This topic has all the necessary information on how to run Rails Camp.
So you want to run a Rails Camp!
This guide is meant to give a potential organiser a reasonably detailed list of things that must be considered when planning and running a Rails Camp.
It is super important that an organiser does not rely on only this document. Talk to previous organisers and seek the help of Ruby Australia for advice and support when you need it.
Becoming an organiser
There is no official organiser selection process as such, but often the organiser(s) for the next Rails Camp volunteer at a Ruby Australia AGM at the current Rails Camp. For example, during the Ruby Australia AGM at Rails Camp Perth in November 2014, Leonard Garvey volunteered to run the Rails Camp Sydney event that eventually took place in June 2015.
First preference is usually given to the states and territories that haven’t hosted before (or have had the longest break since last hosting), but only if there are volunteers for that state/territory.
Anyone who is interested in volunteering should get in touch with the Ruby Australia committee to see what plans are in place for future camps and get your offer on their radar. If you have some fellow volunteers to work with, that’s even better. A core team of two or three people is highly recommended - running a Rails Camp is a lot of work!
Now that you’re an organiser, what’s next?
Your first steps should be:
- Rope in some fellow volunteers to help organise
- Find potential venues in your chosen area and timeframe
- Put together a budget
Please keep in mind that previous organisers and the Ruby Australia committee will all be happy to provide feedback along the way.
All the details
- Venue Considerations
Am I personally exposed to financial risk if I make a mistake with budgeting?
No. Ruby Australia has your back, but it is definitely worth maintaining a budget spreadsheet that can be shared with the Ruby Australia treasurer to mitigate the risk of financial errors occurring.
Will I need to cover any costs myself?
All costs should ideally be covered by ticket sales and sponsorship. However, it’s likely that some extra unforeseen costs will come up during the camp itself, or for things that are planned but must be purchased personally before being reimbursed by Ruby Australia.
For example, an additional $1500 AUD was spent by the organisers of Rails Camp Sydney during the event to cover the cost of additional alcohol, and more for transport and catering supplies, the cost of which was reimbursed by Ruby Australia a couple of days after the event.
Does Ruby Australia have insurance that covers the event? Is additional insurance required?
Ruby Australia has insurance for all events run under its banner, which includes Rails Camps. It is possible that you may require additional insurance if your venue requests it - if this happens, the Ruby Australia committee will be able to help you sort it out.
Do I have to charge GST?
Yes. Your ticket prices must include GST. 10% of the ticket price is not yours to spend. Budget for this.
Where can I get hold of the @railscamp_au Twitter account details?
Contact the previous Rails Camp organisers. Ruby Australia is working on a better thing for this.
Types of Venues
Rails Camps are generally run at venues that cater for large groups with dormitory rooms. Often, their usual clients are school groups or scouts. They’re usually pretty lo-fi - shared bathrooms, basic bedding, etc. The advantages are that these venues can sometimes hold 150+ people, and usually are not particularly expensive.
Researching for venues can sometimes be tricky - but searching for school and scout campsites is a good place to start. It’s highly recommended that you visit the venue if at all possible to confirm it’s going to be fit for purpose.
Rails Camps in Australia run from Friday afternoon through to Monday morning, and occur in the middle of the year (June or July), or towards the end of the year (usually November, sometimes December). So, that should give you a decent timeframe for enquiring about available weekends.
It’s worth keeping in mind the weather. While we’ve not been perfect at this, there’s a rough goal of having southern camps in November, and northern camps in June/July, which generally leads to the more pleasant conditions.
You’ll also want to check about related events that may potentially conflict, including:
If at all possible, steer clear of running a Rails Camp in direct competition with these events - and ideally have a few weeks, if not a month, gap between any of the camp events.
Camp locations have historically been within an hour or so from the nearest city and/or airport - ideally, somewhere easily accessible by cars and buses. Sometimes other modes of transport have been required (e.g. ferries) - which can add to the sense of adventure, but also adds extra organising overhead for you.
Most venues will likely cater for a variety of accessibility needs (i.e.: for those in wheelchairs, or using crutches, etc). It doesn’t hurt to confirm with potential venues just to be sure.
These days, Rails Camps in Australia usually host 100+ people - sometimes they’re closer to 150, sometimes they’re closer to 80. Having a venue that can fit a larger group is preferred, but make sure you’re clear with the venue on whether the hiring fee will be per-person or a flat rate, and if it’s the former what the timeframes for final confirmation are.
Some people like to camp in actual tents at Rails Camp. These people usually number somewhere between a handful and a dozen - the clear majority of attendees prefer a dorm bed over a tent. It’s worth confirming with the venue whether camping is allowed - it’s certainly not a deal breaker, but it’s good to be clear.
It’s great to have several spaces available for the event:
- A dining room that everyone can fit in.
- A coding room that (almost) everyone can fit in. Sometimes, this is the dining room.
- At least one sessions room for presentations.
- A room for Werewolf and other games. Sometimes, this is the sessions room, but it’s good to have more than one if at all possible.
- A quiet room, for those who would like to code or read or do other things where they’re far less likely to be disturbed, and there’s no expectation to be social.
You will need a projector for each session room, and probably for the dining or coding room as well (for introductory comments and Sunday night show-and-tell). If the venue doesn’t have them, you can try asking local Ruby companies to borrow theirs.
Some campsites - especially those aimed at children, or those run by religious associations - have an alcohol-free policy. If you want to run a dry camp (which has not yet been tried, but this is your prerogative), then this won’t be an issue, but otherwise, you’ll need to keep going with your search for appropriate venues.
100+ developers means 100+ devices drawing power. Most campsites handle this without any issues, but if they’re using generators rather than connected to the grid, this may be a sticking point. Something to confirm with any likely venues!
Most venues will have first aid supplies, but it’s worth confirming. You should also check if they’ll have any staff members on-site who are certified to provide first aid. Otherwise, you’ll need to find some attendees who can volunteer in this capacity.
Most venues will require event insurance. Ruby Australia has an insurance policy for this very purpose which you should use.
Make sure you’re across the emergency evacuation procedure for the venue, and that you or a member of the venue staff explains that on the Friday evening opening remarks.
It’s also handy to have one of your organising team with a car in case anyone needs to urgently get back to civilisation (for example: in the case of injury).
Getting a Quote
If you’re seriously considering a venue, get a written quote from them. It should state the following:
- the deposit amount
- whether not GST is inclusive/exclusive
- the minimum number of attendees (if there is a minimum for the venue)
- the maximum number of attendees
- whether catering is included or additional
Once you have quotes from all your potential venues, decide on which is going to be the best fit. Then, discuss this venue with the Ruby Australia treasurer and anyone else you’d like feedback from.
If it is all reasonable then ask the venue for an invoice, send that invoice through to the treasurer and it will get paid. Congratulations, you now have a confirmed venue! This might be the time to announce the dates so potential attendees can plan accordingly.
This is a rough guide - if you fall behind it’s not the end of the world, but certainly good to be on top of things sooner rather than later!
- 6 months out: confirm a venue
- 4 months out: release tickets
- 1 month out: close registrations
- 2 weeks out: confirm numbers with the venue and caterers
- Monday evening after the camp: collapse into bed after a job well done.
The deadlines to confirm numbers with the venue and the caterers are worth confirming - it’s good to know the very latest numbers can be updated, in case of late registrations.
Camp budget templates can be supplied by previous organisers, which will provide a good starting point.
Income will likely come from two sources:
Expenses will include some/most of the following:
All of these items are discussed in their respective sections of this guide.
Get some numbers into a spreadsheet (perhaps copied off a previous camp’s budget), and spend some time understanding the amount of funds required for such an event, and especially what the minimum numbers are to break even.
Having conversations with the Ruby Australia treasurer regularly is recommended, to ensure things are tracking along at a healthy level. If it turns out that despite best intentions (and all the plans you’ve made and followed) you do make a small loss, this is not the end of the world. Ruby Australia does allow for these situations and can cover the shortfall. That said, do your very best to make a small profit.
You will also have the assistance of the Ruby Australia treasurer for issuing and paying any invoices required for the event.
Numbers vary for camps for a variety of reasons - the location, the dates, people’s interests changing, etc. It’s not unexpected for a camp to have 100+ attendees, but excellent camps have been run with 50 attendees. It’s recommended you opt for a modest number as part of your planning for breaking even (and previous organisers can help suggest what that might be).
Ruby Australia has existing accounts for the payment gateway Pin Payments, and the ticketing service Tito, so it is perhaps easiest to leverage these. No matter who you go with, though, you will need to factor in fees for both into your budget.
You will also need to charge GST for your tickets - due to the size of Ruby Australia’s yearly income, it is required to collect GST. Again, factor this into your budget accordingly.
You will likely want to offer the following tickets:
If camping in tents is an option at the venue, and results in a lower venue cost for those attendees, you may wish to offer camping tickets at a slightly discounted rate as well.
Early-bird tickets are another option, though may be unnecessary.
If your venue is smaller than usual (holding fewer than 100 people) and a high demand is expected, there is also the option of running a ticket ballot: people can enter the ballot before a well-publicised deadline, and then tickets are randomly allocated. Previous camp organisers may have code you can re-use for this purpose.
When running a ballot, Ruby Australia committee should be given reserved places (if they wish to attend) for the purpose of the General Meeting that will take place.
It’s recommended that you have a deadline for ticket sales of a month prior to the event. This helps motivate people to buy their tickets sooner rather than later, as well as giving you a better idea of how your budget’s looking at that point in time, and makes it easier to confirm numbers with the venue and caterers.
Scholarship / Diversity Tickets
As part of ongoing efforts to increase the diversity of the Ruby community, scholarship tickets are usually made available for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford a Rails Camp ticket. Recent camps have had an application process for this, and then awarded the scholarships by their chosen metrics.
There may be specific sponsorship funds available for this purpose - the Ruby Australia team will confirm. Otherwise, it’s an excellent option for attracting camp-specific sponsors.
If you’ve got a venue and dates confirmed, then it’s time to start spreading the word. You’ll likely want a website for the camp itself, plus an updated listing on railscamps.com, and then you can start spreading the word through mailing lists, Twitter, meets, etc.
Once you’ve got the dates locked down for the venue, it’s time to get a basic website up. Initially it should outline the date, location, and the Code of Conduct (which is Ruby Australia’s).
When it’s time to release tickets, you’ll want those on the website, and it’s also recommended to have transport plans listed sooner rather than later, so people can book their flights to match the bus times. Also, you’ll want a list of things that people should bring, which may include the following:
- Toothbrush & Toiletries
- Sleeping Bag
- Pillowcase if you so desire
- Your alcoholic beverages of choice
- Any medications you take regularly
- Snacks that you can’t live without
- Any data, files etc that you’d normally rely on getting from the Internet
Each venue has slightly different approaches to bed linen and towels. Usually mattresses and sheets are provided, sometimes pillows, sometimes blankets - make sure you confirm this with the venue!
Using an existing Rails Camp site is likely an excellent place to start! You can go all out if you really want, but at the end of the day people aren’t going to care much if it’s not shiny.
These are just some suggestions on where to promote the Rails Camp:
Ruby Australia provides financial sponsorship through their yearly sponsorship packages used to support all events over the course of a year. The committee will be able to give you a dollar value for this, and provide the details of associated sponsors and their logos, and any particular initiatives their funds should go towards.
Alongside that, you’re welcome (and indeed, encouraged) to ask organisations for further support to help offset the ticket costs. It can be useful to have these additional sponsors pay for specific camp expenses, such as:
- transport (coaches / trains / minibuses to and from the airport)
- diversity tickets
- soft drinks and alcoholic drinks
- coffee, tea, coffee machines and/or barista
You could also consider:
- special meals like bbqs or brisket?
- a fancier selection of drinks
- hipster food trucks
- some other amazing thing?
If you are confident you can get significant sponsorship you could consider subsidising the ticket price.
Early Rails Camps had group efforts providing food for everyone, but as the events grew, these efforts did not scale - especially when it’s the attendees who were doing the food preparation. So, caterers are engaged for camps to cover the food required for the event.
Unless you’re making special plans for a meal or two, this will include dinner on Friday, breakfast, lunch and dinner for Saturday and Sunday, and breakfast on Monday (8 meals in total). Some camps have also supplied morning and/or afternoon tea, which is appreciated as well.
Often venues will insist on using their own catering service - though if you’re allowed to bring in your own caterers, it’s worth getting a few quotes to ensure you’re getting a good deal for good food.
Ideally, you want to be working with the caterers to approve/adjust their suggested menus. It’s best to make this clear with whoever you engage to be caterers.
School camp caterers are used to preparing meals for children who are active all day, which is different to a group of mostly sedentary adults. So, you should make it clear to the caterers that you will require a menu that has lots of fresh vegetables and is not carbohydrate-heavy.
An approach that has worked in the past is having each component of meals separate, so people can choose just the options that suit them (which makes life easier for people with allergies, intolerances, and strong preferences).
Having food available between meals is important - sometimes people miss meals, or need some extra things to snack upon to keep them going. Fresh fruit is a great option for this (healthy and cheap).
It can also be helpful to have a late-night supper available to help soak up the alcohol that people are drinking. Party pies, pizza slices and other savoury snacks have been welcome dishes for this at previous camps.
The usual approach for drinks is to provide a variety of beers, ciders, teas, juices and soft drinks for attendees. Certainly, having many options of each of these is recommended, but it’s best to encourage attendees to bring their own hard liquor if they’re so inclined.
A dry (alcohol-free) camp has not yet been run. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t, but if you make this decision, you should make it very clear on the website and other event notices. Discussing this with past organisers is wise.
Or, you could let everyone bring their own alcohol, and not supply any. Again, this would be something to make extra clear in communications, and it’d be wise to add a battleship stop for the bus journey to the venue.
Some camps in the past have used kegs for beer and cider. This has proved to be problematic: you become reliant on equipment you and other attendees might not be familiar with, those who do get trained on the equipment must always be present (and reasonably sober), and it might be harder to offload any unused kegs.
Approaches to coffee have varied. The extremely hardcore will bring their own gear, but usually at least an espresso machine is provided. Sometimes a barista is hired to be on-site for Saturday and Sunday (within given hours, or staying on-site if they’re particularly keen).
If you’re planning on bringing a lot of food and/or drink to the event (e.g. snacks and drinks), it’s worthwhile checking whether supermarket delivery services (Coles, Woolworths, etc) cover the area. This can potentially save you a lot of transport hassle (though you’ll need to manage leftover supplies yourself).
To the campsite and back
Given the numbers of people coming to Rails Camp, it’s recommended that you organise buses to get everyone to and from the venue. You should definitely have a bus (or two, depending on numbers) departing from the closest airport, and potentially a stop in your city’s CBD - especially if there are a decent number of local Rubyists who might like that transport option.
Asking which stop people prefer (in both directions) when they purchase their tickets is wise, because it may work out better to have separate buses travelling to/from the CBD and to/from the airport.
As discussed in the catering section, it’s probably wise to add a stop at a shopping centre between the CBD and venue on the Friday, for attendees to buy their own snacks and alcoholic beverages.
Flights to the appropriate airport
Having the aforementioned bus plans figured out - once you’ve spoken to a likely bus company and figured out the best time for people to arrive at the camp - means you can let everyone know what times the buses depart from the airport/CBD, and then they can book their flights. Hence, these details are good to have locked down at the same time as you put tickets on sale, so flights can be organised well in advance.
During the camp
You or other organisers should have a car or two available during the event for any emergencies, or to go get extra supplies should you run out of something.
There’s a decent chance some attendees will drive as well, and they are often happy to help out with lifts and errands.
All current equipment is listed and tracked in the Rails Camp Inventory Tracker.
Remember to check off the items at the start at finish of the camp to make sure you have everything you need and update the thread by posting the updated list when the camp concludes.
The sessions, opening and closing remarks, and show & tell will all require a projector. None of them will overlap, so you can get by with one, unless you’re planning on having more than one session space.
Some venues have projectors, some don’t, so best to research this ahead of time. If they don’t have any, try asking local Ruby businesses if you can borrow theirs.
Power Cables and Boards
Ruby Australia has a collection of power cables and power boards that are shared from camp to camp. You should get in touch with the previous organisers to locate these and have them delivered to you.
This saves every camp from having to buy all of this gear again.
Ruby Australia has a dedicated Mac Mini for the purpose of hosting a RubyGems mirror and other such files and services at Rails Camps. Again, the previous organisers will be able to point you in the right direction and share details on what’s needed to get it up-to-date.
Ruby Australia should be able to supply a wifi router (or routers) that will handle the networking traffic for the local network.
Not essential, but recommended: source a hundred or two pairs of earplugs, as most dorm rooms have a snorer present, and having something to help everyone else sleep is a nice touch. Sometimes sponsors have supplied these, and that’s certainly a good option for them to win over attendees.
Rails Camps have been run successfully with one key organiser and a few helpers, or with a small team of two or three people working closely together. Running an event solo is not recommended - but even if you chose to go down that path, at least you’ve got this guide and the support of both previous organisers and the Ruby Australia committee.
Having a few people you can call upon across the course of the event itself is essential. These people should mostly be locals - bonus points if they’ve got a car to help with transporting gear. Students and others who couldn’t otherwise afford a ticket are good people to ask - they get a free ticket, and get to engage with the community in a more directed fashion.
Volunteers can be especially useful for:
- Assisting with allocating name badges and t-shirts.
- Herding people to wash their dishes.
- Managing the bus trips with role calls and headcounts.
- Supervising kitchen access, alcohol access, materials for bonfires, etc.
Internships / Buddy system
If you’re keen to help out in a future camp, it may be worth offering to volunteer for the upcoming one, so you can get a better idea of what’s involved without being in charge. This could be something that becomes more formalised, if plans are made in advance more often.
Before dinner on the Friday, but after the buses (and hopefully everyone else) have arrived, the organisers should have a quick presentation for everyone, covering such topics as:
- Welcome to Rails Camp!
- Introducing the organisers and volunteers
- Code of Conduct
- Thank the sponsors
- Meal times
- Venue layout and facilities
- Venue emergency procedure
- Rough schedule (sessions, general meeting, show & tell)
While some sessions may be confirmed prior to the camp if you wish, generally there’s plenty of room for people to put their hands up to present on whichever topics they like. These presentations usually run from late morning to late afternoon on both Saturday and Sunday, with breaks for both lunch and the Ruby Australia general meeting.
Whiteboards and/or butcher’s paper are the best ways to capture people’s sessions. It might also be useful to have a section on the board/paper for people to note topics they’d like to hear about (which may inspire others to put together a presentation).
Ruby Australia General Meeting
A general meeting for Ruby Australia happens at each Rails Camp. Only one meeting is the ‘Annual’ General Meeting, because there are two camps each year.
They usually run for 90 to 120 minutes on the Sunday afternoon after lunch. A large space (to hold 50+ people) will be required for this - often this means it takes over the sessions space. You don’t need to worry about organising an agenda or chairing the meeting - Ruby Australia will sort that out.
These meetings are open for all Ruby Australia members, which includes everyone attending the camp, but also others - so if you need to be across everyone who is on site, then it’s best to discuss planning how to manage this with the committee.
Optional camp activities
Some camps have added in extra activities. This is certainly not something you must do, but if it takes your fancy, it’s often very welcome! Previous activities have included:
- Group bush walk
- Ropes course
- Swimming pool (provided someone attending is a registered lifeguard)
- Slow-cooked BBQ dinner
- Post-camp lunch
Show & Tell
On Sunday evening after dinner, attendees are given the opportunity to show off what they’ve worked on over the weekend. This should happen in the main event space - either the hacking room or the dining room (if they are separate places). A projector will be needed!
Once Show & Tell is over, then it’s time for the organisers to make their final remarks. This should include topics like the following:
- Logistics for Monday morning departure
- Bed Linen
- Bus times
- Everyone be out by x o’clock.
- Announcement for upcoming RubyConf AU (the conference team usually wants to spruik it)
- Announcement for upcoming Rails Camp (if it’s clear where/when it’ll be)
- Thanking all the people:
- Ruby Australia
- Everyone who showed off something they built
- Everyone for attending
How much should a committee member guide things at Rails Camp?
By Richie Khoo May 2012
RailsCamp represents an open space environment designed to be at the most open end of open space.
‘Following the guidelines of effective open space’ generally attendees should not be looking to formal leaders for what to do or not do during camp. There is a risk that committee members could become these de facto reference points and it’s worth taking effort to reduce this natural tendency and actively support the space to remain nice and open.
As a guideline it’s ok to outline meta discussions just before camp (ie before or at the start AND just after camp/at the end). And of course the General Meeting is a special space which once plenary is opened is definitely to be run by the committee. But apart from this committee members should not seek to assert authority at RailsCamp and if anything would be better off to generally defer their authority to the group.
This doesn’t mean don’t contribute and come up with ideas and discuss things and make things happen just be careful not to come across as ‘well I’m on the committee and I said so, that’s why’.
As a second rule of thumb the more ‘non committee members’ who are out and about and organising things and bringing up issues and getting people together and doing things, this is a sign of good health of the camp.
Even this discussion isn’t rules, it’s just my take on creating effective open spaces at a RailsCamp.