Back from Rails Camp DK '08
October 27, 2008
This weekend, I was at the first Danish Rails Camp near Svendborg.
(Photo by wa7son)
The camp was Fri-Sun (unfortunately I could only attend Sat-Sun), and we ended up being 12 attendees. A little less than we had hoped for, but this also meant that we could all fit comfortably in the living room of the cabin.
Saturday afternoon, many of us went for a run in the beautiful countryside. This was an excellent way to kickstart the brain and kill the legs, grounding us for a serious round of hacking.
Thomas took some very good pictures. Not from the run, thankfully.
It’s always nice to meet new people and learn new stuff, and it was especially great to hear more about the Ruby and Rails work that people do professionally in Denmark. The landscape seems to have changed a lot since I last considered a Rails career about a year ago. It seems that both dynamic languages and opinionated frameworks are still gaining ground, even in conservative Denmark (with Rails still leading the crowd). Great news!
All in all, it was a great trip. That being said, I think we should consider how we can make the camp even better next year.
For some reason, software developers have an ability to sit for hour after hour, totally absorbed in whatever they’re working on. I am certaintly no exception.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, that is how we learn new stuff.
But we can do that at home, each and every day if we want to. Many of us probably do, more days than not. When we go through the trouble of renting a cabin in the middle of nowhere, we should really make the most of the time we have together.
I definitely learned new stuff at the camp, but I’m sure I could have learned much, much more.
Stop bitching and get to the point
I have been thinking of a few ideas for improving the learning-from-each-other part next year:
We should prepare a stack of small assignments in advance. Just very simple tasks that take no more than 2-6 hours to complete.
A few examples:
- Create a simple battleships game (Laust and Jakob, that was a great idea).
- Create a super-simple Wiki server using Sinatra and CouchDB.
- Review and compare a few search libs (eg. Ferret, Sphinx) with regards to features and performance. A suitable dataset is provided with the assignment.
- Design an internal DSL for creating SQL queries.
- Compose the ultimate Ruby blogroll, briefly describing each entry.
The assignments should generally touch on something that most attendees find slightly exotic (eg. CouchDB, Haml, Shoooes), but not completely alien or Ruby-less (eg. Fortress, Emacs Lisp).
They should be solved in groups of 2 or 3, preferably consisting of people who don’t know each other in advance.
Personally, I know that having a concrete goal would help me maintain a sense of direction. So would splitting the days into chunks.
A laptop will consume any amount of time you throw at it. In my experience, this often happens because software development is inherently both interesting and complex. When working on anything non-trivial, you’re bound to go of on a tangent every now and then.
Again, this is perfectly normal, and it is an important part of how geeks work and learn. But it is not social, and the guy next to me learns nothing from it.
Given hard deadines for all assignments, we would all be forced to stay focused for a few hours, share our gained knowledge, then refocus.
Each assignment should result in a demo or some other kind of presentation.
Briefly presenting the work done should be mandatory. If everything failed, it’s no big deal. Just tell us why, and we might avoid some pitfalls in the future. Anyway, only a few hours were lost.
The big picture
What I’m suggesting here is that we aim for a more conference-like atmosphere on next year’s Rails Camp.
I think the great thing about conferences is the feeling of enthusiasm they imbue. A good conference should leave you with:
- Lots of half-baked ideas
- A handful of email addresses and half-ass business proposals
- A craving for more knowledge about a dozen new frameworks and several new languages
- Vague thoughts about possible career moves
Conferences should inspire, not teach. I think the Rails Camps could provide the perfect small scale setting for achieving the same goal, if that is what we want.
Your comments, please
Obviously, you’re all very welcome to share your thoughts on this. Do you agree, or am I way off?
Drop me a comment and let me know what you think.
By the way
Francesco, I hope you had (or will have) a nice trip back to Florence. I still can’t believe you came all the way to Denmark to attend…! But I’m glad you did, it was nice talking to you.