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zerosum dirt(nap)

Railsconf 2009 Recap

May 13, 2009 by nap · Comments

I’m writing this from a cramped airline seat as we jet back from Las Vegas to balmy Manchester, NH (wifi on planes is awesome — thanks Southwest). Amanda and I spent a week in Vegas during which I attended Railsconf 2009 and caught a couple of pretty incredible shows. Then we road tripped it out to the Grand Canyon in Arizona and hiked in below the rim. Which was absolutely breathtaking. I wish we could have spent more time there and less in the city, to be honest.

Anyway, the conference itself had both its high and low points, but it was neither a total stinker nor an overwhelmingly fantastical experience this year. Peter Cooper, whom I had the pleasure of meeting there, has done a much better job than I of summarizing over at RubyInside. Friends Ben Scofield and Nick Quaranto also have some great notes at their respective sites. In fact, I’m going to steal Ben’s format for this post.

People

The best part of a conference is the people and the conversations, and the afterhours activities. Or at least, that’s been my experience thus far. This time around was no different. Greets to bcardadella, bphogan, brupm, bryanl, bscofield, cdwarren, croaky, cwsaylor, danabrit, davidcjames, defunkt, dpickett, erebor, fowlduck, greggpollack, graysky, jamesgolick, jeffrafter, jharuska, jimweirich, joefiorini, jnunemaker, jremsikjr, keavy, knowtheory, lazyatom, linoj, mbleigh, mojombo, patmaddox, peterc, qrush, rbates, reinh, robertdempsey, seanhussey, skizzles, solaredge, techpickles, wifelette, wycats, zachinglis and anyone else whom I might have forgotten to add to the list (sorry!). Thanks guys.

Sessions

The sessions this year were spotty, but generally I think the content was better than the previous Railsconf. I mistakingly sat through too many introductory talks and many others reported the same; everyone could benefit from session experience level labels. It’s weird that the organizers don’t do this, since they ask speakers about the experience level of their talks as part of the proposal process.

In any case, a number of the talks I saw this year stood out as being particularly great:

There were a lot of talks this year about testing, cache control / optimization, and Rack / Rails Metal. As well as some useful Rails 3 speculation and discussion. All good stuff.

Interestingly, I really didn’t care for many of the (very rough) ideas expressed in Yehuda’s mountable Rails apps (Rails 3) session — in particular I really had no clue why they kept comparing Rails (a framework) to Drupal (a CMS). But, that said, the talk did do a great job stimulating discussion about alternative approaches in “CabooseConf” — apparently just a small room with, uh, tables and stuff — between myself, Bryan, Josh, Ted and others. For this reason it definitely belongs in my favorite sessions list.

[mountable app slices] are a challenging problem, and there are a lot of issues in terms of sharing application state, resolving cross-app dependencies, and so on. I hope that we’ll have an elegant solution to this soon; but I suspect that the real answer may be in making component-sized micro-apps easier to mount and integrate rather than taking an “app slices” or engines approach (if the latter case prevails, the Radiant extensions system has some stuff we can learn from).

The keynotes were mixed also

  • The opening DHH keynote teased us with some interesting Rails 3 info but also repeated a lot of mantras we’d heard before with the usual rallying cries
  • The “fireside chat” with Tim Ferriss was a bit of a disaster; although I think there were at least a few interesting nuggets in there somewhere
  • Chris Wanstrath’s “how to be a famous Rails developer” essay was a definite highlight; well written and thought-provoking, it should be a wakeup call to those people in the community who put personal ego before productivity and creativity
  • Uncle Bob was full of energy and was no doubt entertaining, but to be honest, the content was blah to say the least. More repetition of the same rah-rah we’ve had drilled into our heads for eons, without anything new. A little disappointed but almost everyone else seemed to love it
  • The closing Rails core panel… to be honest, I skipped it. I hear it went well, though

The Rails Rumble Panel

Speaking of panels, I think our own Rails Rumble / productivity panel went fairly well, although it was missing much of the energy present in our pre-panel planning conversations, which was really a shame. It’s doing decent in the ratings but not stellar, hovering around a 3/5. As Ben (one of our panelists) notes on his own blog, the panel format can be a difficult one to get a lot out of, and I definitely felt this myself sitting through other panels last week. However, I think the Rumble panelists did a damn good job discussing the merits of innovation competitions and relaying advice about finding teammates / cofounders, translating their entries into marketable web properties, and noting the tips, tools, and techniques that helped them excel in a severely constrained timeframe.

Overall

I had a good time, and visiting Vegas for the first time was certainly an interesting experience. I’m glad I went, and happy that we had a chance to participate. It was awesome to see (almost) everyone from the community in the flesh again, especially folks like Jeff and Ben, whom I’ve been working on side projects with on and off. It’s amazing how much easier it is to hash out ideas in person that it is over chat or phone conversations sometimes.

Will I go again next year? I don’t know. If it’s in Vegas, probably not. As much as I enjoyed seeing the sites, frankly I felt that it was a bit distracting. If the conference is in Vegas again next year, I certainly hope the organizers hold it somewhere other than the Hilton. Although it was easily accessible by monorail it’s relatively removed from the rest of the strip, and the in-venue food and entertainment options there are limited to say the least. If I’m going to be distracted, I at least want those distractions to be convenient! At least a drunk Billy Mays was there (at the Hilton, attending another convention). Maybe next year we can get him to show us how to pitch our apps to consumers during a keynote? Maybe?

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