Keeping Ruby Weird

Author: Casey Gale       

Illustration by Carmen Segovia

Chances are, you’ve never put on a conference that proudly describes itself as celebrating (figurative) hugs, magic, singing, and dancing. But then again, Keep Ruby Weird — a daylong Ruby programming language conference held annually on Austin’s iconic “Dirty Sixth” Street since 2014 — deliberately sets itself apart from the average conference. The event’s four organizers all work in Austin’s growing tech scene and wanted to contribute to the community in a way their friends and colleagues in the industry would enjoy. They focused on “what makes the Ruby programming language’s community so eccentric and awesome,” said Britton Ballard, one of the organizers, and designed an event with a similar vibe.

What’s In a Name? Given the Ruby community’s odd nature and the event’s home-base slogan of “Keep Austin Weird,” the conference’s name pretty much wrote itself. Keep Ruby Weird capitalizes on Austin’s offbeat character — its Alamo Drafthouse Ritz host venue, a movie theater in the heart of city, has a funky,
historic, and weird feel,” Ballard said. 

Peculiar Presentations Keep Ruby Weird looks for a mix of soft topics, such new concepts and career-oriented talks, technical topics that involve coding, and non-Ruby-specific topics that would still interest its tech audience. “The main thing we look for in our presenters is a weird take on a technology topic, but with an emphasis on community,” Ballard said. “At the end of the day, though, weirdness with a purpose is what we’re looking for.” At the beginning of the conference, attendees are given custom wooden nametags engraved with “Keep [Name] Weird,” which come in handy during Keep Ruby Weird’s yearly networking games. 

Ice-breaking activities at the conference include tech-word bingo, distributing playing cards and encouraging attendees to mingle to make the best hand, and an epic rock/paper/scissor tournament. Because, even though weirdness is prized at this event, its ROI is very much the business-events industry standard. “As much value as the talks provide,” Ballard said, “the networking is the most important takeaway, in our opinion.”