April 30, 2014
I just returned from Rails Conf 2014 here in Chicago.
This was my first conference as a developer, and my first time being immersed in the Rails community. I’d like to take a moment and reflect on my experience.
I began Rails Conf thinking it would be a fun, educational break from my daily work, and I left convinced that conferences should be a part of every developer’s journey. I was exposed to deep ideas, witnessed programming history, and met great people. It was incredible.
The first and probably biggest benefit of Rails Conf for me was being exposed to deep ideas from the smartest minds in our field. The first time I was really impressed happened on Day One, during ‘Advanced Arel: When ActiveRecord Just Isn’t Enough’ with Cameron Dutro. I’ve never touched Arel, and a few people I was sitting with had barely worked with it either. If you are skilled enough to follow every minute of this talk, you are good at Rails. It prompted a deep discussion about querying among my group, the type of intellectual wandering that is hard to start on your own.
I had similar moments during ‘How to Build a Smart Profiler for Rails’ with Tom Dale and Yehuda Katz, ‘Ruby on Rails Hacking Guide’ with Akira Matsuda, ‘All the Little Things’ with Sandi Metz, ‘An Ode to 17 Databases in 33 Minutes’ with Toby Hede, ‘Curmudgeon: An Opinionated Look at an Opinionated Framework’ with Ernie Miller, and ‘Cognitive Shortcuts: Models, Visualizations, Metaphors, and Other Lies’ with Sam Livingston-Gray. I struggle to imagine a person who could sit through all of these talks and not learn something. Software is so broad that to be an expert in even one thing is difficult, and I love getting a window into such an expert’s mind.
All of these presentations will be available online via Confreaks at some point in the future. But the chance to meet and engage with the speaker is only available at the conference.
The second benefit of Rails Conf was witnessing programming history. DHH’s opening keynote and Aaron Patterson’s (Tenderlove’s) closing keynote are two examples.
In the opening keynote, DHH (the creator of Rails) framed TDD as a fad diet. It was a noteworthy moment. Likewise, his claim that we are ‘Software Writer’ versus ‘Software Engineers’ got me thinking. DDH’s keynote lit a fire under the conference, spurring debate and forcing every presenter to respond.
Tenderlove’s keynote centered on a pitch for AdequateRecord, his branch off of Rails’ ActiveRecord that caches SQL queries. What made it memorable was that he merged that branch into Rails master live on stage. It was an historic moment in the changelog of Rails and I was glad to be there.
The third benefit of Rails Conf was meeting great people. Many developers work alone, and the chances to socialize are rare. Everybody I met, from the Ruby Heroes to brand new programmers, was friendly and encouraging. Even in the vendor area, the dialogue was always easy and informative, never heavy-handed. It was great to be around others who understand the unique challenges and triumphs of writing code.
Rails Conf 2014 was well worth the ticket price, and I recommend attending future conferences to any developer. Thanks to my company for sending me, everybody at Ruby Central, and all of the speakers.