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RubyConf 2009 Thoughts

Posted by Marty Haught on Wednesday, November 25, 2009

RubyConf 2009 was a great conference. Matter of fact, I think this was the best RubyConf I’ve attended (since 2006). The downside with conferences is catching up on everything once you get home. I’m finally caught up and will now get my thoughts blogged.

As with good conferences the days were dominated by socializing with good friends and stimulating conversations about what’s happening in the Ruby world. As things were winding down I talked with several others about how they felt about the conference and there seemed to be much agreement about how enjoyable it was.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a few less than ideal things but there always are. The conference hotel really struggled with wifi which was a mixed blessing. The positive side of it was that people had their laptops out less. The location was a bit isolated so very little was within walking distance. Those were the big ones that jumped out at me. However, this conference had way more win than fail.

I think San Francisco and its diverse Ruby community gave the conference a boost. Each night there were after hours parties you could attend. The eve before the conference, Pivotal Labs hosted a cool gathering at their office off Market St. This was followed up by Whiskey Wednesday where Engine Yard proceeded to treat 20 or so of us to drinks and appetizers. I had my first Scotch there and it was really good stuff. Matter of fact I ordered a flight of Scotch off their special whiskey menu. The party was joined by this neat master blender (a person who mixes Scotch blends which I hear is a real art). He’s third generation from Scotland and was wearing the full regalia (kilt, jacket, knee high socks, pouch, etc. — sorry no bagpipes) Github also hosted a cool party Thursday night (so I hear) but I needed a night off and didn’t want to miss the lightning talks. We also had the 5k RubyConf run the next morning and I didn’t want to be up too late.

Friday night was definitely the highlight of after conference activity with the Startup Crawl. 16 startups in downtown San Francisco participated in a rolling open house event. They had buses taking folks around the city and back to the hotel. My only complaint was I didn’t have enough time to hit all locations. Though I hit over 10! What was also cool was it wasn’t just RubyConf folks joining in. The event got TechCrunched (I hear) so we saw non-Ruby folks joining in the fun. Many of those startups had really cool offices with toys galore. As added bonus, my Gowalla cred shot through the roof and I earned the next level of the techie pins.

I mentioned the RubyConf 5k run just a bit ago. This is really cool. Over 50 conference attendees ran a 5k during the conference. I actually didn’t run due to my knee acting up. I was really bummed as I wanted to run. I helped out with timing the race instead. I think it’s very awesome that our community values being healthy this way. The other awesome thing about this event was it raised over $1300 for charity.

The conference sessions were great as well. It was a two track conference but most slots had at least one good talk lined up. I won’t go through each talk. You can actually find ratings on the talks on Confreaks recorded the sessions so eventually you’ll get to watch the video yourself. Of course, it’s never as good as being there in person.

Matz opened the conference with his Keynote. It’s always a treat to hear Matz talk. His talk focused on Ruby as the best 80% language. I think this is an ideal way to look at it. Ruby isn’t perfect nor is it for every task. But man, it’s an awesome language for a lot of things. And it’s only getting better.

This was highlighted in several ways over the conference. First, Ruby is getting faster and more optimized especially with JRuby and 1.9. There are also a couple examples of where Ruby is used alongside another language to scale and perform well. BERT was one of the first talks and it uses Erlang to execute ruby commands for Github’s backend. EventMachine also uses this approach where you write Ruby code but C++ executes it using the Reactor pattern thus giving you a very scalable solution. With JRuby you can call Scala, Java or Closure from your Ruby. I think we’ll be seeing this pattern growing over the years.

Another cool talk was Ron and Damien Evans’ Flying Robots. They used Ruby to program an Arduino powered ‘blimp’. They had two of these flying devices and flew them around the room while they demonstrated how they put it all together. It was a lot of fun.

Thursday night ended with lightning talks. I love seeing these. The best lightning talk was by jugyo on his library G. It’s like Kernel.p but it uses growl instead. gem install g! I think most of the attendees installed it right there (wifi actually was holding up at that point). It’s really cool to be able to send out debugging/log type info directly to growl. Great way to beat the noisy Rails development log. This also became something highlighted in talks/discussions through the rest of the conference. I just love it when that happens. It was a g fest.

Another cool part of the conference was programming with the stars by Corey Haines. We got to watch 3 pairs (a ‘star’ programmer and normal attendee) compete against each other in 5 minute programming tasks. Jim Weirich, Dave Astels and Josh Susser were the three stars. This was fun to watch but my complaint is that we only had 3 pairs to watch. This happened over part of the lunch hour. Jim Weirich and his pair John Long won the competition.

The end of the conference was treated to Aaron Patterson and Ryan Davis’ Worst Ideas Ever talk. Sadly, I didn’t attend this one but I wish I had. I really have no excuse, I guess I just forgot to change rooms. Anyway, all my friends were raving about this talk so when the video comes out, be sure to watch it. I know I will.

Finally, the best part of RubyConf was the hallway track. I had countless conversations with old friends and new Rubyists that I met. The Ruby community is truly blessed to have such smart, nice and open members. Sure there are some that may be lacking in social skills or tact. But in general I’m always impressed by what comes out of the Ruby community. It makes me proud to spend most of my programming time in such a cool language. I can’t wait for RubyConf 2010!

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