One of the pillars of the Toronto developer scene is the Ruby/Rails community. They’re an active, engaged, hard-working bunch who work without the direct benefit of a large organization like The Empire or its resources (they do, through people like Yours Truly and Nik Garkusha, Microsoft Canada’s open source go-to guy, get some indirect support). They – through the efforts of people like Pete Forde and the Ruby local heroes at Unspace – know how to maximize grassroots organization and harness them into industry-leading events like last year’s RubyFringe and the upcoming FutureRuby conference.
It should therefore not be a surprise that when Pete and company got the idea to help out their fellow Ruby developers during the econopocalypse with a job fair – employment.nil? — they’d take the standard techie job fair formula, turn it upside down and make it their very own. They chose the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto’s hip West Queen West neighbourhood, which is better known as a venue for karaoke, rock bands and burlesque (in fact, I’ve performed in all three kinds of shows there) than for computer and IT-related employment fairs.
This was not your typical job fair. It didn’t have any of the fancy display stands that you normally see on the exhibition floor at tech conferences. Instead, both job-seekers and small companies were told to build poster board displays, a la high school science fairs.
Another rule: no computers allowed! Even iPhone apps were considered “cheating”. The closest you were allowed to get was using whiteboards or pen and paper for “live coding”. This wasn’t about staring at computer screens, but people talking to other people – people who were passionate about the Ruby programming language and its associated frameworks, libraries and communities.
An excerpt from the sign-up page for employment.nil?:
Let’s face it: it’s better to be a Ruby developer than a car manufacturer in 2009, but things have definitely slowed down — for everyone. And yet, there are solid reasons why this is an excellent time to start new projects, launch companies, and create new markets. By definition, Ruby has been adopted by creative individuals that grew frustrated with risk averse bureaucracies.
We believe that there are huge number of opportunities to be found during this economic downturn, both for freelance developers and aspiring entrepreneurs alike. As with most tragic historical near-misses, there are just a huge number of connections that aren’t made even in our own collective back yard.
More from the job fair’s site:
That said, we also believe that Ruby people are determined self-starters that aren’t afraid to self-promote. Anything worth doing in life requires hard work and sacrifice. Sadly, while many developers are patient and willing to think orthogonally, we rarely get an opportunity to practice the other more social skills which make us desirable as team members, project managers, and co-founders. Unless we overcome our shyness and learn to speak eloquently about our experience and skill sets, we have nobody to blame for our work prospects but ourselves.
Our solution is to gather students, developers, development companies, and of course project leaders and company founders for a good old-fashioned career fair.
As you can see from the photos, there were different kinds of booths set up. There were those for companies looking to hire some Ruby developers…
and those deidicated to showcasing some interesting application of Ruby, such as lojacking iPhones:
…or HacklabTO’s own Jed Smith showing how we harness Ruby to drive our laser (yes, we’ve got a laser etcher/cutter!):
And some booths were set up by Ruby programmers showcasing their own work and who were looking for a job:
The event wasn’t just noticed by the Ruby community, who filled the room throughout the 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. course of the event. Late in the afternoon, Ontario’s Minister of Small Business and Consumer Services, Harinder S. Takhar, paid a visit to the job fair.
Pete, ever the gracious event curator, took Mr. Takhar to several booths, introducing him to their owners, who were only too happy to show the Minister their Ruby-related work. Here’s Andrew Burke of Shindig, showing him the projects he’s taking on in his independent software consultancy:
I’m sure that grassroots high-tech events with a strong “indie” aesthetic are outside the Minister’s everyday experience, but he seemed pretty impressed with the event: a dedicated group of nerds building software and careers using only laptops, stuff you can download for free and their brain cells.
Here’s Pete explaining the local Ruby developer scene and the concept of open source software to Mr. Takhar:
And here’s Mr. Takhar presenting Pete with an award of recognition for Unspace for putting the event together. At that point, I broke out the accordion and played For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, partly for the Minister for showing up on a Saturday afternoon, but partly for Pete for putting the event together.
Here’s a close-up of the award:
Award of Recognition
On behalf of the Government of Ontario,
I am delight to extend my congratulations on the
First Toronto Ruby Job Fair
Unspace Interactive Inc.
Our government recognizes the importance of new and creative opportunities for
business. Building a business requires vision and dedication. I applaud your work and
success in web consulting through your team of industry-leading developers and
designers under one roof.
Please accept my best wishes for continued success.
Harinder S. Takhar
Minister of Small Business and Consumer Services
June 06, 2009
Congratulations to Pete, Meghann Millard, all the folks from Unspace and the Toronto Ruby community on a job well done!
The Photo Gallery
I took a lot of photos at employment.nil? and shared them in a Flickr photoset, which you can also view in the slideshow below: