Monday, September 18, 2006

RailsConf 2006: The Grails perspective on it all

Well, I have returned safely from my adventure to Rails Conf Europe in London. I had feared that I would be found bleeding in some alley way clutching to the last remnants of my life. As it turns out I came away with a fresh perspective on the Ruby community and managed to meet and chat to some really interesting people.

Having been to JavaOne, which was for the most part rather corporate and serious, it was quite a contrast to be amongst a group of people many of whom looked like they had just stepped off the set of the "skaterboy" video by Avril Lavigne. This was not isolated to the attendees either, with one speaker in particular whose name escapes me darning a mohican and a can of stella whilst delivering his session. In fact the whole event seem more like a rock concert than your typical conference, which was interesting if nothing else.

Nevertheless, it did aid in enlightening me on some of the huge cultural differences between the Ruby community and the rest. For one it appears that a large part of the Ruby and Rails community are a younger generation and when I mean young I mean those under 30.

Young people, by their very nature, are passionate and sometimes less measured in their responses. In other words they're more likely to tell you where to shove it when faced with a disagreement and later regret using such an aggressive tone. I know. I'm still "young" and sometimes that inner fire gets the best of me. In this sense I kind of understand some of the Ruby communities responses a bit better now. I don't see them as aggressive anymore, just passionate and passion is a good thing.

In fact one of the keynote speeches was delivered by a lady that talked about passion and how a user develops passion for a product and I can see now the appeal here that Ruby and Rails offers to this younger generation of programmers. Ruby and Rails are "cool" and trendy and you can see why. It is trivial and fun to program in.

The one thing I do hope, however, is that doesn't result in a generation of programmers having a closed mind to other technologies. In my view being a developer is not about being a Ruby or a Java or a C programmer. It is being able to pick up whatever language that is appropriate for the job at hand and run with it. The best programmers I've worked with have been those who had this ability to adapt to any enviroment or constraints.

That being said this should by no means be taken as a generalization of the entire attendance of RailsConf or Ruby/Rails community. There were also many people of varying ages who have come from a mixed background (maybe former C or Java programmers) and were open minded at the event. It is just that a large proporation of the attendance and I believe the following of Ruby/Rails do appear to fall in this category. Feel free to correct me with a barrage of statistics if I'm wrong here.

So that was my high level observation of the whole event. Moving on, I had the pleasure of getting to meet some interesting people. One of them was of course David HH who I had a brief conversation with and he seemed mildly interested (ok this may be over stating it a bit ;-) in knowing what Groovy was all about and we discussed JRuby for a bit, which was, of course, of greater interest to him. I thought his keynote speech was very well delivered and some of the features in Rails 2.0 are a marked step forward.

I then got to see a number of the sessions and one of the more interesting ones was a "cross pollination" session delivered by Simon Willison of Django fame. I think both Grails and Rails do have things to learn from Django and it seems both Django and Grails have followed the route of domain-driven development, as oppose to Rails where the database is central. I considered submitting a similar session for Grails, as their are features in Grails that Rails (and indeed Django) can learn from such as services and dynamic tag libraries. My fear was that it would not really be of interest at RailsConf, but as they say there is always next year.

Another interesting session was the JRuby one delivered by Charles Nutter now of Sun Microsystems. During the conference we got to chat quite a bit and discussed in depth the challenges he faces ahead of him to get JRuby to integrate with Java more seamlessly. It seams the obstacles that he is facing are very similar to the ones confronted by Groovy in many ways and there may be some mileage in a further exchange of ideas there. One in particular he mentioned was getting JRuby to compile into byte-code and hence drammatically improve performance. Given the huge differences in the languages and the VMs offered by Ruby and Java this presents one of the biggest hurdles facing JRuby, but the good news is that Charles told me he got some basic JRuby scripts compiling to byte code which, most certainly, is a start!

Charles was definitely one of the most open minded individuals that I had the privilege to meet and although he has strong links to Ruby still sees the "bigger" picture and importance of Java and in particular JEE. Needless to say I am sure our paths will cross again.

Overall I am pleased I got the opportunity to attend and hear some of the success stories that Rails has prompted. As the saying goes though not every hammer can be used to hit the same nail so in future I looked forward to a few more Grails success stories. Thanks must go out to the entire team at SkillsMatter for arranging such a great event.


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