RailsConf 2015 recap

April 28, 2015

I had an AMAZING time at RailsConf this year! A couple weeks before the trip, a coworker asked me whether I was excited about it, and I said I hadn’t had time to feel excited because I was worrying over my talk so much (which was about 1-2 weeks behind in prep time than last year’s). But I got it all done in the end with just the one close-to-all-nighter and followed most of my own tips/lessons learned from past conferences.

Recommended talks (I may update this as more things come back to me):
  • Women Who Code SoirĂ©e featuring a Chat with Sandi Metz: this was probably the absolute highlight of the trip for me! Notes from this forthcoming.
  • Sandi Metz's talk "Nothing is Something", on the null object pattern: video (35:00), slides
  • Sara Chipps' closing keynote on day 1 (dancing drone demo!)
  • "How Does Bundler Work, Anyway?" by Andre
  • Hsing-Hui's lightning talk on empathy & vaccinations analogy: video (4:45), slides
  • Crowd-sourced favorite talks on Twitter

These were some of the key items for feeling good about my talk. I also had an excellent time slot again, the first one after lunch on the first day! So it's totally worth it to put in a polite request for that to the conference organizers.

Before the talk:
  • I stayed at the speaker dinner the night before through dessert but then got myself back to my room by 10. And then I didn’t stay up too late after that just for practicing.
  • I told my friend David to come sit in the front row at my talk so I’d have a friendly face there right there.
  • I overpacked to have more choices, but I think I've settled on either a button-down shirt or dress for wearing while presenting instead of t-shirt + hoodie. I like that slight extra feeling of being more put together.
  • I skipped the second morning session so that I had all of that plus lunch until my talk to stay calm and not talk to people. I had meant to do a couple last practices the morning of but found myself not really interested in doing so, so I let it go.
  • I got to the room early to get everything hooked up and then didn’t want to go far, but also didn’t want to be around people before my time slot started…so I ended up just sitting on the floor behind the podium, hidden from sight. I wonder what the attendees thought when I sort of just popped up a couple minutes before I was supposed to start? Heh.

During the talk:
  • I gave myself permission to just stay safely behind the podium. Some day I’ll practice getting out from behind the podium but for this talk, I was focused on having a clear delivery of my first talk with code in it.
  • When I messed up in the bullet points I was looking over on a slide, I didn't let it derail or rattle me, I just noted it, fixed what I was saying, and then moved on.
  • When people chuckled at something I’d said or one of the images on my slides, I paused to give the space needed for that before moving on, so I didn’t rush things along unnecessarily.
  • I set up my slides so that while I did a lot of line-by-line builds throughout, for the summary slides, I put them up all at once while I was talking through them, so people had plenty of time to take photos of them for the Twitter, like so.
  • I told people at the end of my talk that I'm bad at introducing myself but very much wanted to talk to more people, so they should come up to say hello. I also said I’d be identifiable over the next couple days with my blue hair and Veronica Mars and Harry Potter t-shirts. This ended up working out very well!

After the talk:
  • I did the “hallway track” for the session after mine, i.e. skipped the next set of talks because I was too buzzed to pay attention anyway and tagged along with David to go talk to people here and there. It turns out even with people sitting around working on their laptops, there’s room to have at least some short conversations triggered by things like asking for stickers.
  • I didn’t plan anything strenuous for that evening, just dinner at a not-loud place with a few people I already knew.

One thing that was cool was that early on, I’d asked for a show of hands of who in the audience had had to deal with time zone problems before and had made mistakes. It was something like 95% of the room! So I was reassured by an immediate sense of solidarity there. David noted that contrary to my worries that this was too simplistic a topic for anyone to want to come or have anything to learn from, it was actually just hard enough of a problem to have interesting twists around it but not too hard for the time allotted.

It was really, really, really nice to be done with my talk before the end of the first day. I had requested to be placed earlier on in the schedule when I confirmed my attendance, so I’ll definitely put that request in again for future talks I give. People came up to thank me at various points over the next couple days as I wandered throughout the conference, which was really rewarding (thank you to those folks for the thanks!). I’ve resolved to do this more myself for speakers whose talks I attend.

Finally, I did a good job for the rest of the conference of introducing myself to people here and there, like Hsing-Hui when I somehow recognized her hat and back of head when she sat a few rows in front of me at a talk. I’d planned to get lunch with Stella on Wednesday and then we picked up a few more women along the way for a nice little group to go out for pho. It almost gave the last day a bit of a “end of summer camp” feel as I’d wave to familiar people as I walked around.

For the next conferences, the two things I’d like to do better at are:
  1. Pack my own snacks—snacks were hard to find and get at and there weren’t a lot of healthy options.
  2. [edit] Discovered this in my notes—if I attend another speakers event, like the pre-conference speaker dinner, I should do a better job of stalking the other speakers ahead of time so I won’t regret the opportunity to speak with some of them before they’re mobbed after their talks that I attend.
  3. Take more selfies with other people that have unnatural hair colors.

Like so:

This is not even that representative of all the other people who I talked to just because they had cool hair colors!

[edit] Oh I don’t know how I forgot, but I participated in the Opportunity Scholar/Guide program this year! I figure even with just the one year of attendance under my belt, I could maybe help someone out in navigating the conference to be less overwhelming. I found out I was accepted to be a Guide about a week before the conference and then was matched with Walter a few days later (everyone, say hi to Walter!) 

There was a mingling event the afternoon before the conference started and then I met up with Walter around once a day during the conference with breakfast together Wednesday morning and lunch on Thursday. They tried to reserve seats in the first couple rows of the big room for the Scholars/Guides during keynotes, which was nice (sometimes the “seats reserved” flyers didn’t get put out in time before seats were claimed, but it got better on later days).  Anyway, it was an easy thing to do, one more facilitated way to meet people, so if you’re attending next year and want to help welcome newer people, you should sign up!

Last note to self: log the time spent on each stage of building a talk for the next round.