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The thoughts and ponderings of the team @defmethodinc

An Ode to Ruby DCamp


By Paige Bolduc

— a place of “knowledge, connection, and compassion” —

I’ve been meaning to write this post for 35 days. As I drove out of Prince William National Forest in Virginia on Sunday October 9th, the day Ruby DCamp ended, I began trying to formulate the ways I could explain the experience I’d just had.

In the following weeks, I sat down in front of an empty Medium post template several times to try to articulate my post-Ruby DCamp thoughts and feelings, but couldn’t figure out where to start. After a few fruitless minutes, I’d pick up a technical book someone at Ruby DCamp had recommended to me or I’d practice Elixir on instead.

But in light of the distress and sadness that I am currently feeling about American society due to the outcome of the presidential election and the increase in hate crimes already being perpetrated across the country, now feels like the right time to write this post. At a time that feels hopeless to me in so many ways, I want to endorse and express gratitude for this community in the technology sector that encourages me and gives me hope, both as a developer and a human.

Ruby DCamp, occurring annually since 2008, is self-described as “a 76-person programming commune in the woods dedicated to knowledge, connection, and compassion.” That’s a pretty lofty and idyllic sounding space, if you ask me, and from my experience as a first-year participant, the reality of Ruby DCamp does not disappoint.

Ruby DCamp is a 3-day code retreat and open space event. You can read in detail about the format and history of Ruby DCamp in the founder Evan Light’s own charismatic words here. I won’t try to rehash the details that he explains so eloquently. But I do want to take a stab, finally, at writing a few thoughts about why I’m thrilled and encouraged to know that a space like Ruby DCamp exists, and why I believe we need more places like it.

I’m extremely fortunate that my first job since transitioning to tech has been with a company that prioritizes continuous learning and professional development and that also approaches software development from a socially conscientious perspective. Many of my co-workers at Def Method have launched conversations about the fact that there are real, systemic problems that make access to technology and careers in tech unequal for people due to factors like class, race, and gender and what we can do as a company to try to change the status quo.

Even though I’ve only been seeking a place in the technology sphere for a little over a year, I’ve been in enough tech spaces across the country now to know that neither a passion for learning nor a commitment to equality can be taken as a given in most tech arenas. However, one place in which these two values are not only assumed but are integral to the overall cause and existence of the space is Ruby DCamp. As a junior developer and a general living being, the three days that I spent at Ruby DCamp inspired and encouraged me more than any other experience I’ve had since getting into tech. And here’s how.

Here are the titles of the sessions from the first “open space” day of Ruby DCamp:

I think the intellectual and emotional inspiration to be gained from each of these sessions probably does not need explanation. However, what isn’t evident just from these titles is the genuineness and thoughtfulness with which everyone participating in these discussions approached each topic. People come to Ruby DCamp eager to learn from and share with one another. The insights and connections that arise from these sorts of discussions, in this sort of social space, can’t be overstated.

Talking about social justice issues and technology matters, but just talking isn’t enough.

I participated in sessions focused on “being different in tech”, “contempt culture”, inequality in computer science education, and others that raised important social justice concerns in relation to technology.

From many of these discussions, I gained terminology and vocabulary for talking about different phenomena and experiences that I had assumed were unique to me. I gained a sense of being heard and understood and of camaraderie.

But perhaps even more importantly, I learned about initiatives that various Ruby DCamp participants are already involved in around the country that fight for equality and inclusion in tech, including some in my own new city of Baltimore. There are groups making a positive difference in tech that exist already, and I’m more equipped now to go find them.

Question-asking is encouraged and applauded.

As a new developer, it’s easy to feel like you shouldn’t ask questions. For me, it mostly comes down to worrying about wasting other people’s time. At work, there’s the fear of slowing down the team. At meetups, there’s the fear of annoying other participants who want to discuss more advanced implications of the topic at hand.

There are a lot of really experienced people who attend Ruby DCamp, people who have been working in tech for 10, 20, and 30 or more years. There were also many of us who are new or relatively new to programming. When someone asked for clarification or reiteration or for an explanation of something that might have been classified as “basic” or “obvious” in some circles, never once did I observe someone with more experience respond with anything other than enthusiasm and patience.

Here are some things that people said to me at various points during the weekend: [“That was a good question.”, “I’m glad you asked that.”, “Was my explanation clear enough?”, “Do you have any more questions about <insert concept here>?” ]

If I were to make this post even longer, I’d write about how meaningful I found the short moments of meditation that Evan facilitated throughout each day to be. I’d write about how repeatedly programming Conway’s “Game of Life” is the perfect pair-programming activity both in practice and metaphorically. I’d write about the bonding potential inherent in the playing of late-night board games and of communal cooking and cleaning.

But mostly, I’d keep writing about the concepts and ideas (both technical and social) that I learned about from all the Ruby DCamp participants of 2016. I’d tell you about each of the people I’d met, now mentors and friends, who are making the tech world (and the world via tech) a better, more loving, more empathetic place.

Could you, whoever you are, be described as the following?:

Passionate about sharing your knowledge
Someone who plays well with others

If so, then I sincerely hope that you will someday be able to attend Ruby DCamp. And if it’s not possible for you to attend this programming commune in the autumnal woods of Virginia, then I hope that you will start your own Ruby-DCamp-esque space. Because the world, both in tech and otherwise, needs more places like DCamp.