RailsConf 2008 – Final Summary

Birds of a Feather

BoFs were a great part of RailsConf. I didn’t get a chance to write about them elsewhere, so I’ve tacked them on here:

BoF: PoolPartyRb

Saturday night, I sat in the BoF talk on pool-party. It’s a gem for automating deploying to Amazon EC2. It can handle a lot of things:

  • Automatic scaling based on demand
  • Starting/stopping instances
  • Provisioning and bootstrapping initial software
  • Setting up S3Fuse
  • Load balancing with HAProxy
  • Built in monitoring
  • Extensible with plugins (coming soon?)

The software is very new, but Ari Lerner already has a ton of functionality that I’m pumped to use. It also seems to fill a lot of the same niche as RightScale (at least for Rails) and it’s open source. His presentation slides are also available if you’re looking for more info.

BoF: Annoying IT

We sat down and had a great talk about how Rails developers should work within the IT system of a medium or large company. There is a often a large gap between the developers and the system administrators. It is important that developers communicate with the IT department from a very early stage to make the unique requirements of a Rails application known. It begets a bigger question that a ‘Rails’ developer is truly many different things: They are a developer, a sysadmin, a DBA, and a Business Analyst. The nature of the product, the Agile development methodology, etc means we must be jacks-of-all-trades in order to succeed.

This raises an interesting corrallary: We turn out to be better developers and better engineers just because the idiosyncrasies of Rails force us into working with all these other ‘puzzle pieces’ that previously were the domain of specialists. Now obviously not every Rails coder is a ninja or rockstar, but I’d say on the whole, our group is certainly cream-of-the-crop, thanks in large part to the requirement that we branch out and work on the ‘big picture’ of web app development and not just being ‘code monkeys’.


There were a fair number of vendors in the Exhibit hall highlighting their latest projects and products. Nearly everyone gave away a t-shirt (for next year, if anyone needs an idea for schwag: how about soft cloths/screen cloths for laptops? I sure could have used one!). Most of the vendors were demoing/pitching their normal, well known product (RightScale, EngineYard, Amazon WS, etc). There were a few new releases too though:

  • FiveRuns released their Tune-Up tool. I didn’t really ‘get’ TuneUp at first when visiting the website, but after talking with Brian about it, I learned what an awesome product this is. It’s available for free and will make developing in Rails an even greater pleasure. If you’re using NewRelic RPM, it has much the same functionality minus the social-performance-sharing.
  • Pivotal Labs demonstrated their software for tracking stories/tasks looks incredibly cool (and pretty). I got to watch a little of it and talk to the guys. Unfortunately, now I can’t find any web info about the product, when it will be released, etc. If I find more info, I’ll be sure to post it.

Final Summary

The event as a whole was extremely well organized and absolutely amazing. Thanks to Chad Fowler, Rich Kilmer, Dave Black, O’Reilly, etc. for the great job. Some people complained about the ‘commercialization’ of the conference, but given the size, that should be no surpise. It’s not a bad thing…if you want tiny community conference go to MtnWest or Hoedown. I came expecting a very large forum for sharing ideas and talking about how to make Rails put food on the table, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Conference ‘Theme’

The vast majority of RailsConf2008 was centered around improving yourself as a developer/engineer. All the keynotes and many of the talks were great insights and provided a ton of inspiration to the mantra I try to live by: The best way to be a Rails developer is to know about everything else besides Rails. I think for a lot of people at the conference this was a mind-blowing concept and I’m sure many of them were upset/angry/confused that we spent so much time talking about things other than Rails. The key to remember is that, just like good programming techniques, these styles of development and a thirst for knowledge is key to our way of life. These ideals transcend any given language or framework and will last us for years to come.

The MVC commercials

Easily one of the most talked about parts of the conference. These commercials were hilarious. I hope to see them posted online very soon!


Many presenters had very good powerpoints. It’s nice to no that even though we are not all master designers, practically ever presenter had clear and concise presentations. There were basically three types of slides: One Sentencers, Full of Code, and Comedy. No un-readable gobbeldygook and no reading from slides here. All very good, nice job guys.

The InterWebs

Network access at the conference was the best ever. It was fairly reliable and amazingly responsive. For this type of conference, good internet access should the the absolute top priority, and the Ruby Central guys definitely gave it its due.


No tables in the conference halls. Maybe this is a logistical issue (although the Portland convention center probably has capacity for twenty times as many people, I’m sure they can find/rent some tables).

Talks Format

I missed out on a LOT of talks I wanted to see. This is just how things work: there are only a certain number of hours in a day, so you have to pick and choose. Some conferences have been known to schedule every talk at two different times so that there are more ways to schedule your day and make sure you don’t miss any talks that you really want to see. This may or may not work for RailsConf, but I’d like to see them explore some alternatives for how to organize the talks.

Help me out

On Friday, I heard of a great Rails plugin that provides a suite of rake tasks for starting and stopping memcache/sphinx/etc. If anyone knows the name of this plugin, please put it in the comments.

Rails doesn’t scale: It does now!

This was without a doubt the year of scaling: There were 31 talks about deploying/hosting/scaling rails and 50% of the vendors were focused on hosting and scaling Rails apps. It became very clear that the true fact is that Rails now scales better than any other language/framework out there.

Some more quotes

  • “Screw the databases, why would you want to use a relational database” – Chad Fowler
  • “[On GitJour] People were trying to find out how to make 28 lines of code [turn into] not 28 lines of code” – Evan Phoenix
  • “I had a great time, so I assume it was awesome.”
  • Joel Spolsky:

  • “If Brad Pitt is an Apple iPod, then Ian Somerhalder is a Microsoft Zune”
  • “Ian Somerhalder gets a free gift certificate for SuperCuts”
  • “Take a digital picture and upload it to icanhazcheezburger”
  • “‘In order to serve you better’ should just be part of the message box API”
  • “The message there [Abercrombie site] is if you buy these clothes, you will get a girlfriend”
  • “The iPhone is sleek and stylish and you get the feeling that if you swallowed one, it’d go right down!”
  • “Contributing to open source projects is like networking for people with no social skills”
  • “I vaguely resemble TVs Burt Reynolds and that makes me somewhate of an authority”

See you all at RubyConf2009!!!!

3 thoughts on “RailsConf 2008 – Final Summary”

  1. Nice roundup! My idea on that talk schedule reorganization stuff would be to have an online vote on saturday, where everyone can enter and vote on the talks that you want to be repeated. They kind of did that already with the encore presentations on sunday, even though there was no vote but rather a repetition of the talks that not all people had gotten into in the first place.

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