Last weekend I was in Chicago for the first ever RailsConf, a gathering of about 600 people focused on developing web applications using the Ruby on Rails application framework. Other people are posting lots of details and thoughts (try clicking the RailsConf tag below), so I’ll just add a few deltas:
The overall quality of the sessions was very high, among the best of any technical conference I’ve attended. A couple of duds, but some really amazing speakers, too, bringing the average way up. But what I thought was particularly interesting was that, of the top five speakers I listened to, one was the creator of Rails (so set him aside), and the other four are current and former Java luminaries.
Stuart Halloway and Justin Gehtland of Relevance are still doing work for clients in Java, but also in Rails, and were to my mind the best speakers at the event. They speak at a lot of conferences, so if you ever have a chance or choice, choose their sessions. Great energy, great speaking skills, and exceptionally well-designed slides combine for two of the best technical talks I’ve ever seen. As professionals still working in Java, their insights into what makes Rails special were the most clear and well-defended of any at the conference.
Dave Thomas and Mike Clark, by comparison, like to start their talks with “My name is x, and I’ve been Java-free for y months and z days.” Not only did they give great talks during the conference itself, but they also taught the Rails Guidebook the day before RailsConf opened, and are terrific trainers and speakers. They still speak on the Java circuit, not about Java, but rather explaining this new Rails thing to Java developers.
At any rate, there are enough Java luminaries who are leaving Java for Rails that it at least should make any Java developer stop and think about why that might be happening.
Another thing I’ll mention is to repeat something Stuart Halloway said at the end of his talk. RailsConf 2007 will not be like RailsConf 2006, because even though Rails is experiencing strong growth now, it’s going to explode in the second half of this year and first part of next. As steep as the adoption curve is today, it’s going to be more vertical in 6 months.
Which means next year RailsConf will be a lot bigger, and accordingly less tight-knit and informal. This year’s RailsConf sold out the 550 seats in days. Even with a larger venue and 2000 seats, I predict next year sells out in less than two weeks. It’ll feel different. So if you attended this year, spend some time reflecting on the experience. It was special, and may not be repeated.
Last, let me be yet another person who points out how weird it was to be at a non-Mac technical show, and see so many PowerBooks and MacBooks (Accordion Guy covers this nicely).
This could be because Rails strongly imposes the taste of the primary developer of the framework. DHH’s sense of style and design is simple and elegant, and reflects his own personal vision of how things should be done. (I don’t mean to discount the contributions of the Rails Core here, but they are a self-selected group who had to possess similar tastes to join the project started and still guided by DHH’s (strong ;-) opinions.) Who does this remind you of? Is it any wonder that this appeals to Mac people?
Of course, it could simply be a reflection of how much better Ruby and Rails, and the associated software like Apache / lightTPD run on Unix-style operating systems compared to Windows, where they run OK, but not well.
At any rate, let me conclude by admitting that I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, and my goal is to be doing 100% Rails development work by the end of the year. I doubt that I’ll be giving a talk at next year’s RailsConf, but if I did, I want to be able to start with “My name is Michael Alderete, and I’ve been PHP-free for x months and y days”…