You Should be a Conference Guide

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I've had a couple of weeks to reflect on my RailsConf experience, and now that I have, I can safely say I enjoyed this year's RailsConf more than any previous year.

I started out thinking that this was largely because I was giving a talk I was already comfortable with, so I could relax. I'm sure that's part of it. And another huge part was no doubt the wonderful curation of the program by the program committee. But I think the single largest contributing factor to my enjoyment of RailsConf was my last-minute decision to volunteer as a guide, and I sincerely hope that everyone reading this considers doing so at their next conference.

Why be a guide?

There's an important reason to consider being a conference guide. Each year, the RailsConf and RubyConf Opportunity Scholarship Program offers no-cost conference tickets to people who wouldn't normally take part in the conference for a variety of reasons. This is an active outreach that helps to bring much-needed new blood into our community.

Do you know the limiting factor that prevents us from having even more opportunity scholar participation? It's not money to pay for the tickets. It's a lack of guides to be paired with the scholars. This means that by volunteering as a guide, you can actually do your part to improve diversity in our community (and by extension, our industry) by doing something that you will already be doing anyway: meeting awesome people and introducing them to other awesome people.

It's as simple as that, and I promise, it will be rewarding.

Need a more selfish reason? Volunteer as a guide, and you get to meet the newest faces in our community before they become our next conference speakers.

Think I'm making a stretch? Liz Certa, a friend of mine from Louisville, was an opportunity scholar at RubyConf 2014, and only 5 months later here she is speaking on the much-needed topic of diversity, the very thing the opportunity scholar program is designed to foster!

Similarly, Kylie Stradley was a scholar at RubyConf 2014. Here she is in this group photo from Neighborhood, where we dined on dragon flesh (long story):

ZOMG I KNEW KYLIE BEFORE YOU KNEW SHE WAS COOL

And here she is giving one of the most universally-acclaimed talks from this year's RailsConf, Amelia Bedelia Learns to Code!

Do you see how this works? We desperately need new blood in our community, both to bring new ideas to us, and to remind us of the things we already love about our community.

Experiencing the conference (and the community) through the eyes of someone new is a wonderful thing. I really enjoyed connecting with my scholar, Kristin Clement, each day and looking at the program with an eye toward what would be best for her as a new Rubyist.

She opened my eyes to just how easy it is to get caught up in the echo chamber, as well. On the very first day of the conference, before the opening keynote, DHH sat next to us, so I introduced her:

"David, this is Kristin, an opportunity scholar. Kristin, this is David. He created Rails, so he's kind of a big deal."

BEST GUIDE EVER, I thought to myself. Only, just as David went up to give the keynote, Kristin leaned over to me and said something along the lines of "Oh my gosh, I thought you were joking. He's actually the guy who created Rails!"

It's refreshing to be reminded that we are only one small corner of an industry that is one small corner of this big and wonderful world, and the things and people we assume are common knowledge, aren't.

In conclusion: volunteer to be a guide at your next Ruby conference. Otherwise, you're only getting half the experience.

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