RubyConf 2017 Retrospective — Day 3

RubyConf 2017 has wrapped up, and it was great. If this is the first of this series you are coming to, please check out the retrospectives from day one and day two.

“You Are Insufficiently Persuasive” (Sandi Metz)

Sandi Metz always delivers very compelling talks and her emphasis in this keynote on the things that make developers unhappy provided lots of things to consider. In exploring a study done targeting developers she identified that a strong contributor to many developers’ unhappiness comes from their interaction with other people. Sandi identified that a lot of this unhappiness derives from difficulty persuading others, but more importantly allowing ourselves to be persuaded.

How do you know you’re right?

I thought it was really good that Sandi addressed the work of folks like Robert Cialdini who have effectively encouraged the abuse of various methods of persuasion. To follow up on that it was really good to hear Sandi remind folks of the work of Dale Carnegie which represents a much more humane approach to persuasion because it encourages understanding and mutual benefit seeking. At the heart of Sandi’s purpose in contrasting these two outlooks on persuasion seemed to be the notion that in really seeking to understand others we can find meaningful agreement, instead of just getting our own way.

Some other good take-aways from Sandi’s talk were the ideas that (1) we should hold strong opinions weakly; and (2) we should keep our identities small. That second point is something I think a lot of developers struggle with because it’s easy for us to let our identities become overly entangled with the code we write.

“Mozart Could’ve Been an Engineer” (Catherine Meyers)

This is the third time I’ve heard Catherine give this presentation and it’s worth it each time. I recognize that there is value in certain contexts to embrace repetition, and hearing this talk repeatedly is something I’ve decided is valuable. I really like Catherine’s presentation because it exemplifies the diversity of backgrounds that I feel gives Ruby such an amazing community. While I don’t have a prior career like Catherine’s as a opera singer, my educational background being in Christian Ministry, Biblical Studies and Church History has led me to identify to a strong degree with folks who don’t come to programming by the expected routes.

Some of the key insights from Catherine’s presentation was the identification of commonalities between musicians and developers that often get overlooked. Among these are the use of patterns within both groups, the value of persistence, and the importance of collaboration. And, Catherine did not fail to call on her audience to act on those commonalities. One of the most important of those calls is the very practical advice to seriously consider resumes from individuals with diverse backgrounds. This talk is one I really enjoyed because it helps illuminate the real value of diversity as it extends to numerous facets.

“Using Ruby in Data Science” (Kenta Murata)

Kenta gave a very helpful overview of the usability of Ruby in the field of Data Science. The reality that Kenta acknowledged is that Ruby is not a prominent player in the field of Data Science and he explained a number of reasons why. A big gap in relation to Ruby and Data Science is the developer and user base needed to maintain and justify the various libraries needed. Many of the available Ruby Gems suffer from feature gaps, lack of documentation, and slow response to issues. One solution that Kenta put forward was the use of PyCall, which acts as a bridge between Ruby and Python. This seems to me to be a great stopgap solution since Python already has an active community of users and developers working effectively on Data Science solutions. Since I will be exploring Machine Learning in the next few months with my coworkers I plan to look for opportunities to use Ruby and hopefully contribute to usability of Ruby for this area of Data Science.

RubyConf 2017 was a very good conference and I enjoyed seeing a lot of familiar faces along with an overwhelming number of new comers. The diversity of speakers also seemed very good and reflected the diversity that the Ruby community values. I am looking forward to attending RubyConf next November as the conference goes to Los Angeles.

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