RailsConf is an annual conference held in the United State which gathers together members of the Ruby on Rails community, new and old, for a few days of education, debate, comradery and pot pies. The 2012 conference took place last week in Austin, Texas and Fanzter was there. Most of our server-side software is written using Ruby on Rails and our team strives to keep pace with the latest developments in the project. Most of the time following blogs and watching screencasts and video recordings from conference talks is sufficient. But sometimes you just need to get face-to-face with other developers and feel the pulse of where things are headed.
I was asked to participate in a panel discussion titled "Real World Rails Apps at Massive Scale" along with some impressive other panelists from Zendesk , Groupon , Uken Games and Blue Box Group. Speaking to a packed room, we discussed the core strategies used to bust the myth that "Rails doesn’t scale". Further topics ranged from specific tools used, to how each company kept performance central to their product’s life cycle. A Q&A period closed out the talk and continued throughout the conference as attendees stopped panelists in the halls to dig into more specific topics.
The big opening keynote speeches are always a major draw. With RailsConf, the almost celebrity nature of the best known members of the community takes that to a higher level. The event kicked off with a keynote from the creator of Ruby on Rails, David Heinemeier Hansson (aka DHH), speaking about the nature of conservatism and fear of progress, exhorting upon the audience to look at progress as a way forward, not as a threat. The topics and language of the keynote were typically lively, though the cursing took some time to get warmed up to DHH’s usual level.
Monday’s closing keynote was by Rich Hickey, software guru and creator of Clojure, and focused on true meaning of the word simple. Rich urged us not “complect” concerns within our systems. His functional-driven approach was a refreshing reminder that there is a huge range of patterns and possibilities in software design, over which our job is to filter and select those which are appropriate to the problem at hand.
Day two opened with a crowd favorite, Aaron “tenderlove” Patterson. Aaron’s talks are legendary and this one opened strong and finished softly, with plenty of humor to lubricate the audience between the presentation of new ideas. Aaron presented a few ideas he’d like to see come to Rails 4, most notably a simple ActiveQueue interface. He also expressed his own riff on the Fear of Features mantra, organizing change into three categories: cosmetic, refactoring, and course correcting. The talk ended abruptly with an almost fear inducing call: “We need to be prepared.” Following Aaron was the presentation of the Ruby Heroes awards and a packed schedule of talks and pot pies.
An impromptu Rails Core panel lead into Tuesday’s closing keynote, a talk by the founder and CEO of TechStars, David Cohen. David’s talk may have struck some as a bit too heavy on the TechStars pitch, but plenty of ideas were applicable to most startups and mirrored much of our philosophy here at Fanzter. Especially resonant were the final two, “Quality Over Quantity” and “Usage is like oxygen for ideas”.
The final day of the conference was headlined by a live taping of the Ruby Rogues podcast. A popular and sometimes controversial group, the RR team donned silly hats and proceed to riff on each other’s ideas and the questions from the audience.
There were dozens of sessions during the conference, ranging from page speed optimization to using Ruby to hack a Roomba. The community had been challenged to make this the most public RailsConf yet, and the intrepid members of the New Haven Ruby Brigade took up the call. They lead a collaborative effort to document each talk in near real-time via a public GitHub wiki. These notes, combined with the upcoming videos from ConFreaks, should achieve the goal of making much of the knowledge shared at this RailsConf available to everyone who couldn’t make it to Austin.
The conference closed out with a long session of “lightning talks”, short talks done rapid fire on just about any topic the speaker wanted. These were quite fun and overall went off well. Everything from Sidekiq (a new background processing library) to “hacking” the airlines’ frequent flyer programs. RailsConf went out not with a whimper but with a roar. And pot pies.