Takeaways from RailsConf 2017

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Here at Forward Financing, many of our in-house software tools are built using Ruby on Rails, a popular web development framework. As a Rails shop, our technology department is always on the lookout for new and interesting ways of leveraging the framework to best fit our needs in financial tech. Last week, three of our engineers headed to RailsConf 2017, the Rails community’s annual conference.

Trade conferences can be a great opportunity to get inspired, recharge your batteries, and come back to work with fresh ideas. RailsConf was no different for us at Forward Financing.

Here are some takeaways from the conference:

Diversity and Inclusion

RailsConf was quite proactive this year in promoting an agenda of diversity and inclusion. Tech, as with any other industry, benefits by having a big tent in which everyone is welcome and can contribute. Some of the panels that touched on that theme included: “Understanding ‘Spoon Theory’ and Preventing Burnout“, “Better Hiring Practices for Fun and Profit” and “We’ve Always Been Here: Women Changemakers in Tech“.

The final day was capped off with a fantastic keynote by Marco Rogers about what it’s like to be a black man working in tech, offering important observations that transcend the tech industry and providing a relatable tale to anyone who is underrepresented in their chosen field.

The takeaway from all of this was pretty straightforward. Diversity matters.

When building teams, it’s important to have diversity of opinion and experience, people who don’t all think like you. Many laughs were had at the expense of Juicero, which some argue tries to solve a problem that doesn’t actually need solving. But it underscores the need for a diversity of ideas in the marketplace and the workplace. Having a diversity of experience on your teams will let you serve your customers and your company’s culture better in the long run.

A Culture of Continuous Learning

This one should be of no surprise for a trade conference. And it’s no secret that in the field of software development, there are fancy new tools showing up seemingly every day. The latest and trendiest were on display at RailsConf, such as React, Elixir and Elm, not to mention a full schedule of talks on productivity, leadership, management and best practices for Rails developers.

Our team at Forward Financing already uses React and Elixir in our software stack, so Elm was the new kid on the block and something that we’ll be pursuing in the near future. (For more a more technical look at our process, check out the Forward Financing Engineering Blog).

It was inspiring to see the passion that goes in to maintaining a culture of continuous learning at other organizations and within the community. Talks like “Cultivating a Culture of Continuous Learning,” for example, really hit the nail on the head.

It’s truly one of the strengths of our tech team here at Forward Financing. We have the flexibility and the buy in from everyone on board at all levels to try whatever we think could be the best tool to get the job done. The ability to satisfy that intellectual curiosity is incredibly rewarding.

Strength of the Community

This was my first RailsConf, and being relatively new to the web development community, I was genuinely impressed at how welcoming and accessible the Rails community is. In case you were wondering, yes, there was a talk about that, too: “Panel: Ruby’s Killer Feature: The Community.” Everything was centered around an open exchange of ideas — a bedrock of the open source software community — and for the most part, no one was talking over anyone’s head.

If anything, it was a wake up call that we as a tech team at Forward Financing need to get more involved within our local Boston tech community. Much of what we do here was highlighted by various talks as a best practice within the industry, from management to project management to team building, and the technology we use is proving to be increasingly popular.

Contributing to the community however we can would be the least we could do.

Here’s to a great RailsConf 2017, and a big thanks to the folks at RubyCentral.org for putting this all together! See you next year in Pittsburgh!

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