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Lone Star Ruby Conf: The Community Angle

Lone Star Ruby Conference

Last weekend, I went to the first Lone Star Ruby Conf[erence]. In summary, it was a great experience: there was plenty of meaty ruby content (with very little rails gluttony, thankfully), all sorts of people to hang out and talk with, and excellent conference food.

For me, the prime benefit was hearing, thinking, and talking about the ruby community. There was plenty on ruby and ruby tools though.

Ruby Examples & Ruby Tools

While I don’t really code in ruby (or anything else day-to-day now), the presentations where good to see. There was a mix of “things I/we did with ruby” and tools to use with ruby.

My main goal was to get a quick dip-stick feel on what’s going on in ruby coding land, and seeing how ruby was used as an Astricks layer, for hacking into machines with Metasploit, and other examples accomplished the goal. For the most part, the tools being shown were testing tools — particularly rspec — which was sort of interesting. I’m not sure if this represents an obsession with testing in ruby and/or the need for more testing tools.

At a lower level, there was much discussion of what future runtimes for ruby: rubinious came up in almost every talk, while Charles Nutter did a keynote on JRuby.


What would a language conference be without hatin’ on other languages? Not normal, that’s what.

One this is clear: out-spoken folks at this conference seemed to think that PHP was the equivalent of a drool-cup: gets the job done, but is icky from the get the go. The fun rails video were the apex of this, along with numerous snide comments from presenters. While Java and .Net showed up for scorn, my feel was like those technologies were just in a different part of town, so to speak, than ruby, rails, and PHP, and thus didn’t really come up.

Go Forth and Be Awesome

Unlike other, more mature and/or commercial technology conferences, this one had a lot of focus on community building. Arguably, ruby as a major community is relatively new. Sure, it’s big shakes now, but that’s new. Establishing a solid, self-sustaining community takes many, many years. Charles Nutter’s key-note hit on many aspects of moving the ruby community to a solid one, emphasizing not only building up the foundation of the technology but all of the supporting artifacts like books, blogs, and simple marketing and training material if you will.

More important, and touched on by the Zed Shaw in the second day key-note was a call to take care of yourself, the developer, above all else. A community is, after all, simply the aggregate of all the people in it. If those people are crap or in a crappy mood, the community will simply reflect that sour mood and quickly become that.

This can come off as sounding touchy-feely — I can see Zed berating me as another f***-tard lady-pants with a stickered-up MacBookSchmo — but it’s easy to forgot how much a community driven technology relies on it’s people to survive. Ruby, unlike tecosystems such as Java, .Net, or even PHP lack corporate backers with well-stocked larders to ride out bad times.

Of course, I would argue that any development technology’s initial and continued success rests on people pushing it forward: the point is that the driver for the people keeping a new community afloat is based more on faith than large cash and resource injections.

As Charles Nutter said of continuing the success of ruby: “you all are gonna have to do the next step.”

(As a side note, even more important for all the grumblies in the ranks of developers was his last call to action: if you don’t like your job (or your job doesn’t like you) find a new one!)

Don’t be an Asshole

A few talks, particularly Adam Keys’ dealt with another favorite topic in the development world: what is up with all the jerks out there…and why you should avoid being one.

It’s up for nuance-refining debate, but my experience with developers is that they’re more prone to be jerkish prima-donas than people in other industries. I’m not saying, by far, that the majority of developers are asses: indeed, it’s a small minority. But in comparison to other industry that minority often seems of such magnitude that it’s dwarfed only by politics.

Every new community centered around computers re-learns the benefits of being nice rather than rude, and I imagine that the ruby and rails communities are no different. Of course, it always seems like rails is more the chest thumper here, while ruby people are the “nicest people you’ve ever met.”

I point all this out because one of my table-mates on the second day asked me if Adam Keys’ talk was “helpful.” Keys’ talk was not only about delivering the message to be nice, but also contained plenty of pragmatic tips for dealing with stubborn people and jerks. (He gave a nice shout-out to Web Worker Daily for many tips.)

Also sitting at the table was Sebastian, a successful rails free-lancer and listener (yuh!). The two of us answered that, yes, Keys’ talk was very helpful in this context. For a community that’s purely grass-roots & bottom-up — not driven by a larger sponsor, corporate or foundation — the health of the community rests on the people itself, on volunteers being good citizens, if you will. Teach, re-teaching, and teaching again (repetition being the key) the art of being a good citizen is vital for any open communities’ health. No one else is going to take care of it, and it only takes a few rotten apples to ruin the batch.

The desire of a sub-group to fork rails and the resulting calming down of that desire, in recent past, is a good example of the dangers and then success of a self-run community.

The Food and Conference Center

The Lone Star Ruby Conf had, by far, the best conference food I’ve ever had: Mangia’s stuffed pizza, BBQ (brisket and chicken!), and chicken fried steak. All much better than the usual pre-made sandwiches or, worse, steamed chicken breast you find at other conferences. They even avoided getting those nasty boiled-feeling fajitas you find at other Texas-based conferences (who knew you could screw up fajitas, the cheap-meat-cut dish of Tex-Mex).

I was sold with the first day’s lunch of Mangia’s pizza, a phenomenal local pizza chain whose pizza weighs about 3 pounds a slice. The chicken fried steak was sort of sub-par, but it’s a hard thing to serve to 100’s. What was more important was that they had it all: fried anything with gravy earns many awesome points in my book.

The venue center, the Jesse Norris center was much nicer than I was expecting. It is, after all, in a failed, local mall. Counter to expectations though, it was a great venue: plenty of parking, helpful and Texas-friendly staff, and, it seemed, many accommodations for us nerds. The conference room floor was wired up with power-strips and there the wifi access was plenty good and free.


For those looking to sponsor, there seems to be plenty of room next time. Sun was the major sponsor of the event, as were several other “we’re hiring” companies, including RedMonk client FiveRuns.

Sun has been an interesting study of a large, elder company getting into a new technology. NetBeans’ ruby support is getting a nice chunk of positive organic buzz, while the JRuby crew and the over-all “we like ruby” vibe coming from Sun seems to be floating OK with the community. It’s a long way between that and every ruby-fan knowing words like “SunFire,” “Solaris,” and “Thumper,” but it’s a way rather than a bricked off door.

FiveRuns could be in a similar position if things go well for them: if their vision of making ruby and rails “enterprise friendly” works. When it comes to FiveRuns’ ambitions, I keep thinking the phrase “the Rational of rails,” which could either be good or bad depending on the position of your neck-hair when you hear the word “enterprise.”

You Outta Come Out Next Time

All in all, if you’re even remotely interested in ruby, or, really, just software development, I’d recommend going to the next Lone Star Ruby Conference. Even the content aside, the chance I got to talk with all sort of people from the RedMonk and world was great, in addition to all the people I didn’t have any pre-existing connection to.

The thing that’s clear is that the ruby community is solidifying and worth paying attention to. As if you didn’t already know that, right? But it bares repeating in case you missed the memo ;>

Disclaimer: Sun and FiveRuns are clients, as are IBM, Zend, and parts of Microsoft. As a sort of reverse-disclaimer, I actually paid for the Lone Star Ruby Conference myself rather than get a free-ride as I usually do.

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Categories: Community, Development Tools, Enterprise Software, Marketing, Open Source, Programming.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] again this year. The price is down-right cheap for conferences – $250 now – and if it’s like last year, it’ll be a good mix of content and […]