My Experience at RailsConf 2015

My Experience at RailsConf 2015

My trip started off like any other cross country trip I’ve taken: I packed my bags and headed for the airport. I was super excited for the upcoming conference and my very first RailsConf. I’ve been to many software engineering conferences, but none with a ruby and rails focus. The ruby community is by far one of the most welcoming I’ve experienced, and I was confident I would meet tons of great people and make friends.

After a two-hour delay in Houston, TX, I finally landed in Atlanta, GA and jet to my hotel room in the Ellis hotel. I dropped off my bags and made my way down the block to the Westin Hotel where the guide scholar meet-and-greet was being held.

Walking down the street, I recognized a face in the crowd and racked my brain to think of where I knew her from. Then it hit me! It was Coralline Eda Ehmke, from the Ruby Rogues podcast walking down the street toward my hotel. As the name popped into my head, she had already passed me, and I wheeled around to shout "Coraline!" She had this look on her face that said “Who are you and how do you know me?” I told her I’m a big fan of the Ruby Rogues and love her as a regular panelist. We chatted for a couple short minutes, and then I continued on my way to the scholar/guide gathering.

I finally made it to the last thirty-minutes of the two-hour gathering. I meet my Scholar, Michelle Bonat, and we started getting to know each other. We talk about our day jobs and what interests us, what talks we’re looking forward to, what we want to gain from the next three days at RailsConf. We were excited to meet people and network, and the talks were a bonus, an icing on the cake to the greater value of the community.

The next day we met in the large hall where DHH (David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Rails) would give the opening keynote. There was quite a bit of buzz about what new features would be included in the next and fifth iteration of Rails. After a brief intro, DHH took the stage, speaking extensively about “Integrated Systems” a rebranding of “Rails Monolith”. Many of the people I spoke to during the conference felt this was his way of saying “SOA is dead.” But this time, he managed to stay a bit more diplomatic and refrained from another “TDD is dead” incident like last year’s keynote. He wrapped up the keynote with the introduction of Turbolinks 3 the next iteration of the infamous Turbolinks. Turbolinks is a javascript framework that is built into a gem and comes default with any new rails app. When a user clicks on a link, Turbolinks takes over and updates the body of the page and only the body tag with new html. It then updates the history for the browser so the back button will work as expected. This has caused quite a number of issues due to how jquery works, and fires events based on page loading. While this new iteration of Turbolinks was expected, what was unexpected is the new use case for Turbolinks, and a websocket implementation called ActionCable. With the addition of ActionCable, you will be able to have parts of the page that are turbolinked and other parts of the page that can remain static and cached. I was super excited to hear this! Finally, Turbolinks might actually be useful in some of my projects.

After DHH’s awesome keynote, we had a 15-minute break before the first talk began. I talked with my scholar and helped her to pick talks that she would find both interesting and useful, since this was her first conference.

As the conference kicked off, I was well aware of the hallway track. It was as entertaining and interesting as any of the talks. The “hallway track” is the conversation people have in the hallways in between talks. Normally at most conferences, these are just conference goers having discussions about the talks they just saw. However, I realized at RailsConf this was where you could also meet and chat with some of the most influential rails celebrities. On the first day, I saw that someone had managed to pull DHH to the side and start a conversation. Soon, ten of us were asking him questions. It shows how powerful a conference can be in bringing people together and involving any member of the community with even the most iconic.

During lunch on the first day, we had a CodeNewbie get together. This was by far one of my favorite parts of the conference. The CodeNewbie community is awesome and so friendly. I brought my scholar with me to the CodeNewbie lunch and her first experience was an awesome one. While short and sweet, this was an amazing chance to meet and get to know some of my fellow CodeNewbies.

The first day was closed out with Sara Chipps, an incredible Javascript developer who started the company Jewelbots. She gave an excellent presentation on how they work and why the company was started. It was great to think some young girls maybe inspired to pick up programming because of jewelry. While Sara and her innovation were inspiring, the show was stolen by three high school students who attend the Flatiron School and only recently started learning to code. They showed off two drones that danced in synchronization. It was an awesome show of just how quickly your programming skills can be used to interact and create something cool, or maybe just delight a few hundred people at a conference.

The second day kicked off with Aaron Paterson (A.K.A. TenderLove) giving the keynote, and the trolling commenced. He trolled Kent Beck and DHH within the first 10 minute. In fact, one of the main themes of the keynote was trolling Kent Beck. As much as I love watching Tenderlove troll people, the keynote did have some really great points on performance and the work he’s been doing with bundler to make it more performant.

We proceeded to the expo area where many of the most well known ruby on rails tools and integration vendors were present and passing out swag. Needless to say, this was pure anarchy. The expo area was an awesome chance to interact and talk with some of the developers and support teams for products like Heroku, Mandrill, RubyMine, Skylight, and many more.

After the pure bedlam of the expo area, we continued to our talks for the second day. The talks were all choice quality, but one in particular stuck out in my mind as possibly the best conference talk I have ever seen. Adam Cuppy of ZEAL gave a talk called “What If Shakespeare Wrote Ruby?” I am not sure this talk fits into the category of talk, as much as it does “performance and spectacle”. This talk was not only entertaining, but had a great message for software engineers everywhere. If you ever have a chance to see Adam Cuppy speak, I wouldn’t miss it.

The second day was closed out with happy hour and lightning talks. Happy hour was definitely happy. Everyone grabbed appetizers and hung out. The appetizers were quickly demolished, and the din of the crowd was deafening. It was amazing to see so many people sharing their love for Ruby and Rails. The lightning talks were hit or miss, but some were fantastic. CodeNewbies had a wonderful lightning talk given about the community and how awesome it is. Then the after parties started. HIRED was celebrating the opening of their Atlanta office and rented out a bar at the top of the Hilton. Engine Yard rented out JoyStick Game bar, an arcade with booze, and yes it was as epic as that sounds.

That meant that when the third and final day of the conference started, a good majority of the crowd was hungover The Ruby Hero Awards were presented: Nobuyoshi Nakada, Eileen Uchitelle, Sarah Mei, Zachary Scott, Jeremy Evans, Sam Saffron. Thank you for all your contributions to the Ruby community.

We moved on to a panel with members of the Rails core team. These are people who work on the core and are responsible for maintaining and building new features in ruby on rails.

After the panel, we made our way to the last remaining talks for the conference, and wrapped up the day with a wonderful talk from the awesome Kent Beck. He gave a keynote on how he feels at work and how he strives to be at ease in his job. As a young software engineer, he was taught to do a good enough job that any flaws would be someone else’s fault. This passing of the blame, as well as many other common practices, caused him to be very uneasy at work, so Kent developed some rules for how he creates a sense of ease for himself, and alleviates work-related worries.

And then, the conference was over. We said our goodbyes and many of us ran to catch a flight home. RailsConf was an onslaught of learning, meeting people, and making friends, I loved every minute of it, and left the conference thoroughly exhausted. I headed for home, my life enriched just a little more by the experience.

If you happen to make it to RailsConf next year, don’t be a stranger -- come and say hi :)