You should be a Scholar or Guide at RubyConf or RailsConf!
The Opportunity Scholars & Guides program is one of the least known and also one of the best aspects of RubyConf and RailsConf:
Opportunity Scholars (Scholars) are new to the Ruby community and looking to make professional connections. Scholars are typically students, new professionals, and/or members of underrepresented tech communities (women, BIPOC, etc.) interested in starting a career in the technology sector. Scholars are paired with a Guide (mentor) who can help them get the most out of the conference, and offer insight and advice on Ruby programming and working as a developer… Due to the generous donation from our conference sponsors and supporters, we are delighted to offer a limited amount of financial support for Scholars’ transportation and/or accommodation.
At RailsConf in Portland this past May, I served as a Guide for the 3rd time. All the Guides are volunteers, and it’s a way for us to give back to the Ruby and Rails communities. We help Scholars with career advice, introducing them to people at the conference, helping them pick talks to attend, and in general being a friendly face and someone they can reach out to during the conference with questions. This means there’s some effort involved with being a Guide, and it’s important to make it part of your daily plan at the conference. You need to communicate with your Scholar, plan when and where to meet, ask about their interests and how you can help, etc.
So why volunteer? The first time I decided to do it, I was thinking back to when I started in the industry, in the mid 90s. I didn’t have a CS degree, meetups and conferences were far less prevalent at that time, and while there were resources such as USENET discussion forums, they weren’t anything like Stack Overflow or the other online resources we have today. So, beyond my coworkers, I didn’t have a sense of being part of community. I never had a mentor, and I did most of my learning on my own (through books and on the job). Luckily for me, the tooling for web development was less complex back then, so over the years I was able to incrementally grow my skills as the tech ecosystem gradually became more complex. Compared to people entering the industry now, they face a steeper and more intimidating learning curve than I did, but they also have larger and more vibrant communities to help them. However, figuring out how to engage with and become part of a community, especially as a newcomer at a large tech conference, isn’t necessarily obvious or easy.
I first learned about the existence of the Scholars & Guides program at RailsConf in 2017, when my employer at the time (ActBlue) provided travel funding for many of the scholars to attend. So I volunteered to be a guide at the next opportunity, which was the following year at RubyConf in Los Angeles. It was a tremendously rewarding experience, which inspired me to volunteer two more times since then. Each Scholar I’ve worked with has had a unique set of interests and skills, and they each had different goals for what they wanted to get from their conference experience. One was focused on technical learning, one was focused on career opportunities, and another was re-entering the field after 20 years away from coding.
The people who run the program are also volunteers, and every year they do a lot of work to make it a success. Beyond reviewing all the applications from Scholars and Guides and figuring out all the financing and logistics, they arrange a reception for us the night before the conference, we have reserved front row seating for the keynotes, a dedicated Slack channel, and we have reserved tables together for lunch. These provide opportunities for all the Scholars and Guides to get to know each other, and we form our own community, within the larger community of the conference.
So if you’re an experienced member of the Ruby and Rails community, consider volunteering as a Guide, and share your experience and wisdom with a Scholar! Or if you’re someone who is new to the community, and you’d like to attend RubyConf or RailsConf, consider applying to be a Scholar. This Fall, you have two options for RubyConf:
- There’s RubyConf in Houston, Texas from November 29 - December 1, and the deadline for Scholar and Guide applications is September 20.
- There’s also a “RubyConf Mini” in Providence, RI from November 15-17. The deadline for Scholar applications is September 17 and the deadline for Guide applications is September 20.
If you’re primarily interested in RailsConf, the next one will be in Atlanta, Georgia, April 24-26, 2023. Keep an eye on railsconf.org when it gets closer. You can also follow @RailsConf and @RubyConf on Twitter.