I attended my first Ruby conference in November 2005, but I can remember it like it was yesterday. The feeling of being surrounded by insanely smart people who cared about the same things that I cared about was a unique experience that really caught me by surprise. While the event itself was over in a weekend, it set the wheels in motion for a six year odyssey that brought me to dozens of conferences all over the continental United States.
As a die-hard conference fan, simply attending was not enough for me. I ended up giving talks or trainings at most of the events I attended, and even helped organize a couple of them. Being actively engaged in putting on the show rather than just showing up for it made it possible for me to get introduced to some of Ruby’s most well known developers. Through a whole lot of beers, meals, and conversations in the hallway, I gradually learned that most of my heroes were actually nothing more than ordinary hackers who happened to work especially hard on projects that the community cared about. Knowing this little secret gave me the confidence to carve out my own small space and gain a reputation of my own with less effort than you might imagine.
The connections I made through my time on the conference circuit are directly responsible for most of my career successes to date. It is impossible to overstate how valuable it can be to surround yourself with smart and interesting people who also appreciate the work you’re doing as well. To this day, the friends I’ve made at conferences continue to support my work and provide me with inspiration I need to keep pushing myself and to never settle for “good enough”.
Because I love conferences so much, and they’ve done so much for me, what I’m about to say actually scares me: I have decided to not attend any technical events in 2012, and am seriously considering limiting myself to one or two a year thereafter. For all the good that conferences have brought me, they’ve also brought me a great deal of stress and discomfort, and have left me feeling disconnected to my local community. I’m taking 2012 as my year to re-evaluate what the right balance might be, as it’s impossible to think deeply about these issues while living from event to event.
By not attending conferences this year, I am giving myself a chance to focus my energy on more local concerns. I want to think of ways to help my non-technical friends using my skills and intelligence. I also want to see what I can do for our community here in New Haven, and by that I don’t just mean our Ruby users group, but also the people who live and work near me. It seems to me that perhaps investing in my hometown is more sustainable than bouncing from city to city in search of others like me. By doing so, I may even end up being exposed to a much more diverse set of world-views than what I could find in our lovely but cliquish conference circuit.
Of course, I will not be off the radar. My work on Practicing Ruby and Mendicant University will more-or-less ensure that I am still contributing to the Ruby ecosystem via the interwebs. It just means that if my programmer friends want to grab a drink with me in 2012, they may just need to visit New Haven. I’ve got an extra bedroom, so don’t be afraid to ask!
Written by Gregory Brown on 04 January 2012. If you enjoyed this essay, please share it with your friends.