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Insights / May 6, 2014

RailsConf 2014

By Casey Helbling

Two of the great things about working at Software for Good: We have unlimited time off to do what we want, and it’s a culture that really values self-directed learning. So when I, after approximately 1 month on the job, asked if I could take off the better part of a week to go to RailsConf and attend workshops, the answer was a resounding, “Do it!”

Scan it! I have no idea what it does!

A couple of weeks ago, I headed to Chicago for 4 days of workshops, lectures, meetups, and dinners. I tend to be a more hands-on person, so aside from the keynotes, I mainly attended Jumpstart Labs excellent tutorial trackRefactoring/Pairing workshops, advanced RSpec practices, a taste of Elixer, and machine learning with Ruby were all on the table. (They are also online – all of the tutorial materials are open source, as well as the rest of Jumpstart Labs excellent tutorials.)

Some of the overarching discussions at the conference seemed to be around the nuances of testing and TDD as a practice/philosophy, JS frameworks (especially Ember), splitting large Rails apps into multiple apps that consume each others’ APIs (and other scaling ideas), as well as ton of stuff for new(er) developers. Many of the keynotes focused on the “human elements” of coding – how to be a good mentor, coding and the creation of language communities, inclusivity and diversity, coding as a new form of literacy, etc.

I got to talk to a lot of folks about the “mission-driven development” that Software for Good’s a part of, got a lot of good Ruby and Rails tips, and even got out to enjoy a bit of Chicago. There was a particularly nice panel about educating coders, the future of the “code bootcamp” model, etc. – Being a bootcamp graduate myself, and a midlife career switcher, I’ll have more to say on that in another blog post!

Two big sads of the week were not finding a ton of other coders who are doing social justice work or who think about coding as a tool to enact social change, and a pretty apparent lack of diversity among the attendees. Overwhelmingly white and male. This wasn’t a surprise, but it’s always a bit glaring after spending so many years in the nonprofit and social work worlds. On the plus side, the novice/jr. developer track workshops I attended were definitely the most demographically diverse, so that bodes well for the future!


Coding on the train on the way home


Some talks of note I particularly enjoyed

  • Sandi Metz – All The Little Things (the wizard of refactoring and clear code) – slides
  • Cameron Dutro – Advanced Arel: When Active Record Isn’t Enough – slides)
  • Joel Turnbull – Advanced Pry – including the amazing Pry-Rescue gem which automatically starts a pry session when your app kicks the buckey

(Definitely check these out when they come on video at Confreaks.)