Thoughts on RubyNation 2013
RubyNation 2013 at the Silver Spring Civic Center

We changed things up a little bit for RubyNation 2013, the 6th year that we've organized and run this conference. For the first time ever, we held it in Maryland, more specifically in the Silver Spring Civic Center in downtown Silver Spring.

There were some reasons that we did this. But we weren't sure how well it was going to go over with our audience of Rubyists, so we were extremely gratified that there was almost unanimous praise for the new venue.

First, conferences can suffer "venue fatigue" if you continue to hold the event in the same place all the time. That's one of the reasons that we've moved the conference to a different venue every couple of years.

Second, we wanted to get away from hotels, if we could. In 2008, we held the first RubyNation at the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) in Virginia (they were a joy to work with, but we outgrew their venue after the first year); and then at a succession of hotels. Typically, we fought with the hotels over numerous issues, such as the cost of food, the cost of audio/visuals, what was included in an audio/visual setup, the cost of Internet access, the scale of Internet access to be supported, etc.

Basically, hotels provide reasonably good services, but they're expensive, often non-techie-friendly, and they charge for everything, even things that we think should be "just part of the venue." Frankly, they can be a pain to work with, especially in the DC area where hotel staff are trained to maximize their profits no matter what that means for the customer.

Third, we've been serving the Virginia Rubyists reasonably well, I think, but there's that nagging thought that we could be doing better for other Rubyists in our metropolitan area.

Yes, RubyNation has pulled people in from DC and Maryland, even as far away as Baltimore. We've even had visitors from Atlanta, Boston, etc. But we've never had a Metro-accessible location before. And were we really reaching all the potential attendees in DC and Maryland?

Gray Herter, our Chief Organizer, and his wife went looking for a new venue over the past year...and what they came up with was the Silver Spring Civic Center in downtown Silver Spring. Metro-acessible, but with public parking available for those who wanted to drive (free if you left after 8:00 PM).

Verterans Plaza is right in front of the Silver Spring Civic Center, and they were scheduled to have the 5th Annual Silver Spring Blues Festival there the same weekend as RubyNation, plus the Fenton Street Farmer's Market. So, there would be plenty of things for attendees to see and do during breaks.

In fact, there were so many restaurants in the area, we decided that it would be better to set the attendees free for lunch rather than have lunch catered in each day.

To enhance the experience for our attendees, we grouped speakers with organizers, with each organizer leading a group to a particular restaurant. Attendees were free to go off on their own, or they could join an organized group and perhaps get a chance to talk with, and have lunch with, an organizer or speaker.

How did it all work out overall?

Well, the venue was awesome, with one huge room that could be divided into two rooms during strategically placed breaks. Attendees got to sit at round tables, which encouraged them to speak and interact more than other seating arrangements would have.

There were a few minor technical glitches, which were resolved pretty easily. Internet was available, but was a little spotty. That could be improved. The lighting for the conference videos was terrible, so this year's videos are going to be a bit on the dark side.

The lunches went over extremely well. Many of the attendees ended up raving about how much fun the organized groups were, and how many great food choices there were in the area. All of the organizers were extremely happy to hear this, as some of us had thought this might be the most controversial part of the move to the new venue.

We had two Happy Hour events, one on Thursday Night at Tumble Weed, and the other on Friday night at McGinty's Irisih Pub. Both had excellent food, seemed to be well-liked by attendees, and were far cheaper than they would have been in a typical northern Virginia hotel venue.

On another note, we had teamed up with Rails Girls to run an educational event for women on Thursday before the conference. That went extremely well, and many of the women took advantage of a "partner discount" to attend RubyNation as well. Accordingly, we had more women than ever at the conference. I'm rather proud of our efforts to encourage diversity in our attendees, and in our field.

Overall, the conference had a few more attendees than it did in 2012, which was gratifying for the organizers. We've already decided to return to this venue next year for RubyNation 2014. I hope to see you there!


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