A friend recently wrote a blog post on free and open source software. In addition to it being thought provoking and well written it made me reflect on Arlington Ruby.

##Genesis

In 2011, when ARUG came into existance, the location that DCRUG was being held at was constantly filling up with a waiting list which meant that people who wanted to meet and talk about Ruby weren’t able to! To address this travesty and to have a ruby group in Northern Virginia Arlington Ruby was born. I know that NoVaRUG existed at this time but their meetups were not very consistent.

##Location

We’re lucky to be able to hold our meetings at George Mason University’s Arlington Campus. There are a lot of perks to meeting at a university especially where this one is located. * Universities are used to housing thousands of students so we’re lucky to have excellent and stable wifi. * We’re right in the heart of Clarendon which means we are right near the metro (public transportation) as well as having lots of excellent places to meet and eat before and after meetups. * The university allows us to meet there for free and gives us an incredible deal when we put on our conferences. * Excellent equipment and layout. As it is a university, the rooms have projectors, classroom style seating, projector screens and speakers built into every room.

There are also a few drawbacks to meeting at a university. * If we want to have food or alcohol at our meetup we are required to go through a university approved vendor. Which means it is expensive and there is limited selection. * Someone who is on the room reservation (a university employee) is required to be at every meeting. This can be particularly stressful when there is only one employee on the reservation requiring them to be at every meeting. * We are at the mercy of the school for space so if a professor decides they need a room, we’re lower priority so we’ll get bumped first to a different room.

##Leadership

ARUG has several organizers and there are quite a few perks to this arrangement. The primary perk is that when life happens, and it does happen to all of us, it is not a problem to disappear for a while so you can catch up and get yourself organized. It also means that there are many people to share the responsibilities so no one has to do too much work.

Ironically, this can also be a problem. We are all human with busy lives so there is a tendency to think someone else is taking care of things. While I respond to emails addressed just to me, if I see I am on a list of all the organizers being emailed I’ll often just assume that someone else is going to respond so I don’t need to.

##Pace

Many people have asked how we are able to maintain the pace of two meetups a month. To an extent the group largely runs itself, we are lucky to have so many people constantly volunteering or being voluntold to give presentations. We have, without a doubt, the most amazing collection of members possible. It is extremely humbling and eye opening to be part of such a great group and it has really helped me to evolve as a person. There are so many members of Arlington Ruby who, if I didn’t know them through ARUG, I would find myself overcome with hero worship and find it awkward to talk to if I met them at a conference or elsewhere. I still consider many of them to be my heroes but I also recognize and respect them them for the awesome people they are too. The other great thing about the pace is that is has created a sense of familiarity which in turn has created a family. A great many friendships have come about from ARUG and many people see going to a meetup as a chance to see and catch up with their friends.

##Conferences

Arlington Ruby is without equal in the (un)conferences it puts on. With there being so many ruby conferences and with new ones popping up all the time ARUG goes a different route. Drawing inspiration from Dcamp we’ve tried to make our conferences nearly free. The first two were free but we started charging a nominal amount to prevent people from signing up and then not attending since we always sell out and someone else would have liked that spot.

Unconferences/open space events are definitely an excellent way to hold a conference as it combines all the benefits of the hallway track as well as being able to leverage all the attendees brain power.

A complaint I heard leveled against traditional conferences is that they tend to have all the same people speaking at them over and over. I’m skeptical about this, and I think at the biggest conferences like Railsconf and Rubyconf people expect to see and hear certain people speak. I know I expect DHH to talk at Railsconf and Matz at Rubyconf and I know that I’d feel cheated if they didn’t and I know there are other people who fit this description of must have speakers. Perhaps I’ll write up an app that scrapes all the ruby conference sites and grabs all the speakers and then make a fancy chart with D3. Or maybe I’ll just leave that as an exercise for the reader.

##Arlington Ruby’s Mentorship Program

We started a 6 month mentorship program at ARUG and it is something I have mixed feelings about. Without a doubt I’m extremely proud of the program and my participation in it, but I think the program is partially a victim of its own success. One of our assumptions was that when the mentorship period of 6 months came to an end the people we were mentoring would then find mentees of their own and continue the virtuous cycle and the current mentors would also found new mentees and slowly but surely create a mentorship program juggernaut. My first mentee was accepted into an amazing dev bootcamp in New York which I’d like to say is because of my awesome skill as a mentor but really it is because he is amazing and is going to do fantastic things up there. My second mentee accepted a jr. developer position in North Carolina also because of their awesomeness. Some of other mentees are in similar situations with new jobs, new commitments or new family situations and are not yet able to give back hence the lag. I am, however, pretty excited that my third mentee (even though I abandoned him to move to Denver) is now helping to organize ARUG :)

I really don’t think there is an easy solution because there is no way to stop life from happening. I have put some thought into how I would try and address some of the “non life happens” issues and I think what would make the most difference is if a single person were to take ownership of the mentorship project. I would always cheerlead for the Arlington Ruby mentorship program at any event I was at whether it was at RailsGirls or a non-tech event at my school and I would usually get immediate feedback that they went to our website but there wasn’t a specific contact. I believe we would have had more converts if I had been able to tell people to get in contact with someone specific rather than to just show up at a meetup.

The second fix that was suggested, which requires a person to be in charge of the program to coordinate, would be to ask mentees to start mentoring at the 3 month mark rather than the 6 month mark. I’m less happy about this solution as it puts more of time commitment on people. I realize that this method forces people to give back but I believe if we need to force people to pay forward the help we are giving them it may not lead to the best results.

I firmly believe that we also need to dispell the myth that you need to be an advanced developer to mentor someone. Everyone has skills they are able mentor someone in. Perhaps you ran your own business and can offer process skills like newsletters and google analytics. Maybe in exchanged for being mentored in Ruby you can mentor someone else in homebrewing because this is about building community. :)

As far as the actual process of mentoring I think that everyone who signs up to mentor should be required to watch Allison’s talk (I’d include a link here but it appears the Ruby Nation talks haven’t been posted yet.) It includes a lot of great information on how to be a good mentor, and to basically be empathetic as a mentor as well as the benefits of mentoring.

Mentee’s should also come into the partnership with a few expectations on them. When the first meeting occurs the mentee and mentor should come to an agreement on a few things:

  • Length - Will each session be 30 minutes? 60? 90?
  • Content - This will vary widely depending on the skill level of the mentee but having a learning objective will give a definite focus and structure to the sessions.
  • Frequency - Will you meet weekly in person or via google hangouts or some combination?