Rails Underground

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I really liked Rails Underground, for several reason. First, where some Rails conferences (like last Railsconf Europe) was a bit disappointing in the levels of the presentations, here all technical presentations were relatively advanced.

Secondly, the audience came in a wide range of ages. At the hight of the Rails hype, conferences were attended by a majority of 20-year olds – which is fine, but it’s reassuring when a community contains a good percentage of software veterans, who’ve been around the block and judged that Ruby and Rails is Good Stuff.

And lastly, it was medium-scale – about 200 people. Seems to be an ideal number: there is enough weight to get some big names, and it’s still small enough to have a good atmosphere. You can approach people much more easily. Met lots of interesting people, amongst them some interesting women (!) like Desi McAdam from Devchix, Eleanor McHugh (who always does strange but interesting things with Ruby), Lena from Berlin, Allison Beckwith from Portland.

The talks i attended and remember (i missed quite a bit the first day)

  • Working with Legacy Rails Apps – Technical Debt Hell and how to work your way out of it by Desi McAdam: good presentation, lots of common sense that applies to refactoring in general. Though I must say that large legacy Rails apps are not yet a common issue in my home country.
  • Obie Fernandez did a talk about his experience in running a successful Rails company (HashRocket).

  • Charles Nutter talked about JRuby. He showed off the performance of JRuby, and there were some intriguing java-to-ruby and ruby-to-java examples. It must be fun rooting around in languages like that.

  • Sneaking Ruby & Rails Into Big Companies by Maik Schmidt: very relevant in the European context. Testimonial from an employee of a big company, convincing his superiors one little bit at a time. For having tried myself as an employee, I know how difficult that is – you need both political and technical acumen.

  • Yehuda Katz started the second day off very well, with a presentation about Rails 3. Rails 3 looks great: the internals have been decoupled up to a point where can really apply a pick-and-mix approach. Essentially, Rails has been decoupled into 3 components: ActionController (arguably the core), ActionModel and ActionView. Every component has a clear, and limited interface, which means you can essentially reimplement them without resorting to monkey patching. His advice of how to get into it was to rewrite plugins to work with Rails 3 (edge) – nearly all plugins will need a rewrite, apparently. It would obviously be useful to have all the most important plugins ready to go for when Rails 3 becomes the stable version. For myself I’d like to completely rewrite my Tokyo Cabinet plugin to make it an ActiveModel implementation gem (it needs a rewrite anyhow). Inspiring.

  • Dr Nic made a presentation about a test framework Blue-Ridge to spec your javascript. It’s true that the javascript is usually the one that falls through the cracks when it comes to testing. With of course DrNic’s trademark showmanship.

  • There was a presentation about using RabbitMQ and Eventmachine to implement Map-Reduce by Paolo Negri

  • Pat Allan made a presentation about the advanced features of ThinkingSphinx (and Sphinx) – some cool things, especially since there has been a recent spurt of activity around the ThinkingSphinx development – we saw some good previews.

  • After lunch, Pat Allan was on the stage again about what you can do for your community or for the world with computing skills. Fellow Rubyists talking to students or visiting schools to inspire kids, helping local communities or his experience going to Cambodja and helping local NGO’s. Inspirational, and it’s refreshing to see such a talk at a conference.

  • The panel with David Heinemeier Hansson, Obie Fernandez, Jim Weirich and Jonathan Siegel was not really rousing, but then panels rarely are. The main bit i remember is DHH saying that it makes no sense to try to predict the future of Rails and saying he didn’t like RIA, Jim Weirich mentioning the multicore-distributed future (he’s looking into Clojure).

After that, I had to run to (just) catch my train, and I was sorry to miss some of the talks (Jim Weirich, Eleanor McHugh especially). A very enjoyable conference. Most impressively, I learned Marc Coleman organized it all by himself ! For being part of the FOSDEM team, I know how much effort goes into organizing such a conference, so lots of respect to him for flawless execution. The videos should be available soon. Update: for a full account with notes AND code, look at Glen Gillen’s blog (impressed) Update: the videos are already online !