I was at RubyConf ten days ago and just now catching up, been overloaded. This was my second RubyConf and, like last time, I came away inspired. This is an illustrated fan letter; but there are problems in the community and at the conference; I’ve written about them separately.
This Is Serious · There were quite a few people there, someone said 500. Almost all, unlike in previous years, are getting paid for Ruby work. Currently there is no intent to turn this into a big-league thing like RailsConf; the intent rather is try to keep the costs down and the scale smaller. Which is maybe tenable for another year; but the leakage from the now immense Rails community into the much more intense and focused Rubyland is inevitable, and one way or another there will be a mainstream Ruby conference whether we want it or not.
But for now, it’s sure easy to sink into the warm bath of the family/enthusiast atmosphere for a couple of days and enjoy the warm glow.
Quality · Here’s an un-secret; the quality of sessions is much higher at RubyConf than RailsConf. Which shouldn’t be surprising. Ruby is a well-designed general-purpose computer language which can be made to do anything; Rails is a carefully-constrained framework for building applications with Web front ends and database back ends, which derives a large part of its power from removing options and simplifying the problem. So Ruby the language just gives you more to talk about.
Every table had electrical power and there was a network; it was regularly overloaded, but lots of people had GPRS or some other alternative. Everybody had a laptop, and it’s almost but not quite a Mac monoculture.
The IRC channel and Twitterflow were both lively. I am convinced this is the right way to run a meeting; it’s simply an unacceptable waste of human potential for several hundred people to sit still just listening, neither reacting nor interacting. And on those occasions when a speaker gets hot and the arc of the presentation soars out of the ordinary, the laptops languish and the faces look up. Which is real attention, a rare and precious commodity; but it has to be earned, just climbing on a stage isn’t good enough.
Software Engineering · There were lots of good talks—on identity, on optimization, deep dives on coding style, you name it—but for my money the white-hot spot was tools and techniques, as in Software Engineering, as in building and maintaining better programs faster. I was particularly energized by a talk from Eric Hodel, seen below:
The tool suite these guys have been building and using is absolutely remarkable. I don’t know, maybe it’s the same story over in some other communities where I don’t hang out, but this community’s thought leaders are several major steps ahead of both mainstream Enterprise IT and mainstream commercial software.
Tools like RSpec, Autotest, Heckle, Hoe, I just haven’t seen this stuff outside the Ruby community. I think Sun needs to hire some of these people ASAP and get up to speed.
1.9 · Well, it looks like our Japanese Rubyist colleagues have finally done the rational software-engineering thing; slashed a bunch of features, become date-driven, and are ready to pull the trigger on Ruby 1.9 by the end of 2007. This was the real news in Matz’s keynote.
What exactly is in and what’s out is something of a moving target, but at this point in history, 1.9 badly needs the virtue of actual existence, much more than any that have to do with mere features.
Fun · I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: Ruby is the nicest among all the open-source communities with which I’ve been involved. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be involved. I’ll be back.