Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Rocky Mountain Ruby Conference Wrapup

Where to start? My great bosses at Telerik fully embrace some of my quirky ideas about diving in to different, new communities for us. As a result, I found myself right in the midst of a crowd of passionate Rubyists at the Rocky Mountain Ruby conference in Boulder, Colorado.

I was fortunate enough to get picked up for a session – I spoke in front of the crowd about my experiences being part of a team growing a Selenium test suite from zero to 9,000 tests. I also participated in a follow-on panel discussing testing as well as a panel discussing diversity in the software engineering industry.

I loved the format of the conference: a mix of Unconference, lightning talks, and sessions of either 20 or 30 minutes in duration. The overall conference is also single-track, so you’re able to avoid stressing about running around and deciding what sessions you’re going to miss.

My goal going to RMR was to chat up folks around long-running test suites and brittle tests. I had good fortune to get great discussions with folks I already knew and folks I’d just met. Here’s a surprise: long-running tests are an issue in the Ruby domain, too.  (Say it quietly, but they’re a problem in every domain…) I didn’t get any magic answers about solving the problem, but then I didn’t really expect to. What I did come away with were contacts to continue more detailed discussions later on.

The rest of the conference was also very rewarding. Every session I sat through was great, but there were several standouts for me.
•    Michael Feathers’ keynote. I’m sure he hears it all the time, but his Legacy Code book was extraordinarily influential for how I think about software. It was great to finally hear him speak.
•    Anthony Eden’s talk on building great APIs was tremendous. Work hard on making your APIs clear, concise, and simple. I’m hoping Anthony will submit this to CodeMash because it’s absolutely applicable to you regardless whether you’re writing Ruby, C#, Java, or Perl. Might not apply to assembly folks.
•    Jeff Casmir’s session on rescue projects hit home for a lot of reasons. The things he brought up rang very true with my own experiences, and I loved how he put out that there are many hidden costs for failed projects beyond just the financial bottom line. Rescuing a project is hard, hard work, but it can bring a set of tremendous personal rewards.
•    Justin Searls and Cory Flanigan’s talk on testing Javascript was really well presented. Paired presentations often fall flat. Justin and Cory had a unique, entertaining style that I enjoyed. (Because as a presenter myself I know how much work they put in to it.)
•    Avdi Grimm’s Exceptions talk re-re-reminded me that your team needs to sit down and hash out an exception handling strategy early on in your project. His talk was more on the mechanics of dealing with Exceptions and it was really need to see some intriguing ways you can deal with Exceptions in Ruby. I also had a great hallway chat with Avdi about development and testing in the embedded world. He corrected some of my misperceptions (based on previous work experience) about automated testing in the embedded world.
•    Mike Gerhard’s meditation talk/exercise was a wonderful way to start off the conference. He encouraged folks to do short meditations during the week and Tweet about them with the hashtag #devmed (which is developer meditation, not developer medication). I’ve used short meditation off and on to help me regain some balance during extremely stressful times in previous jobs. Mike’s session reminded me of other great benefits of meditation – you’ll be seeing #devmed Tweets from me starting next week.

The culture and atmosphere of the conference were extraordinary. I was really upset about being gimped up – I missed a lot of hiking and trail running – but I hope to be back next year and make up for that!

Thanks to the organizers for picking up my talk, and thanks to all with whom I had great discussions!

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