Ruby On Rails Camp: A Very Unbad Unconference

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Yesterday was the Ruby on Rails Camp Unconference. Having not ever been to an Unconference, i was unsure of what to expect. But the wiki had some interesting talking points noted, and the organizers Max Dunn and Wido Menhardt seemed to have the motivation to do something interesting and relevant. Despite my concerns of people meandering about, talking at random without direction, i went to check it out.

Wow – my expectations were exceeded by a huge measure! Of the participants (by my estimation, about 200 people), there was a pretty diverse crowd; Rails and Ruby experts, total newbies, business folks, educators, hosting companies, startups galore, and some familiar faces from the Bay Area scene. There were even quite a few who flew in from afar for this one-day event. The broad range of people ensured fresh perspectives in each of the sessions, of which there was no shortage. The sessions were planned that morning, on the spot in the welcome session in the auditorium by people proposing an idea and claiming a spot on a huge piece of paper – the day’s session planner. People were slow to jump in at first, waiting instead for others to lead the way, but once it came to light that absolutely no knowledge was needed to lead a session, the barrier was demolished and ideas began to flood out; everyone had burning questions they wanted answered.

There were so many interesting and relevant topics, it was hard to choose just one per time slot. Luckily, the Law of Two Feet was in effect. For the session i was going to lead, “Invalid Business Cases for Ruby or Rails: Are There Any?” all of zero people showed up. I found this surprising at first, but it just goes to show that 1) no one has found this boundary yet and 2) people are most focused on finding ways to make it work rather than erecting barriers around a problem. In keeping with the unconference style, i used my two feet to take me elsewhere and ended up taking a lead in the Test-Driven Development session down the hall. Here i shared some test code from our very own site Blurb.com to demonstrate how we use tests to verify application functionality, and even how we have dual-purposed our tests to check that our Production site is serving BookSmart downloads properly. We covered the full spectrum of Rails tests – unit, functional, integration – and even did a walk through of in-browser user acceptance and full Javascript and AJAX testing with Selenium and its automation with the Selenium-on-rails plugin. (Stay tuned for code samples!)

The event was held at IBM‘s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, which was not only gracious enough to host this bunch of crazy programmers, but provided breakfast, lunch, coffee, dinner at a sushi restaurant in San Jose, and went out of their way to make us and the facilities comfortable and effective. Thanks Kaliya and Steve!

All-in-all, a fun day, and i learned a lot too. The sessions were self-guiding in that: the experts in the room took the lead, and the others let them know what they should talk about. The primary question posed to us for this day was, “Is Rails ready for business?” We here at Blurb already know the answer to that – yes!! But on a broader scale, the answer is: Yes it is ready for business, but the size of the business is the question. It is not ready for the enterprise, but that’s what makes it good in the first place. As we know, small businesses are the long tail. Besides that, i met some folks who are already using Rails in their enterprise (NASA, IBM, Waste Management) on smaller projects, so perhaps the question, “Is Rails Ready for …?” should be about team size.
Thanks to Max and Wido and everyone who put this on and to everyone for participating and sharing!

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One Comment

  1. I am really happy that you got something out of it, and were able to give back to the community. Great comments!

      November 17, 2006 – 10:40 am   Permalink

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