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RailsConf 2011 Report May 24, 2011

Posted by ficial in conference, RailsConf, techy.
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I recently attended RailsConf 2011, which was the first RailsConf I’ve been to (and the first code/programming conference as well, for that matter). It was intense and tiring, but also fun and rewarding. I’m relatively new to the Rails world, but I still got a lot out of it.

Here are the sessions I attended and my impressions:

  • Monday 9-12:30 – Rails for Zombies (AKA Intro to Rails – Part 1)
    • Very Good – This was a hands-on intro. I recommend the Rails for Zombies tutorial, and the code school folks in general
  • Monday 1:30-5:00 – Ruby on Rails Tutorial (AKA Intro to Rails – Part 2)
    • Very Good – This was very different from the morning; it was more of a narrated live demo, but still very useful and interesting
  • Tuesday 10:45-11:30 Fat Models Aren’t Enough
    • Good – Parts of this were too advanced-rails for me, but there was a lot of good general info/ideas as well, and a lot was accessible with even my limited rails experience.
  • Tuesday 11:45-12:30 – initially KnowSQL: Database Tricks To Make Your Life Easier, and 20 Productivity Tips: You Can Be 15 Percent (One) More Productive
    • The former not useful to me (it covered concepts I already know well, and all the demos and specifics were focused on postgres which isn’t part of my work environment). The latter was intriguing and entertaining, but light on specific actions / techniques that would be useful to me.
  • Tuesday 1:50-2:40 – Keeping Rails on the Tracks
    • Good – Lots of stuff about writing good code, both at a detailed level and at a more architectural level (e.g. when and how concepts shoudl be broken into separate classes). Rails was the domain, but the concepts explored are universal.
  • Tuesday 2:50-3:30 – Geospace your Rails Apps!
    • Disappointing – I thought this was going to be about integrating GIS info into rails apps, but it was more about writing GIS specific rails apps. There certainly was useful info here, but the direction didn’t mesh with my expectations; a more accurate title would have been Using Rails to Create Lightweight GIS Apps, and in that case I would have attended a different talk.
  • Tuesday 4:25-5:15 25 – Deployment Tips in 50 Minutes
    • Good – very Rails specific, and not everything appliciable to my situation, but still lots of good stuff. A key concept from this is the idea that deployment is a first-class citizen and needs to be integrated into initial thinking, planning, and development.
  • Wednesday 10:45-11:30 – Beyond MVC — DCI
    • Meh – an interesting idea, but very high level and little to take away and apply
  • Wednesday 11:35-12:20 – End-to-End CoffeeScript
    • Good – A nice introduction to and overview of what CoffeeScript is (it’s a pre-processor for Javascript which adds a lot of syntactic sugar that eases some UI programming things and makes code much tighter) and why the presenter likes it. I didn’t come away from it wholly convinced it was for me, but I feel I have a decent handle on what it is and where to start if I do want to dive into it, and I can understand why it appeals to many folks.
  • Wednesday 1:50-2:40 – OmniAuth from the Ground Up
    • Very Good – A well presented summary of what OmniAuth is (an easy-to-use authentican module) and isn’t (an authorization module); its history, present, and future; and generally how one would go about using it. I expect to make use of this at work.
  • skipped the mid-afternoon sessions on Wednesday to spend time in the exhibit hall and chat with folks
  • Wednesday 4:25-5:10 – Lightning Talks
    • (Mostly) Very Good – a bunch of short (< 5 minute), fast presentations on a wide range of topics, from mostly entertaining to very informative. There were one or two that I didn’t enjoy, but they were over quickly and I quite liked the rest.
  • Thursday 10:45-11:30 – Securing Your Rails App
    • Good – Presented less as specific Rails techniques and more as general security issues and how Rails approaches them (and how developers can approach them in the Rails framework). I’ve done some research and work in this area so I found many of the ideas pretty basic, but there were some that were new to me (timing attacks), and even the ones I knew were explained well.
  • skipped the Tursday early afternoon sessions to spend time in the exhibit halls and chat with folks
  • Thursday 1:50-2:40 – Building Pageless Apps with Rails and Backbone.js
    • Good – a nice introduction to Backbone.js, which is a light-weight framework for managing page-less (i.e. purely ajax-ed) web apps. This was pretty fast, but gave me a good sense of what to do next if I want to use this system (which I may)

The various keynote and big-name speeches/presentations were pretty good, and ranged from very specific discussion about the state of Rails (David Heinemeier Hansson on Tuesday Morning), to more of a performance art piece (50 in 50 by Guy Steele (Oracle Labs) and Richard Gabriel (IBM Research) on Wednesday evening). All were thought-provoking without being too heavy, which is pretty much what one looks for in a keynote, I believe.

The Rails development world, like the ruby language and the rails framework, is opinionated but well meaning and friendly. The community seems to have settled on a fairly narrow range of tools they consider best (the decidedly dominant setup seems to be a mac laptop, using text mate for coding, git and github for source control, and heroku for deployment) and easily accessible information and support drops off rapidly as you get outside that set. This is the first time I’ve been somewhere that the machine hierarchy was first mac, second linux, and third windows.

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