film studies and I was sitting in the audience like, “Me too, me too,” so that’s really cool. It’s really cool not only to see all the different perspectives but the personal connection with someone that’s like, “We have a similar background. That’s maybe untraditional and now, we ended up in this kind of similar place,” and it’s a good way to kind of really connect with someone on the personal level.
CHRISTINE: I think they took that into account, actually first in the guide-scholar pairs because Catherine, my guide, she actually has a background in professional singing. She was an opera singer and now she works at Apple as an engineer. I’m actually a viola player. They kind of use that music background and we’re actually at the same age, so it’s really interesting to see how your career paths have kind of gone and those career paths that aren’t necessarily a straight line is really interesting to see people who have later in life, how did you get to where you are at.
JAMEY: I think that a lot of those skills do become useful in ways that you don’t expect. My boss, the CTO at my company was a producer in the entertainment industry before he got into tech. He actually has a Grammy which is wild. He really brought it to show and tell in one of our off-site once and I was like, “I have to present my show and tell after that,” but I always go over him because I’m very neurotic, he came on and he was my manager — I’ve been at the company longer than him, so he’s like my new manager now — and I was like, “Here’s what you have to know about me. I’m very neurotic. I get stressed out. I talk about our one-on-ones and I focus on stuff and this is just all stuff I know about myself, so just get ready for me to be neurotic,” and he’s always like, “I worked in entertainment and you’re fine.”
JOHN: I always love to hear the perspectives the people who come to tech from alternate backgrounds because I think, you learn so many different ways of thinking in doing whatever else that thing was that you were doing and when you can bring that into tech, you can have different ways of understanding with things, so that not everyone is just going down that same narrow path of, “Yes, I did my algorithms and my data structures and now, I will build a binary tree to do this problem,” where someone else could come in and say, “You know, when we work in fine dining, we really focused on customer experience and so, let’s maybe look at it from the customer experience perspective and bring that back into the product.”
There’s so many different ways to do that, that one of the things we really look forward when we’re evaluating scholars and guides is, is there a really interesting background? There are great story about how you’re coming to tech that’s going to add new novelty, new interesting experiences to this community.
JEREMY: That’s one of the things that made me really proud to be here because I think that if anybody who has any kind of pre-conceived idea in their mind of what a programmer is or who programmers are or what their backgrounds are, if they were to look at the crowd here today, it would just smash those stereotypes. It has been awesome, the conference and I think this is a reflection of the Ruby community in general, they’ve really made an effort to make sure that everybody feels welcome. Everything from pronoun buttons, gender-neutral bathrooms, which was huge and that was awesome for me to see. This has been great to be here and part of this community.
JAMEY: That’s another one of those things that I think is two-pronged because I’ve been pushing for pronoun buttons to Ruby Central for years and I’m really, really pleased that we have them now. But again, the conference has decided, we want to have pronoun buttons and I felt good about it. Then on the first day, they already made announcements about the pronoun buttons in the intro and the people clapped and cheered and I was going to cry in my seat because not only do we have them but people like them and that’s also important.
CHRISTINE: Because they use them.
JAMEY: Yes. Everybody use them. I was so impressed. I’ve been to other conferences that have pronoun buttons but I have never seen a higher percentage of people who are actually put them on [inaudible]. It’s amazing.
JOHN: Okay, so those are some really great reflections we’ve had from our guest here today. Is there any final words that you want to make before we wrap up?
JAMEY: There is something, actually. I wanted to say that John was one of the volunteers that worked on a Scholar Program, is that right?
JAMEY: And he didn’t come up because he’s very humble but we’re talking about it for the past hour and I just want to give him credit.
JOHN: Thank you. I worked on the program with Allison McMillan, Kinsey Ann Durham and Abby Phoenix from Ruby Central and we all volunteer to do the organization and read all the applications and all the guides and do all the matching and do the coordination. It’s really gratifying work to be able to make this program possible and to see the great experiences that the scholars are able to have.
JAMEY: And thank you for doing it.
CHRISTINE: Yeah, thank you, John.
JENNIFER: Yeah, thank you.
SAM: Well, thank you all for such a wonderful conversation. This has been another really fun episode of Greater Than Code. I really want to do more live ones now, so I guess I should start going to more conferences if there’s something. We’ll be back at you next week, listeners and enjoy.