Getting the most out of RailsConf

Apart from the main talks and brilliant keynotes, here's my thoughts on what else makes for a good RailsConf:

  1. The Internet will still be there when you get home; the people won't.
    If you're checking Facebook when you could be engaging with old or new friends in person, you're missing out. Practice the language of small talk. You might not be able, or want, to switch off from email altogether, but at least letting your clients/colleagues know you're at a conference so your responses might be delayed gives you some breathing space. I've learnt my lesson and now I put an auto-responder on; unless there's a crisis, I don't want to miss out on the talks, conversations and fun to be had.
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  3. Females of the species
    Guys, if you spot a female, remember: it's rude to stare. If you decide to approach a female, do try and think of something, anything, to say after "uh HI!"
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  5. Join in with other activities

    Mike Clark. Photo by James Duncan Davidson

    We have some talented and aspiring musicians, photographers and athletes in our community. You too? Organize, promote or take part in a jam session, photo walk or morning run.</li>

  6. Give a lightning talk (or at least attend them)

    Photo by James Duncan Davidson

    </strong>I have to admit, I used to not go to Lightning Talks, assuming they were some weird, uber-nerd boys only club. Totally not the case, I really enjoy the variety these offer and the freedom to participate.
    If you're thinking of giving one at the next RailsConf:

    • Get your name signed up early!
    • Practice. Keep the content concise, and the delivery fast-paced.
    • Technical talk? Don't live code. Make sure your code can be read on a big screen, in a big room (e.g. dark text, light background, big fonts).
    • Non-so-technical? Great! I love that we have talks like Greg Nelson educating us about how we can help in Rwanda and Jim Remsik helping us to laugh our way to better work.

  7. Visit the exhibition hall

    Photo by James Duncan Davidson

    Hang out, talk to the people behind the services you use or find out about the ones you don't: at worst you'll get a sticker; at best you'll have good conversations with interesting people, maybe even develop work opportunities.</li>

  8. Switch off from the technical
    The conference day can be intense. In the evenings, switch off and enjoy some non-technical chat over dinner, drinks... maybe some more drinks. This railsconf I learned about the various roles of dolphins in combat (Randall Thomas), how to test prospective partner's fast-twitch muscle genes with a simple DNA test* (Bruce Williams), what it's like to climb Kilimanjaro (Glenn Rob) and how to win at pool** (Tammer Saleh).
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  10. Selecting which talks to go to
    At a conference as big as RailsConf, with 4 tracks, this can be a tricky balancing act - do you go to a topic you're currently working on, something you want to learn more about, something you know nothing about? Maybe ask those around you what they're going to next and why. If you don't know the speakers, ask others what they're like. If in doubt, I go for the entertaining speaker.</p>

    [caption id="attachment_43" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Still from presentation: 'Ruby On Rails: Tasty Burgers' by Aaron Patterson"][/caption]</li>

  11. What to do for lunch and dinner?
    Apart from lunch at the conference venue, keep your eyes open for lunch & dinner get togethers. The RailsBusiness group had a lunch sponsored by Thoughtbot this year. There was a cucumber dinner, organised by Aslak Hellesøy. And obviously lots of informal gatherings, the beer and whisky aficionados aren't exactly shy about mentioning their new found homes away from hotels.
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  13. Go to the side events
    IgniteRailsConf the night before RailsConf started was brilliantly entertaining.
    The official 'unconf', BohConf this year, is free and a good place to hack, learn from and help like minded folk.
    And, if you're lucky, there's also LarkConf. I had to leave early and missed out on this one, but did get a nice hug from the big man himself instead.
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  15. Don't be intimidated

    Rich Kilmer - The world's most dangerous programmer. Photo by Mike Clark

    There might be some 'big name' people around, whose work you've used or who you generally admire. Most people will appreciate a quick hello and a thank you if you benefit from their work.</li>
    * This may not have been his intended argument
    ** Dammit, maybe next time