Steel City Ruby Conf

Pittsburgh's First Ruby Conference

The Blog

Carol Nichols


Steel City Ruby Conf ‘12 is almost here! Some logistics:

Getting to the conference

  • We have added more detailed instructions on using public transportation to get from the Pittsburgh Airport to Downtown Pittsburgh.

  • We will be on the 5th floor of the Heinz History Center. There will be signs directing you there Friday morning.

  • Registration begins at 8am Friday morning!


Things to Do

  • We are allowed to go through the Heinz History Museum from 10am to 5pm both Friday and Saturday. There are many neat exhibits on the history of Western Pennsylvania– check it out during a break!

ModCloth Party

The ModCloth Party is Friday night starting at 6pm at Finnigan’s Wake on the North Shore!

  • We will have a bus running between the Heinz History Center and Finnigan’s Wake starting around 5:30pm.

  • There will also be organizers and volunteers leading walking groups from the venue there– it’s a nice 20 minute walk across one of Pittsburgh’s bridges!

  • Please bring your name badge to the party!

  • People under 21 are welcome but we will be giving out different wristbands and complying with all PA alcohol laws. Please bring your ID if you ARE over 21.

  • We have the place to ourselves until 8pm, but you are welcome to stay after that.

  • Another option is going to the Andy Warhol Museum, also on the North Shore: on Friday nights, they are open until 10pm and admission is only half price ($5!)

Many thanks to ModCloth for being an Andrew Carnegie Level sponsor and getting involved in the Ruby Community! Seriously, they’re awesome, check them out.

Any updates to this information will be posted here and tweeted @SteelCityRuby.

Please direct any questions to

Looking forward to having an awesome conference with you!!!

Carol Nichols

Announcement: Code Retreat Aug 5

We are very excited to announce that on Sunday, Aug 5 (the day after SCRC) there will be a Code Retreat! More details here, and you need to register on eventbrite. It is free but there is a $15 deposit that is refunded when you attend.

The event is organized by Justin Pihony and Jim Hurne. It’s being hosted and sponsored by 4moms, a local company that does Ruby and is also in the Strip District, about 12 blocks (20 min walk) from SCRC’s venue.

Corey Haines, one of the founders of Code Retreat, will be facilitating!

If you’ve never done a Code Retreat before, it’s a day of practicing your craft without the pressure of trying to get something finished. You will be pairing (and rotating partners) all day, and you can use any language. There’s a lot more information on

Carol Nichols

Stop the Celebrity Worship

Once[1] someone at a conference was attempting to convince me to attend Madison Ruby, and one of the reasons they gave for attending was “Steve Klabnik is speaking!!”

Little did they know, I get to hear Steve’s opinions on everything at basically every Pittsburgh Ruby Brigade meeting each month. Seriously, we’ve tried to have him NOT speak and it’s impossible. (<3 Steve!!!)

It was strange to me that someone saw Steve as this Ruby community celebrity while I see him as a personal friend, someone I run into and talk to about normal person things. I always logically knew that celebrities are real people too, but it’s easy to get star-struck and forget this. Talking to Steve as a peer helped give me the confidence to talk to other Ruby celebrities in the same way.

At conferences, one of the neat things is meeting in person the authors of blog posts, tutorials, books, libraries, and tools that you’ve used. It’s a great opportunity to let them know that you appreciate their work– they don’t hear that as often as they deserve to! But don’t let the conversation stop there– ask them what they think about the talks, ask what they’re working on now, and go from there.

In a related vein, don’t spend all your time at a conference tracking down the celebrities. Talk to anyone around you, because there’s a good chance that they may be the celebrities of tomorrow.

There are some careers, like NBA star, that people like me (at 5’4”) are never going to be able to attain. While there are still reasons like being in the right place at the right time that help people become well known, in the Ruby community it’s much more likely that if you learn, help people, and work hard that you will get to know enough people to be considered “well known” (if that’s what you want to do, of course). The current maintainer of bundler, Andre Arko, described on Ruby Rogues how he started by helping to answer questions, triaging tickets, offering patches, etc. Eventually he got commit access and is now one of the maintainers of an important Ruby tool. It could happen to you.

So get to know those around you, help each other, learn from each other. Treat everyone with the respect you would treat a celebrity, but don’t get star-struck. Be the celebrities you admire.

[1] This story actually happened to Andrew Cox, but we have a tradition of stealing his stories and telling them back to him.

Julie Pagano

Why We Care About Inclusivity

A major goal of Steel City Ruby Conf is for it to be a great first experience for someone who has never been to a Ruby conference before. In her post about the inception of the conference, Carol discussed some of the factors we tried to account for, such as keeping costs down and planning activities with a new conference-goer in mind. In addition to these things, we wanted to make sure that the conference would be a safe and inviting space for a variety of people, not just your average conference attendee.

We kept this goal in mind when reaching out to speakers for the conference. We wanted to increase the likelihood of attendees seeing people who they share something in common with, provide some new people with the opportunity to speak at a conference, and (most importantly) have great people give presentations that inspire others. We are very excited about the people who will be speaking at Steel City Ruby Conf and think they will add to a great conference experience. Lindsey Bieda and Steve Klabnik are planning to speak about anti-oppression and tech, so they will be expanding on some topics related to inclusivity at the conference.

A factor that discourages some people from attending conferences is concern about harassment or an uninviting environment. The majority of conference participants are inviting and respectful of others, but occasionally someone’s poor judgement ends up diminishing what should be an awesome conference experience. If you want some examples, go check out the timeline of incidents at the Geek Feminism Wiki.

The Steel City Ruby Conf organizers agreed early on that the conference should have an anti-harassment policy to help prevent incidents and provide a safe, harassment-free environment for everyone. We adopted the policy suggested by the Geek Feminism Wiki and are following many of their other recommendations. We are proud to join a growing list of conferences that implement these policies and encourage others to do the same to help promote inclusivity in our communities.

Another important part of inclusivity is outreach. The average Ruby conference attendee who is already hooked into the community (following the right people, blogs, podcasts, mailing lists, etc.) probaby will have an easy time finding out about our conference. We wanted to make sure these were not the only people who got excited about Steel City Ruby Conf. Our outreach efforts included local Ruby user groups, where many new people get their start in the community, and Girl Develop It, a group that provides low-cost, judgment-free environments for learning software development.

We hope that these efforts will make Steel City Ruby Conf an inviting and awesome experience for all people interested in attending! Please feel free to post any questions about our policies on the Google Group.

Corey Purcell

Why You Shouldn’t Code Alone

I work for a decent sized manufacturing company in the Pittsburgh area. I am the only ruby developer. We have another developer on staff, but our responsibilities don’t usually overlap and he doesn’t know ruby. After joining this company, I was eventually tasked with writing web apps. Now, my background is Computer Engineering and I spent a considerable time learning lower level programming, C/C++ and even Assembly. I thought it would be fun to learn, so I got some books and got to work.

Why was this bad? It really wasn’t. Learning a new language and framework was a lot of fun. BUT BUT BUT; it was painful at times. I had no resources besides books, Google, and online mailing lists to find answers. Granted they were very helpful, but I had no idea what I was missing. I would spend hours trying to figure out some obscure bug in my code, or waiting for an answer on Stack Overflow. I was getting ever more frustrated, especially with the speed that Rails was moving at the time. I felt like a huge failure. How dumb could I be? All of these cool people were making awesome stuff with Rails. What’s my problem?!!!

Then I heard about these Ruby Brigades that were forming. Lo and behold, Pittsburgh was forming one. I almost didn’t go. I was afraid. I knew I would not know a single person there. I was obviously incapable of learning. For some reason, I decided to go. Guess what, I didn’t know anyone there. Slowly I started to meet people and talk about what I was doing. I’ll stress that this took time, several meetings. As I slowly got over my anxiety, I started to make friends and share my problems with Ruby. They challenged me to get better, and they helped me when I got stuck. It was awesome.

Ever since, I have continued to have great experiences and new opportunities. After hearing two people talking about Mendicant University, I applied. I actually wasn’t accepted the first time. This should have been devastating for me, but once again my new friends came to the rescue. Steve Klabnik messaged me and told me I had just missed the cutoff, that it came down to several of us and only a few open spots. He encouraged me to apply again. I did, and I completed the core skills course. Yay! I’ve got involved with planning this conference. I’ve even sent a few pull requests to open source projects, like Hackety Hack. It’s hard to describe how much this has changed me, submitting to open source is something I never really thought I could do. I still screw up and feel stupid, but I know that I’m not the only one.

Don’t code alone. Get involved. Meet new people. Just coding for a day job is fine, but there is a whole other world out there.

Carol Nichols

How Steel City Ruby Conf Came to Be

Once upon a time, in an IRC room not so far away, a few people from the Pittsburgh Ruby Users Group were talking about the awesome time we had just had at Ruby Conf 2011. We were really excited and had lots of neat ideas, including this one:

 carols10cents: we should have a conference in pittsburgh! 

There was much agreement, and thus the brainstorming began! We have a google doc with all sorts of ideas. Some of those are being used this year, some were a bit too ambitious for our first year ;) We also called it “Project Octoconf” for a while so that we didn’t get stuck on picking a name– not because we have any affiliation with Github/octocat, but because we see Pittsburgh Ruby, and Pittsburgh in general, reaching into lots of different things and slowly taking over the world, quietly and for good, of course :D

Since there are so many Ruby conferences though, what would make someone want to come to ours? Well, what about all those Ruby conferences? Where do you start? What if you’re not sure about this whole conference scene? What all goes on there? Won’t it be all people who have been going to conferences forever?

So we decided to try to be the best Ruby conference for someone’s first Ruby conference. We feel strongly that interacting with the community at conferences is one of the great things about programming in Ruby, and we’d like to help people get into that.

To that end, we’re trying to keep costs down (and Pittsburgh helps with that as it’s a relatively cheap city), do outreach to people who haven’t been to conferences before, and plan activities with a new conference goer in mind.

We are so grateful and excited for all the progress we’ve made and all the people who have helped us so far, and we hope you’ll join us for the culmination of these efforts in August!