JRubyConf and eurucamp 2015

Posted on by Laura

Categories: blog and conferences

On the last week(end) of July, some of us – Rails Girls Summer of Code core organisers – headed to Potsdam for JRubyConf and eurucamp. JRubyConf, a one-day conference, had reached out to us because they found themselves with a pretty terrible male to female speaker ratio. In order to make this problem more visible, they wanted to involve Sara and me as MCs and Anika as a speaker – talking about why we need diverse communities and how to achieve that. As the JRubyConf team explained very well in this blog post, it is everyone’s responsibility, especially conference organisers’, to try and change things.
Knowing that JRubyConf is the only conference worldwide that focuses on JRuby and that it is a highly niche and technical conference, Sara and I were a bit intimidated about stepping out of our comfort zone into a community we didn’t know so well. Thanks to the organisers Tobi and Lucas, who answered all of our questions, introduced us to the speakers and trusted us to guide and entertain the audience, we felt at ease and discovered just how passionate and friendly the JRuby community is, too.

It was great to see Anika’s talk be so well-received among the JRubyConf audience, and we surely hope that this was a first step towards a more diverse audience and line-up in the years to come.

eurucamp, which is run by the same orga team, is also familiar with the issue of diversity in tech – as a renowned fun and inclusive, but less technical, conference, it’s a good go-to conference for newcomers into our Ruby Community. Their initiative to reach out to Rails Girls Study Groups and Rails Girls Berlin surely helped to appeal to more women and the range of speakers and their topics made for a very varied and exciting talk roster (with 54% female speakers!)

One great initiative that was started as an experiment and set up in the 48 hours before the conference started, was the idea of the “eurucamp guides”. Due to the high numbers of Study Group members who’d be attending the conference and needing guidance, Sven Fuchs (one of the RubyMonstas organisers) brought together a few “eurucamp guides” who’d be in charge of helping these newcomers. This meant being available to them to introduce them to people and show them around the venue. In the end, very few of the guides ended up needing to be around; however I feel that this is an interesting and helpful concept, and would love to see the idea of “conference guides” at other conferences as well and at the next eurucamp.

What I like most about eurucamp, apart from the good mix of technical and social talks, is the fact that at times it hardly ever feels like an ordinary, ‘just talks’, conference. A lot at JRubyConf and eurucamp is built around the conferences themselves: workshops, guided tours, screenings, all wrapped up into something called RubyWeek. The Saturday afternoon siesta was a revelation for me the first time I attended eurucamp in 2013; the idea of breaking free from conference talks for a few hours in order to go swimming, socialise, hack away on a new project or learn cross-stitching and martial arts felt revolutionary and very welcome (especially in the middle of summer). As a newcomer to the Ruby community at the time, it gave me the possibility to discover that I am surrounded by people with interesting hobbies and to talk at length with them.
I feel that this conference is a conference you should attend at least once. I love the idea that every year, new people attend not knowing what to expect and end their weekend being happily surprised at the amount of things they discovered and great people they met; and that some of them, like me, enjoy it enough to come back year after year.

Both JRubyConf and eurucamp are great at making attendees feel included; the offer of daycare for parents who come to the conference with their kids is a great example of making the attending of a conference easier for everyone. Another great example is the fantastic work of Kimberly Turnage, the live stenographer; converting live speech to text for three days in a row, for every speaker and each introduction, is not an easy task and her incredible speed and abilities allowed several people (for example the hearing impaired or people whose native language isn’t English) to be able to easily follow talks as well as discussions and not feel lost or left out.

My favourite moments in a nutshell: Seeing the Rubycorns on stage, Team AlsterHamburgers giving a lightning talk about Rails Girls Summer of Code, the screening of “Code: Debugging the Gender Gap” (and the group discussion that ensued), Lucas’ “bananas” announcements, and the fact that it only took asking the team for tea to get some delivered right away to the coffee stand (for non-coffee drinkers).

Sadly, at the end of the conference, the organisers announced that there would be no eurucamp 2016 – at least not in this size. It is a mammoth task to organise a conference, and eurucamp (for all the pleasure it gives the attendees and organisers) is no exception. We should all show our gratitude to the unsung heroes and heroines of our community, who do everything to make these events possible. To all organisers, volunteers and extra hands that helped make eurucamp happen: Thank You! Your hard work is not lost on us. Enjoy your well-deserved break and know that your event has made a huge mark on many lives and that we are looking forward to the next one - whenever it will be.

(Photo: eurucamp/Fanny Krebs)