Ruby Brigades are one of the best things to happen to Ruby; they move Ruby into local communities in a way that nothing else can, they create a comraderie and focus for local Rubyists, and they provide an easy on-ramp for people who are just starting to explore Ruby. Perhaps the best part about Ruby Brigades is that, unlike books and tutorials, we can all get involved in making them happen in our own back yards — not only can we, but we should. Let me tell you why.
My Local Ruby Brigade
To really understand, you’ll need to spend a little time with a Ruby Brigade. Since you might not have one nearby (yet), I’ll use my local group to fill you in. The Brigham Young University (BYU) Ruby Users Group is open to anyone interested in Ruby, BYU student or not. We meet on the second Wednesday of every month, and have periodic hacking nights throughout the month.
During a normal meeting, one of the local Rubyists will make a short presentation (maybe she’ll talk about how she’s using Rails at work, or how she used Ruby to prototype a solution for a CS class). After the presentation, we’ll take some time to talk about things we’ve done or seen, threads on the ruby-talk mailing list, or maybe projects to work on during the next hacking night.
Our meetings are only part of the story. We also have a mailing list where people ask questions, share tips, and even recruit for jobs. For those who need a more immediate response, we share an IRC channel (#urug on
freenode) with another regional Ruby Brigade, URUG (the Utah Ruby Users Group).
The Value Proposition
What do Rubyists get out of their local Ruby Brigade? There are many benefits; I’ll focus on four.
First, you have regular chances to see people using Ruby in ways you don’t. Next month, a local Mac OS X hacker is going to talk to the BYU group about using Ruby Cocoa to build apps for the Mac with Ruby. Ruby Brigades will help you expand your Ruby horizons.
Second, since you’ll see each other frequently it’s easier to ask questions (or ask for favors). This kind of interaction could be a local company just looking into using Ruby, or it could be something more personal. My son is learning Ruby, and wanted to write a program for me as a Christmas gift. I couldn’t really help him with it without spoiling the surprise, so he asked for help from a member of the Ruby Brigade — since my son goes to the meetings, he already had a relationship with people who could help him out.
Third, Ruby Brigades are a friendly place to rehearse talks, classes, or other kinds of presentations. If you’ve ever given a presentation at a conference, you know how nerve wracking that can be; your local Ruby Brigade can ease the pain. Not only can you run through your slides and discussion to get the timing right, you can also get great feedback on where and how to polish your presentation. This also lets your fellow Rubyists see a presentation they’d otherwise miss. The pdx.rb (the Portland Ruby Brigade) has taken this to the next level with FOSCon, the free Ruby oriented gathering that happened alongside OSCon (O’Reilly’s Open Source Convention) last year.
Fourth, hacking nights (or other activities) give you the opportunity to work together to build Ruby skills. The newhaven.rb (the New Haven, CT Ruby Brigade) uses some of their meeting time to work together on Ruby Quizzes. URUG has been working on a Rails Application for personal finances. Other Brigades have similar projects. Sometimes, these activities let people see Ruby for the first time — Ammon is one of the regulars at the BYU group. He started coming out when a friend brought him to a meeting to show him what Ruby is all about.
Sometimes, a Ruby Brigade does something that really stands out. Seattle.rb was the first Ruby Brigade (I invented the term at our second meeting), but it stands out in other ways too. With Eric Hodel, Evan Webb, and zenspider (Ryan Davis) the seattle.rb is a hotbed of Ruby hacking — so much so, that when Bruce Eckel was in Seattle, he sat down with them to learn more about Ruby. He spoke in glowing terms of the Seattle.rb in a blog post recanting some of his negativity about Ruby.
Not all ruby brigades are lucky enough to have Ruby celebrities in their midst, but a number of Rubyists will seek out a local Ruby Brigade when they’re traveling (or they might be recruited by a Ruby Brigade that knows of their presence). Eric Hodel recently combined a skiing trip in Utah with a presentation to the BYU group. (If you’re a skier or snow boarder and are planning a trip to Utah, drop me an email.) In Seattle, we’ve had Dave Thomas, Chad Fowler, and DHH all come out to meetings. I’ve seen announcements and requests about other traveling Rubyists, including myself.
It’s Your Turn
Ask not what Ruby can do for you, but what you can do for Ruby. Ruby is a great language, and it’s made programming easier easier and more rewarding for many people. Ruby Brigades are a powerful catalyst for helping Ruby make things even better for even more people, but they can’t succeed without us. Helping Ruby Brigades grow is so important that it’s been adopted as a goal by a number of Rubyists on 43 Things. We need your help.
No matter how accomplished you are with Ruby, no matter where you live, you can help build Ruby Brigades — you can help build Ruby. Depending on your circumstances, there are different things you can do. Let me lay out some ideas to get you started.
If you live near a Ruby brigade, you’re in pretty good shape. You can enjoy the meetings, and reap the rewards of participation. (You do go to the meetings, don’t you?) There are still opportunities for you to contribute though. Using the mailing list or IRC channel aren’t helpful if people don’t respond — it doesn’t take much time to to answer a question, and maybe you’ll be the one asking next time. Maybe your company is trying to recruit another Ruby Hacker, what better place to spread the word than your local Ruby Brigade. If you’re in a position to, making a presentation is probably the biggest gift you can give to a group. Even inviting a friend to come to a
meeting with you can go a long way.
If there’s a Ruby Brigade being started in your area, you probably have more chances make an impact. Advertising (or recruiting), arranging a place to meet, and generally building a community all take work and an extra set of hands makes a big difference. Any of the ideas listed for people in a place with an established Ruby Brigade will work well for you too.
If you don’t have a Ruby Brigade in your area yet, you’ve got the biggest opportunity to make a difference. In addition to all of the ideas above, you can take the lead in getting things started. You don’t need a lot of people to get things going. We started the seattle.rb with just three members, and look where that’s gone. Meet with a couple of Rubyists for a lunch, or offer to talk about Ruby at a Linux Users Group, a Web Developers Group, or an Extreme/Agile Developers Group — you’re liable to find a couple of people interested in learning more. The most important things are to start meeting, keep on meeting, and let others know about it.
(I’d like to thank Ammon Christiansen, Ryan Davis, and especially Sean Carley for their input and suggestions as I was writing this.)