Thursday, May 17, 2007

RailsConf2007 Day 1 - Rails Guidebook Charity All-Day Tutorial

Partook of the all-day tutorial put on by Dave "that's Roootes" Thomas and Mike "it's Rowtes" Clark. It would have been a lot more enjoyable if I'd managed to sleep more than 2 hours last night, probably just keyed up from the 6.5 hour drive from Vancouver, 4 cups of coffee and jitters about how to keep my spand-branking new laptop from disappearing - it's my first one, can you tell?

One key point Dave and Mike emphasized early on was that most of Rails is Ruby code, so the framework should really be called "Rails on Ruby". In short - if you want to understand Rails, you've got to understand Ruby. This point was reiterated at the break by newly-met lunchmates as we ate the not-too-bad box lunch in the cavernous exhibit hall. They agreed that David A. Black's book "Ruby for Rails", while slightly outdated (Ruby 1.8.4, Rails 1.0), demystifies the "magic code" in Rails by explaining the key Ruby concepts and structures underlying Rails.

Some observations:
  • Upon a show of hands, the audience was split about even between those who had written at least one Rails app, and those who were just getting their feet wet. I saw only one hand go up in response to the question as to how many participants were "super-comfortable" coding Ruby.
  • After reading the lively discussion on Ruby and Women following Gregory Brown's post, I was expecting a 90%+ male audience, however the gender split in the tutorial audience was more like 80/20, some improvement over the anecdotes in the discussion.
  • Also well applauded was the news mid-afternoon that the tutorial attendees had raised over $12,000 for the charities nominated on Pragprog's donation page.
  • On a dimmer note, I was pretty chuffed that the organizers didn't do more to provide AC power throughout the room. I managed to piggyback on the third or fourth power bar daisychained from one of the few wall outlets thanks to a generous neighbour.
The Mike 'n Dave show was very well put presented, knitting together a few concepts that had been puzzling me, Nubie that I am, like "where does it all go?" and "how does the view get the data from the controller?". Much of this is explained in Thomas' book "Active Web Development with Rails", but somehow hearing him explain it made it clearer. Somehow.

So what about the tutorial content? The first third of the day was a whirlwind introduction to and overview of Ruby, followed by a dissection of an example Rails app, with a potpourri of topics like migrations, REST and Capistrano rounding out the day.

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