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RailsConf 2007 Reflections

Posted by Marty Haught on Monday, May 21, 2007

As RailsConf 2007 comes to an end, I have some time to reflect on the conference as a whole. Unlike last year I didn’t feel compelled to blog a day by day experience. Instead I’ll mention the highlights and give my general feelings on the experience. Undoubtedly this year’s conference was different from the last. It definitely had a greater corporate feel but I don’t think this was all bad. O’Reilly did a good job with logistics. The Oregon convention center was a pretty nice place and certainly large enough for the 1600 conference attendees. The only complaint I have about the logistics was the food — most notably the lack of water and snacks. I believe they were available during some of the breaks but in some of those cases it wasn’t obvious where they were. If nothing else, they could have made that clearer on when things were available. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask to have those things constantly available. The breakfast choices were also a bit lacking. While perhaps having fresh fruit is too much to ask for a conference of this size, the lack on non-sugar based pastries shouldn’t have been. Really, would bagels be too much of a stretch? I will be sending in my feedback so hopefully next year this can be avoided. On the upside, I know they had Starbucks coffee but not being a coffee drinker this wasn’t a benefit personally.

Next I’ll reflect on the sessions themselves. I think overall the quality of sessions was slightly better than last year. I certainly attended some great ones including Uncle Bob’s Clean Code, Nathaniel Talbot’s Business of Rails panel and Ezra’s Xen and the Art of Rails Deployment. However, I seemed to have picked some really bad ones too. I won’t mention those sessions directly but I will reflect on why they weren’t as enjoyable. Some of this was due to the delivery style of the speaker. Others had incorrect or misleading descriptions so had I known what the talk was going to be about I would have chosen differently. This could simply be due to them writing descriptions for their talks several months ago and they were never updated. Some of the talks weren’t as applicable as they were based on code made less useful with emerging Rails features. The other big thing I noticed was that some talks were really targeted for beginners and we had no clue that they were based on the descriptions. It would have been nice if sessions were labeled for the target audience. I really hate to walk out on a talk once it’s started. I did this several times this conference while I only did that once at least year’s conference. Dan Berger had made a great point halfway through the conference. He said from now on he’ll only go to sessions with good speakers, regardless of the content. You really can’t fault him for this as I probably would have enjoyed myself more if I had done that. Oh well, next time, right?

How about the keynotes? All in all they were great. It was questionable if they could have matched last year’s keynotes, which I think they did. I found DHH’s keynote was music to my ears and an awesome way to kick off the conference. I’m glad to hear where he has Rails 2.0 going. Avi Bryant’s keynote was compelling. Very interesting to think about the concept of Ruby running on a Smalltalk VM. Though I’m not sold on the concept that I’d want my development environment to be a living collection of objects that are essentially stored on a disk image. I like my subversion repository and the ease of merging changes with fellow developers. I guess I shouldn’t knock it until I try it. Ze Frank’s keynote was awesome. It was so funny I found myself clutching my gut. Great stuff. I’m very happy Chad decided to invite him out. Kudos Chad! The only one that I didn’t enjoy as much was Tim Bray’s talk. Part of that was it was half infomercial for Sun. I have nothing against Sun, nor do I really mind what Tim was saying but it just wasn’t as compelling as the other keynotes. Jamis and Koz’s Rails Way keynote was good. I suppose it wasn’t as awesome as the others as I have been following the Rails Way blog since it was started so much of what they said were things I already knew. I still think it was awesome and hope that it can be continued in future conferences. PragDave’s keynote was a nice way to wrap up the conference. Another compelling talk as he’s known for. I mean it’s because of PragDave (via a NFJS conference) that I got into Rails and Ruby. I was already dabbling in it but he really convinced me to go head first into it.

The Birds of a Feather sessions were a bit weaker. Most of the BOFs didn’t interest me, which isn’t really a complaint. I do wish that they could have been given better time slots. I would have been happy to lead a BOF myself so that all aspects of the Rails community could be covered. Next, they were in smaller rooms and some got so packed that it was standing room only. Also, they all lacked projectors . Fernand was doing a BOF on Ziya and was scrambling to get a projector. He finally got a quote from the convention center for like $450 an hour for one. Yikes! I hope that next time they can make the BOFs more of a first class citizen of the conference. I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the Rspec BOF, which consequently was the only one I attended.

Finally, I’ll reflect on the networking. Most of us attend conferences for this very reason. Seriously, I learn much more about Rails and coding via blogs, mailing lists and simply diving into code. It’s not my expectation that most sessions will teach me about coding in Rails. Though I did learn more than I expected from this conference. Back to networking, I will say that I did a much better job this year than last year. It could simply be that I know more people in the community than I did last year. There were also plenty of folks that I met last conference that I reconnected with this year. That was great. I also got some leads on things that I was looking for this year, including solutions to problems I was facing. I was expecting that the size was going to be a problem and while it did feel a bit impersonal at times it was much better than I expected. All in all I’m flying back home to Colorado feeling good about the conference. Good job to all involved.

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