An in-depth look at two RailsConf tracks

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This year I’m a part of the RailsConf programming committee and I couldn’t be more excited. As a part of the committee, each member gets to choose tracks to help curate. These tracks can be anything each individual thinks is an important topic to cover at the conference and they’re grouped together so that there can be mini-themes. Proposal authors have the option to select which track they want their talk to be considered for so that they can bring it to the attention of the reviewers. Regardless of which track an author submits to, all submissions will still be considered for all tracks, as well as just the general conference.

After a lot of pondering, the two tracks I am helping to curate are “Leading at all levels” and “Panels, Panels, Panels”. You can find a broad description of these tracks on the Railsconf cfp page. If you keep reading here though, I will provide you with an insider’s look into what I wanted to go into each track and why I think they’ll be important additions for RailsConf this year.

Leading At All Levels

When people see the words “leading” or “leadership” they often default to thinking about the c-suite, managers, tech leads, and generally people in “power”. My belief however, is that this term is becoming more fluid. As people enter the industry with a variety of prior careers, their other skillsets should not be discounted.

Furthermore, there has been a fair amount of discussion in the developer community about a career path that doesn’t just lead to management. That should not mean these folks can’t or shouldn’t be trained to be leaders within their companies. As a former manager who currently focuses on programming, I’ve often been a sounding board and resource for colleagues who are new to management. While I currently want to focus on programming and NOT becoming a manager, that doesn’t mean that I, and others like me, can’t receive leadership development or help contribute to training others on our teams. This track specifically focuses on those people; the ones stepping up to fill a gap or that have been able to positively lead within their companies without a “c”, “manager”, or “lead” in their title. Some ideas for this track might include planning effective team gatherings or retreats, mentorship, leveling up your team or yourself in a unique way, or training the trainers.

Panels! Panels! Panels!

This track deserves three exclamation points because I’m VERY excited about it. I happen to love panels and I almost never see them at technical conferences. Panels allow lots of great things to happen. They allow multiple experts in a field to discuss their opinions on a matter or they could allow new faces and new types of people to step up and have their first conference speaking experience. Panels allow for fresh perspectives. Sometimes they can be even better than conference talks because individuals build upon one another to elevate the content and information or knowledge that is distributed in a session.

Panels are challenging to propose because you can’t always confirm who exactly will be on the panel, but there are a ton of great topics that can be covered. (Note: You won’t need to confirm your panel experts for your RailsConf proposal) Topics can really be anything from different types of code structures, to building a learning culture, to five different perspectives on getting a job in tech. The possibilities are endless from soft skills to advanced technical topics. It’s exciting to think outside of the box for panel participants as well and get some new names, faces, and experiences up on stage to be shared with the audience. RailsConf is the perfect place to do this. A large conference with an audience of varied experience levels and passions will benefit from having a handful of thoughtful panels that expose the audience to more than one perspective at once.

In addition to these, other tracks for RailsConf 2017 include code organization, developer happiness, distributed teams, high volume, machine learning, open source deep dive, and unconventional rails.

Photo of Allison McMillan

Allison McMillan is a University of Michigan graduate. She’s worn many hats including startup founder, community builder at the University of Michigan, Managing Director of a national non-profit, and software developer. Allison started programming at a Rail Girls workshop and is now a chapter organizer. She also speaks regularly at conferences on a variety of topics including mentorship, working remotely, and being a parent and a developer.

When she’s not coding, you can find her encouraging her toddler’s climbing skills or pretending she has time to bake. Allison lives in the Washington, DC area with her husband and son.

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