Lone Star Ruby Conference 2007 Recap

This past weekend, from September 7th to the 8th, marked the first-ever Lone Star Ruby Conference in Austin, Texas. Great coding minds from around the nation convened to discuss the language they've all come to know and love. Some people lived in the area, some convinced their bosses it was worth flying them across country for a two-day drink code-fest, and some just wanted to escape their .NET, Java, and PHP day jobs. Whatever the reason for attending, each person there had a unique and interesting story behind their love for Ruby. Some, like Glenn Vanderburg, adore it for its beauty. More cherish Ruby for its friendly testing frameworks, like David Chelimsky, Chris Wanstrath, and Viget's own Patrick Reagan. And, practically all, including Adam Keys, would love to see more social cohesion in the Ruby community. The conference got kicked off in the early hours of September 7th with a rousing account of the beautiful intricacies of Ruby by Glenn. A comparison he made between Java and Ruby code opening a file and reading in the contents did wonders to extol Ruby's terse syntax. Glenn's speech went on to compliment Ruby's openness with classes by way of mix-ins, which were later explored in more detail by Patrick Farley. A final example Glenn provided, which modified the Regexp class to allow for a return of named values, provided convincing closing arguments to any developers on the fence about mix-ins' usefulness. Immediately following Glenn was our own Patrick Reagan, who led off a series of speeches that lauded Test-Driven Development (TDD). Patrick defined, explained, and demonstrated TDD in a set of slides which stood as a testament to the value of the "test first" mind-set. His speech made it clear that regression tests provide developers, project managers, and clients with the necessary confidence to move forward with refactoring or feature development. The need for excellent code coverage was another subject Patrick touched on, which other speakers (David Chelimsky) reiterated throughout the conference. Emphasizing that it can provide developers with a "false impression" of the tests' thoroughness, he cautioned that a balanced mix of TDD and coverage analysis is the healthiest form of testing. James Edward Gray II gave an insightful speech on "Ruby as a Glue Language" which drew parallels between characters on the TV show "Heroes" and programmers who make use of Ruby to tie together external systems for the purpose of speed and efficiency. Evan Short later touched on Domain Specific Languages (DSLs) in Ruby. David Chelimsky wowed the audience with a walkthrough of writing tests in RSpec and indicated some soon-to-come features. H D Moore shocked the audience with a 60-minute lightning talk on his newly resurrected application, appropriately named Metasploit. Whirring through slides, interjecting comments about "owned" systems, and likely intimidating much of the audience, H D gave a chronology of Metasploit's development. One question following the talk which probably resonated in everyone's mind was "what can we do to prevent exploitation from people like you?" to which he reasonably replied "keep your systems up to date with patches, be smart with what you download, and use common sense when surfing the net." Speeches by Hal E. Fulton and keynote Charles Nutter predicted the future of Ruby and attempted to motivate cautious developers respectively. Hal's lecture gave a broad view of Ruby's history, followed by Hal's own prognosis of things to come. Charles, devoted to developing JRuby himself, encouraged timid developers to get out and get involved, marking the importance of blogging about, experimenting with, and promoting Ruby. PJ Hyett of Err.the_blog followed up with a talk about monetization and upkeep of a "killer rails app." PJ stressed the importance of interacting with the site's users. He noted it's not only important to give them a voice, but to make sure those voices are heard. Ad revenue, he says, is not really a fiscally reliable way to make money with a site. All in all, PJ's messages rang to the tune of getting involved in your site from top to bottom, designing to testing, bug tracking to promoting. Jay Phillips later spoke on his experience writing a Ruby DSL named Adhersion, designed to ease the development process of calling systems. Jay had many encouraging things to say about Voice over IP (VoIP), including an upbeat attitude about the "cool things" anyone can do with just a few pieces of hardware. Bringing up the rear of non-keynote speakers was Rick Olson. Rick touched on his experience with file uploads and attachments and gave the audience a synopsis of his work on attachment_fu. His mostly technical talk about storing uploaded photos in the database left the audience with the sense that Rick really knew what he was talking about. Finally, Zed Shaw, keynote from day 2, fascinated everyone with a high-energy speech, the text of which he delivered through IRC displayed on projectors. Zed's opinionated mind-set and resolute demeanor projected his personality very well. Reiterating and reinforcing a message heard throughout the conference, he emphasized the need for people to "not be afraid of something new", "stick your neck out", and "get involved." Writing better code was another theme of the speech, including a story about a developer he knew who hated Single Table Inheritance (STI) so much that he ignored some of the easiest-to-implement features in Ruby. In conclusion, Lone Star Ruby Conference 2007 was a success, a great success. Those who came looking for new ideas weren't disappointed and those who just needed a point in the right direction found hundreds of people ready to help. Minds were opened, knowledge was imparted, and the stage was set for a generation of developers to make a difference with the common language of Ruby.
Kyle Peyton

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