Ruby Culture at Retrocession

When I was at the Ruby Retrocession, I felt very welcome. That was great, obviously, and it’s not like I felt very unwelcome at previous conferences, but I want to talk for a second about why I felt so welcome at this Ruby event. If you organize, or even attend, tech events, making people welcome is pretty important. Making people feel extra welcome is a tool I didn’t know was missing, so I’m reporting it here in case someone else is missing it too. (Also, this post covers the “new concepts and terms” and the “impressions of the Ruby community” that I mentioned last time.)

I learned a new term at Ruby Retrocession this year: “contempt culture.” Contempt culture is the noun for hating on tools and languages you don’t use, especially in an unconstructive or demeaning way. Saying things like “Java is a terrible language” is an example of contempt culture. Making gagging noises when someone says that they use Windows as their main OS at work is an example of contempt culture (and a true story!). I have seen this happen many times, but before Ruby Retrocession I had (1) no name for this thing and (2) no ability to articulate why it bothered me. Now I have both.

One reason contempt culture is so bad is that it aggravates other people’s imposter syndrome, as this post explains very well. If I’m at a Meetup, and someone tells me that C# is not a real language because it comes out of Microsoft, or doesn’t have real pointers, or whatever, then there’s a small part of me that’s like “Oh no! C# is not a real language. What if I’m not a real programmer?” Having those thoughts is really no fun.

The Ruby culture, from what I’ve seen of it, is awesome at not doing this. Someone started bashing a particular gem, without super clear reasons, and was promptly answered with, “if you don’t recommend using this gem, can you provide particular reasons? We want to stay away from contempt culture.” I was pretty relieved to hear those words, as the gem being bashed was a gem I’ve used in sample apps, and I felt a little bit better after hearing it, if not defended, at least not condemned without trial.

I was googling “contempt culture” to see if there was a Wikipedia page or official definition somewhere that I should include in this post, and I found another good reason not to be contemptuous of other languages (as if “being kind to other people” was not reason enough): If you spew inarticulate hate at something, you cannot learn from that thing. Even if all we learn from Java and C# is that these languages have had giant projects depending on them for decades, and backwards compatibility is hard, we can learn that. Another post rightly points out that most people don’t get to choose the languages that they use at their day jobs anyway, so hating on languages provides discouragement without remedy.

But the Ruby community is super encouraging. Everyone at Retrocession was enthusiastic and kind. There were a few people at the conference who probably didn’t have enough experience with Ruby to follow most of the regular sessions, so some kind audience member took his laptop to a spare room and did a days’ worth of free beginner lessons to help those people out.

In my next post, I’ll write more about how the structure of the unconference itself made me feel welcome; here I’ve talked about how the people made me feel welcome. So please, if you find yourself about to imply that “real programmers don’t do X or use Y,” check yourself. It will really help the newbies in the audience (and everyone else) feel more welcome.

Till next time, happy learning!


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