RailsConf Europe Reviewed
Apologies for this belated review, but this is the first uninterrupted time in front of a laptop I’ve had in a few days.
I arrived to the conference center where RailsConf Europe was being held right at check-in time and was promptly shown around the facilities by a helpful member of the Skills Matter staff. The TUC Congress Centre is a nice space save the cramped upstairs rooms. The main room, where keynotes were delivered, was ideal.
DHH, creator of Rails, was the first keynote (apropos). He jumped right in to new technologies that are cropping up in Edge. The general theme was taking ever-more advantage of conventions to do more with less code: “it’s not about inventing your own style”. Just before running out of time he put up a picture of a flower as a teaser for the remainder of his keynote, to be delivered at the end of the day.
Kathy Sierra gave the second keynote, an engaging and comfortable talk about creating passionate users. As much as I enjoyed the talk, I’m not sure this was a topic universally relevant enough to conference attendees to warrant a keynote. Ms Sierra is fond of neologisms: “the suck phase,” “flow state,” getting users to “the next level.” Plenty of useful ideas, but I’m not sure they apply as readily to creating open source communities as they do to user experience problem domains.
David Goodlad gave a talk on integrating C with Ruby and Rails. Nothing wrong with his material, but it was essentially a collection of introductory documentation from different projects. I would have liked more practical examples, but he had some good firsthand experience to share.
Around this time the conference organizers decided to reallocate rooms based on demand for talks. This was a sensible but frustrating decision, as it meant attendees had to consult a central whiteboard between talks to see where they were to go next. It was also nearly impossible to get on the wi-fi by this point the day, as each of the conference’s several routers allowed only 100 DHCP leases at a time and did not quickly expire them.
James Cox gave a truly excellent, information-rich talk on building high-performance/scalable Rails applications. He went through bottleneck-by-bottleneck and offered well-researched solutions. Fast-paced and well-rehearsed. Probably the best talk of the day.
My talk on securing Rails (slides here in PDF) seemed to go well, though I ran out of time before I could rehash my themes and offer general recommendations. I had good attendance given that my talk was up against one by Marcel Molina, Jr., a member of the Rails core team, not to mention moved at the last minute to one of the smaller rooms tucked away on the second floor. Regardless, I got plenty of positive feedback and some good face-to-face questions after the talk. Thanks to all those who attended.
RailsConf organizer David A. Black was up next with a promising-sounding talk on database engineering for Rails. Unfortunately, he had little content and no useful conclusions, presented in a rambling and unprepared style. The only saving grace of this talk was an audience member who offered experienced comments about database design.
Thomas Fuchs gave a walkthrough of his unittest.js. I do mean a walkthrough: this was the API, method-by-method. Giving talks that summarize documentation is not a good use of anyone’s time. At least there were a couple handy resources linked to at the end.
After drinks everyone poured back into the main conference hall for the Rails core panel discussion. Half the core members were present to take pre-submitted questions from conference attendees, moderated by David A. Black. Internationalization, the Atom Publishing Protocol, integration tests, and other insider topics dominated most of the time. I’m not sure I effectively communicated my question/feature request (mapping ActiveRecord relations to RESTful routes) but Marcel gave me a useful answer regardless.
Lastly, DHH gave the remainder of his keynote, much to the dismay of the eager-to-leave building staff. David lectured us on “vendoritis,” described as an affliction of popular open source projects characterized by unreasonable demands and accusations leveled by persons who don’t contribute positively to the community. None of what DHH said was incorrect, but his frankness quickly turned to long-winded vulgarity. It seemed all the more unnecessary given that those in attendance cared enough about the Rails community to shell out for the conference, deliver talks without financial compensation or coverage of our travel expenses, and generally participate. If we were supposed to carry forth the message, so be it, but DHH was preaching to the choir.
I understand that David has the challenging responsibility of heading up one of the most visible open source projects of the moment, but there’s a fine line between his trademark endearing arrogance and the crass tirade we were subjected to. If “opinionated software” is coming to mean “software with a fuck-you attitude” in the Rails world, it won’t be long before developers you’d actually want to work with depart for other communities. Again, I agree with what DHH had to say, but I was disappointed by this tacky performance. That said, I’m more than sure I’m not entitled to any such disappointment under the “I don’t owe you shit” policy we heard about in detail.
Given the weak content over the first day, the dearth of good talks scheduled for the second day, and a severe lack of sleep, I decided to skip the second day. I’m sorry I missed Hussein Morsy’s talk on database optimization techniques and James Duncan Davidson’s late afternoon keynote, but a day of tourism proved far more satisfying than another day cooped up in the conference.
I’d like to see more technical content (better review of talk submissions), a program with descriptions of talks, logically organized tracks (by skill level or subject matter), working wi-fi, and a venue with more equitable distribution of space before I’d consider or recommend attending another RailsConf. It was, however, nice to meet other Rails developers and get a better sense of the community face-to-face.