RailsConf Europe 2008 - Recap

After three days in Berlin, what can I say about RailsConf Europe 2008 in retrospective? What were the ups and downs and, most importantly, was it worth the trip?

Well, I went there with mixed feelings and two different sets of expectations: On the one hand, I had pretty low expectations regarding the talks because - let’s face it - last year’s talks weren’t all that great. From what I overheard in other people’s discussions and from what David Black told me, most people seemed to have criticized the talks because they’d just been to basic - a majority seemed to have been targeted at Rails beginners. Fortunately, this year’s talks turned out to be really good on average. Yes, some of them were still aimed at a low level of Rails (and other technology) knowledge but overall they were evenly distributed between more basic and advanced topics - at least from what I can tell because, of course, I haven’t been to all sessions. From the talks I heard, I liked Jay Fields’ talk about functional testing best: All in all, it had the most value to me personally. Other really great talks were Sven Fuchs’ presentation of the Rails i18n efforts and Jonathan Weiss’ talk about Rails security. In short: My expectations were exceeded by far.

My second expectation was that the conference would offer great networking possibilities - especially since I’m now a little less green than I’d been last year. ;-) This expectation turned out to be fulfilled: I met lots of great people and had quite a bunch of interesting discussions, starting at Bratwurst on Rails and ending at the last conference day’s evening when I had the opportunity to have dinner with program chair David Black. Greetings and thanks to:

  • Sven Fuchs (who offered me a place to crash during the conference and because he’s probably one of the coolest people I’ve ever met)
  • Mathias Meyer and Jonathan Weiss (because they’re not only very proficient Rails developers but also extraordinarily nice guys)
  • Geoffrey Grosenbach (because I got this cool PeepCode shirt and because he looks pretty darn smart in a suit … and also because he’s got the sexiest voice in the Rails world and is generally a pretty awesome guy)
  • David Black (for being an awesome program chair)
  • Marko Seppä (for being the evil, yet silent, Finnish guy he just is)
  • Benjamin Krause (for showing us this cool Sushi place just around the corner)
  • the Maritim proARTE staff (for their unobtrusive catering and the food that was just plain awesome)
  • and all the others I met (the list would probably be too long).

There were really only two things that I’d criticize (and some people I talked to seem to agree with me on these):

  • Conference sessions should have some kind of scale/type like Beginner, Advanced, Informational session, etc. This would make it easier for people to choose sessions they’re interested in and that fit their level of experience. This should ideally also include better titles for sessions: While I really liked Michael Bleigh’s and Chris Selmer’s session, to me it wasn’t really all that “advanced” as the title would have suggested. I know this is hairy since pretty much everybody’s opinion about what’s advanced and what’s not is different - but in my opinion it’s worth putting some effort into it.
  • The conference was definitely missing a real closing session. After the last three sessions, there was just - well - nothing. I’d really love to have a closing keynote - ideally talking about a topic that’s relevant for the near future of Rails and web development in general. Another option would be to have some kind of official fare-well drink. Anyway, leaving without proper closure just doesn’t feel right to me.

Where’s RailsConf Europe headed from here? It seems that at least for next year it’s leaving Berlin. Other candidates? Maybe back to London, maybe something totally new (Prague, Madrid, Vienna, …)? We’ll see. If next year’s conference’s quality increases like this year’s we’ll definitely see a great RailsConf Europe 2009.

Thanks for sticking with my coverage and thanks a lot for the positive feedback I received at the conference and in IRC. Subscribe to my blog if you like what you’ve seen over the last few days.

Boarding my plane back home now — Clemens signing off.