If I simply wanted to learn the basics of Cucumber, RGeo, TorqueBox, or any number of other interesting open-source Ruby technologies, I could sit down at my desk and read documentation, check out the source code, or post to a mailing list if I ran across a problem.
But how much more could I benefit if I were able to speak face-to-face to an expert? Or sit at a table of Rubyists from many different backgrounds and spar about the pros and cons of these tools?
Documentation, source code, and mailing lists on their own simply cannot compete with a good technical conference.
I attended Magic Ruby 2011 in Orlando, FL this past weekend. I learned a lot, and additionally learned how much I still need to learn! I have highlighted a few talks that really stood out to me below, but you can check out the full list of talks and slides.
h2. Cultivating Cucumber
Les Hill (slides)
Cucumber allows development teams to write automated acceptance tests in natural language (as opposed to code). In this talk, Les highlighted ways to tweak Cucumber to make the tests more readable, maintainable, and implementation-agnostic. If you are using Cucumber, the presentation will be very helpful. If you are still torn about what acceptance testing framework to use, though, I recommend these articles: Cucumber vs. Steak and Steak: because Cucumber is for vegetarians!.
Peter Jackson (slides/video from a similar talk)
Geospatial datasets and queries can tell really interesting stories and impress users! In this talk, Peter highlighted tools that allow Ruby and Rails to more easily work with geospatial data (he especially recommended PostGIS and RGeo). I heard a lot of folks that were inspired to build an application that used geospatial data after this talk.
Mike Gehard (slides)
It takes more than technical competence to be an exceptional software developer. In this talk, Mike talked about the importance of focus, and asserted that meditation can be a great tool to improve it. After introducing the audience to a simple form of meditation involving breath awareness, he challenged us to try meditating 10 minutes a day for a week. Many folks have been using the #devmed hashtag on Twitter to share their experiences. I have only been able to make it to 5 minutes so far, but am intent on improving.
JRuby may be the key to getting some larger enterprises to buy into Ruby. TorqueBox, an open-source application platform for Ruby backed by RedHat, provides an environment to host Rack-based applications (including Rails) on JBoss, a powerful Java application server. TorqueBox provides highly-scalable–yet also easily configurable–services out of the box, such as database connectivity through JDBC, messaging, tasks, queues, scheduling, services, and clustering.
Kyle Neath (slides)
Most developers who work with open-source software have run into projects with lacking documentation. What initially seems to be a life-saving gem can easily turn out to be useless because its API is undocumented or the code lacks sufficient comments. In this talk, Kyle encouraged developers to write better documentation, and provided a good summary of the tools available to make that easier.