THE CONF Initiative

2016 October 20, 12:00 h - tags: english conference theconf

Obs: se você é brasileiro, leia esta versão em Português.

I was the main curator and organizer of all Rubyconf Brasil events and I have been doing Ruby related events and talks in Brasil for the past 10 years. My last Rubyconf Brasil in 2016 had almost 1,200 attendees coming from all over the country.

I also did talks in international events such as Locos x Rails 2009, Railsconf 2010, RubyKaigi 2011, Toster 2012, Bubbleconf 2012, and others. In smaller scale I travelled all over Brasil doing more than 150 talks as well.

My main goal was to foster a healthy Brazilian Ruby community as well as help growing a better class of local software developers.

But I still have an annoying scratching itch that never went away.

When I decided to organize a Ruby-centric event in Brazil, 10 years ago, my main concern was if the subject would be interesting enough to have momentum. I had a personal goal in mind: a Railsconf-comparable conference, reaching for 1,000 attendees, consistently happening for 10 years.

The initial goal was reached a few years ago, since at least 2013 when we reached the magic 1,000 number and 2016 reached my personal number "10" conferences in a row.

But the format of Brazilian tech events still gives me that itch.

To put it in perspective, some big conferences attract people from all over the world. Notable examples are Railsconf, OSCON, Microsoft Build, QCon NY, QCon SF, ApacheCon, LinuxCon, Apple WWDC, Google I/O, etc.

Some of them for obvious reasons. If you want to know the hottest news on Apple, you have to attend WWDC. Many of those example have exclusive content from the organizer's companies such as Facebook or Google.

Other conferences attract people due to their roster of speakers' reputations. And in turn they attract more speakers that want to be in that roster. It's maybe the case of OSCON, or QCon.


This section can become quite confusing so I will try to be as much direct and to point as I can. I will narrow down the narrative to Brazil, but the same argument can be applied to any country in Latin America. Please, bear with me.

First of all, our conferences are all presented in Brazilian Portuguese, exclusively to a Brazilian audience.

To increase their reputation, big events here bring "international" guest speakers - and by "international" I mean "from out of Latin America", such as USA, Europe.

The local audience go to those event sometimes just because of the quality of those guests.

The untold truth is that most of those guests wouldn't come out of their own volition without an invitation and financial incentives. But those same speakers usually compete to speak in USA or European events. I am not criticizing them! This is a natural consequence and I would do the same if I were them.

This is the symptom of how Brazilian events are made. They are very well done and effective for the intended audience: Brazilians. Simultaneously making them not attractive for everybody else.

It's a matter of economics, because it's expensive to come here, the visa process for americans is annoying, and they get better exposition on a more diverse event that understands English.

At the same time, we have several great Brazilian developers applying to speak at american or european events to gain more exposure, exactly for the same reasons: our Brazilian events lack in audience reach because they are mostly made just for Brazilians.

Only Brazilians speak Brazilian Portuguese.

The international audience is not aware of the quality of our Brazilian speakers because we are not doing a good job advertising that!

One first step to remedy this situation is to try something never attempted here: to create a Brazilian conference where the main language of presentation is English. Surprisingly, I believe this doesn't sound like a big deal for anyone, anywhere in the world, but for Brazilians!

This won't increase the ammount of international speakers wanting to come here, and this is not the goal.

The goal is to create an Internationally Recognizable stage for our highly-skilled developers to speak up to a larger audience. This audience would be able to watch them either coming here or online. Because no american will ever try to watch a Brazilian recorded talk that is spoken in Portuguese, but they will have no problem watching a Brazilian speaking in English.

Not only our conferences are not attractive for English-speaking audiences, but they are not attractive even for our fellow neighbors in Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, etc.

Brazil is a big Portuguese-speaking island surrounded by Spanish-speaking countries in a globalized English-speaking world.

We can do better.

From Brazil, to the World

The real change is to create an internationally visible stage in Brazilian soil.

And for that we could try to create the very first Latin American Tech Conference entirely in English. I never attended FOSDEM but I heard that attendees there speak Dutch, French, German but most content is presented in English exactly for that diversity. Europeans are certainly better adjusted to multiple languages than Brazilians are. We live in a globalized and diverse world, and like it or not, the technology lingua-franca is English.

Brazil, and Latin America in general, has many talented and hard-working developers competing in the international arena. Many core contributors to big open source projects, many programmers working in renowed companies, and even CTOs to USA and European companies are from Brazil.

For example, did you know that former Director of Engineering of SoundCloud in Berlin and now Director of Engineering at DigitalOcean NY is a Brazilian? Actually his own team there has a dozen of Brazilians. Did you know that Godaddy has a Brazilian as VP of Software Engineering? You have Brazilian engineers working at Heroku, Gitlab, startups such as Doximity, Pipefy. And that's not even counting the big Brazilian tech companies such as Nubank, the flagship all-online credit card and one of the largest successful cases of Clojure in the world. Elixir, the language that is conquering hearts and minds, again invented and built by a Brazilian living in Poland. Xamarin, one of the major catalysts for Microsoft into the OSS world is founded by a Mexican, and it has important Brazilian engineers. Crystal, the brand new language that promises to bring Ruby-like enjoyment to the low-level compiled world was invented and built by an Argentinian. If you're a Rails developer you definitely used Devise in your projects, one of the most ubiquitous library in the Rails community, made and maintained by brazilians. And I can go on and on.

I am not saying that worldwide speakers would flock to come here, that's not even the point. But I know that many tech companies throughout the world are in need to hire great developers, wherever they are.

This is one of the many things foreigners don't know about Latin American software developers: we are literally on par with anyone from anywhere in the world. You just need to know where to look.

We are not low-quality cheap labor.

We are near-shore, top-quality, skillful and educated software engineers. And this is not hubris.

But we are doing a very poor job at advertising that to the world.

Most conferences in Brazil are in Brazilian-Portuguese only, with a couple of foreigner guest speakers (usually requiring some form of translation). They are made exclusively to showcase technology and brands to a beginner-level audience, but they don't do a lot to showcase our potential to that international arena.

What if one event made in Brazil finally raises that bar, presenting our cream of the crop, in English?

Would that alienate the Latin American audience? I don't think so. I have been experimenting in the last couple of years and my event alone, Rubyconf Brazil, didn't have any simultaneous translations. An audience of almost 1,000 attendees listened to English-only speakers without any problems whatsoever.

Heck, our guests that came from Argentina presented in English in a Brazilian conference!

This is the result of years of having hundreds of screencasts and events recorded made available on YouTube! Thousands of hours of online classes over Code School, Code Academy and many others. Hundreds of ebooks from Pragmatic Programmer and other publishers. Brazilians are consuming all that for years, and by the way, did you know that one of the top instructors at Code School is a Brazilian?

There are dozens of great small to big tech conferences all over the continent, introducing technology to many young people wanting to learn more. They are doing a fantastic job already. But there is still a big gap between those events and the worldwide arena of international events, and I think this proposal is one step in the direction to finally close this gap.

It's about damn time we bring more attention to that fact in a conference that welcomes anyone from anywhere in the world.

So the first criteria for such an event is that every speaker presents in English, where all recorded material is available and accessible to anyone in the world.

Code-Only aNd Fun - No-Frills

I believe a conference should have focus.

Any event that tries to squeeze everything in ends up having their identities diluted so much that every tech event becomes similar to every other tech event.

Instead, I'd rather have an event for programmers, made by programmers, with a focus on programming and creativity by means of software. I'd like to have a mostly technical event, with the main goal of showcasing the Latin America capacity.

So the second criteria would be for the speakers to send proposals focused on code. Preferably open source code of his own authorship, but subjects around software development at the very least. No propaganda to advertise services or products. No self-help topics. I want to focus around the craft of software.

One example of interesting code would be something such as Sonic Pi a live coding music synth DSL written in Ruby. How about Ruby 2600, an Atari emulator written in Ruby by Brazilian developer Chester? Or this presentation about interface testing with Diablo 3 again presented by fellow Brazilian developer Rodrigo Caffo at Rubyconf 2012? Or this talk about Sprockets by another fellow Brazilian developer and Rails Core Committer Rafael França, presented at RailsConf 2016? Or this talk about Crystal presented by fellow Argentinian developer Ary Borenszweig in Prague last year?

And out of the Ruby world, there are many great examples in communities as diverse as Python, Javascript, Go, and so on.

Part of this concept came to me while watching Koichi Sasada's keynote at Rubyconf Brazil 2014. Koichi is a Japanese Ruby Core Committer and he mentioned his concept of "EDD: Event Driven Development", meaning that he speeds up prior to speaking at important conferences.


Many developers begin new open source code or speed up their contributions near to presenting at events. It's a positive cycle. This kind of event I am proposing could be a catalyst to exactly this kind of positive cycle in Latin America. Code that leads to more Code.

So the main criteria would be Code Only aNd Fun!

"THE CONF" Initiative

Every new implementation should start small, and a code-only event should also have it's Beta stage.

My initial criteria:

  • Code-Only
  • And Fun, of course, or "No-Frills" if you prefer.
  • All in English, All inclusive for everybody from anywhere.
  • Mainly (but not exclusively) focused around great Latin American developers.

The Target: realistically it will be primarily targetting Brazilians (and I hope, some of our Latin American friends) locally, and the International audience of software developers, at least online. I believe it may be an event for around 300 attendees, maybe around 20 speakers. If we can gather at least that, it would be a superb first step.

The Goals: to create a Latin American stage to showcase our skills, in practice, to the world. Less non-Latin American speakers at first, no sponsored talks to sell products. Mostly Code.

If I am not mistaken this would be the very first Latin American conference, with Latin American speakers, with the mission of eventually becoming an Internationally Recognizable conference. One that would primarily attract and bring together communities all over Latin America and that eventually becomes recognized by the worldwide community of developers and enterprises looking to hire our great developers or companies, no matter where they are.


If you like the idea and want to participate, start following @theconfbr Twitter account and the Facebook page. This is basically the very first "draft" of the idea and this is the time to send suggestions. The more support I see, the easier it will be to decide to go forward or not.

I still don't have a date, but if the idea shows potential and people support it, I'd like to aim for the 3rd quarter of 2017. Show your support, send your suggestions, this will help me make a decision and how to best implement it.


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