Rails Edge Reston – Day 1

Rails Edge Reston is here. The first day was excellent and I can’t wait for tomorrow. It wasn’t just a conference – it was an event. Like Woodstock for Ruby on Rails developers. It was sold out with about 125 attendees. Interestingly, when Mike Clark asked who was hiring Rails developers, about a dozen people stood up. Everyone was pretty friendly and it seemed like a good little community – sorta like an East Coast RailsConf. I met people from as far as Connecticut in the Northeast, Santa Barbara from the West Coast, and also a fellow named Cedric all the way from Belgium.

It was appropriate that Dave Thomas started and ended Day One. As far as I’m concerned, he is the Godfather of Ruby on Rails in the USA. Of course, Matz is the driver of Ruby from Japan and DHH is the fearless leader of Rails from Denmark (tho I guess he’s in Chicago now.) But Dave is the guy who introduced Ruby to the current generation of Java programmers, myself included with his intriguing “Ruby for Java Programmers” presentation.

Dave exploded everyone’s brains in the morning with his Metaprogramming Ruby talk. I felt I was prepared as anyone for the intellectual enlightenment because of my experience with Smalltalk, which shares a lot of semantics with Ruby. I also have read Ruby for Rails by David Black which has good coverage of how Ruby handles classes, objects and methods. Reading the Rails source code also makes you more interested in how to do metaprogramming because otherwise you really can’t understand a lot of it. And I think understanding the details of your frameworks is essential (well, assuming its open source – *cough* Cocoa *cough*.)

Dave summed up his talk by saying that by practicing metaprogramming, you can code in your user’s domain. I would rephrase that slightly by saying that you can create DSLs (Domain Specific Languages) and program in those DSLs. Also you can make your code more compact by DRYing it up with metaprogramming.

BTW Rails Edge has a cool format – its one big room, one stage, pairs of presenters, and one track. Makes conference planning easy for the attendee. Stu Halloway was pair-presenting with Dave and had some insights for Java programmers making the transition to Ruby: you try to make object models exactly right in Java because its hard to fix later. But in Ruby, its easy to change them later. I think this helps with doing agile development.

I think I’ll have to blog the rest of day 1 later… gotta get some sleep so I’m ready for day 2. So here’s some parting thoughts:

Dave gave a motivational keynote called “Fear of Flying” that to me said don’t waste your time acknowleding and defending the FUD that is coming out against Ruby on Rails. Instead, use your skills for assessing risk which software devs do all the time and are good at. Embrace risk. Do what you love because passion dissolves risk.

Or as Dave put it: “If you can’t be with the one you love, don’t settle for loving the one you’re with. Get on your bike and go find the one you love!”

I think that’s why I see so many of my peers leaving their corporate jobs and going independent to do Ruby on Rails consulting and Mac app development in Cocoa.

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