I was fortunate to spend this Thursday and Friday at RedDirt RubyConf in Oklahoma City. Here’s a quick conference report, and random thoughts about single-track conferences in general.
This is my second try at writing this post, excuse me if it’s a little disjointed (the first one was eaten by my writing tool — the dark side of continually trying out new writing app, but more on that later…)
I want to make sure I say up front that James and the rest of the organizers did an outstanding job with the logistics of the conference. I’ll talk more about the format later, but there was power and WiFi, they were able to keep the speakers on time, the mix of speakers and attendees was overall great, with a nice range of experience levels and expertise represented. There was plenty of time built in to meet the other attendees — even I, who am by nature not great at this stuff, managed to meet lots of people.
It got me to thinking about what kind of talk works in a single track environment when you are speaking to an audience that is essentially captive, and also has that wide range of interests and experience. For example, the best talk of the day, by general acclimation, was Jeff Casimir and his talk about fat models and Rails code design. Not only was it strong from a presentation or performance perspective — there’s something to be said for “shut up and listen to me” swagger — but it also had something for everybody. The novices could be inspired by Jeff’s examples, and learn something about good practice. The experts could nod sagely, pretend they do all those practices consistently and pick nits.
In contrast, you have talks like, to pick an example at random, mine. Now, I like my talk. I really like the tool I presented, I was happy to be able to introduce a tool at the conference, and I think the talk was a clear introduction. It was also only immediately relevant to a small percentage of the audience, based on show of hands. I’m not complaining, mind you, I think it’s great for people to be exposed to ideas outside their immediate needs. Part of the genius of the RRDC format is that if you weren’t interested in a particular topic, there was only a short wait until the next speaker.
Anyway, it was fun, and I’m glad I got a chance to go.