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September 17, 2008

Voices That Matter: Professional Ruby Conference (Part 1)

I'm headed up to Boston in mid-November to do something I've never done before: chair a technical conference! The event is hosted by my publisher, Addison-Wesley as part of their support and promotion of my Professional Ruby Series.

Extra Action Bandleader

Before going any further, I have to address something that some of my friends have given me flack for, both privately and on twitter: the name of the conference sounds snotty.

Voices that matter? SRSLY? Does that mean people not speaking at the conference don't matter? (Actually, that name is used for more than just this Ruby conference.)

My publisher might kill me for this, but I have to admit that I had reservations about the name at first also. It might not always come across online, but in person I'm actually a pretty humble guy about my accomplishments and outlook. SRSLY! So plainly put, it was only once we started getting our speakers lined up that I was able to put my concerns aside and start getting enthusiastic about the conference and what we're going to accomplish with it. I hope you will also, which is a big part of why I'm writing this now.

First of all, I have to tell you about the format of the conference, which I take responsibility for defining. Normally, the AW conferences are multi-track, with 45 to 60 minute talks. I said: "No way. That sounds awful!".

RubyFringe, originally uploaded by Leftist.

RubyFringe sealed the deal for me on one-track conferences. Technical conferences should be kept small in attendance, have just a single-track, and short talks. Short talks are especially important, since all topics are not equally interesting to everyone in attendance (or god forbid I fuck up and invite a boring speaker) as long as talks don't go beyond 30 minutes then we're safe from completely going off the rails.

In fact, we're following as much of the advice given by Pete Forde in this blog post as possible, starting with the following:

  • 30 minute talks are superior, and questions should be discouraged
  • 150 attendees, 20 speakers, and 30 volunteers is the perfect intersection between big and small
  • you do not need sponsors!
  • you should charge real money for your event, your attendees will thank you because it will be worth going to
  • make sure women play a leading role in organization and speaking
  • single track is totally the way to go, because it keeps people together and allows an ongoing narrative


Women are definitely playing a leading role in organizing the conference. The inimitable Barbara Gavin is the conference organizer. She's got a huge spirit and is very experienced with this stuff. Debra Williams, my editor and familiar face at Ruby conferences, has a prominent role in hosting the conference too.

I hope you join me in Boston for what promises to be an exciting conference. The registration information is here and in the following installments of this little blog post series I'll start covering some of the exciting speakers and topics that we have lined up for you.

If you read this far you should probably follow me on twitter:


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