Monday, May 11, 2009

RubyNation Mini-Interview: Gray Herter

For my third RubyNation interview, I talked with Gray Herter, one of the organizers. (I've also interviewed Hal Fulton and Russ Olsen about this upcoming regional Ruby conference.)

Don't forget RubyNation will be held in Reston, VA on June 11-13, so you don't have to much time left to register.

Why did you decide to put RubyNation together?

Gray It started with a conversation that I had with Xandy Johnson, the former leader of the Northern Virginia Ruby Users Group. We discussed it as a way to help him raise money for our meeting pizza and sodas fund. He was having trouble getting sponsors every month for that. With the wealth of local Rubyist we have in the DC area, I thought if we could get five or so fairly well known local speakers to present something for a one day event at our normal location, we could charge a small fee and raise enough money to fund the group for the year easily. Russ Olsen and David Bock were up for it almost immediately. Russ, as it turned out, had also been talking to Xandy about it. After getting commitments from a few more well-known speakers, especially Rich Kilmer, and a good core of quality organizers, we decided we should make it a two-day event, using the regional conference model. It seemed like with the level of speakers we had interested in the idea, we needed to do that.

What makes regional Ruby conferences special?

Gray There are a lot of things I love about them. They get local ruby communities together. People get to know each other well since they are generally fairly small. The attendees and organizers feel a real connection to their community. You find out things that you never knew were happening right nearby. Last year, for instance, we had Mike Furr speaking, one of the creators of DiamondBack Ruby, which is a great project at the University of Maryland. You just had an article about it on your blog. He is a Rubyist in our area that is doing some really interesting work, at the Ruby language level, not just a new framework. I had no idea about it until he got involved in our conference. And when you get everyone together in a conference setting it is much easier to attract well-known speakers. Much easier than it is to get them for our user group, for instance. People appreciate that the conference can bring people like Yehuda Katz and David A. Black to our area.

What makes RubyNation stand out as a regional Ruby conference?

Gray I am not sure that we intend to stand out from the other regional conferences. Our goals are the same as the other regionals, I'm sure. That is, to put on a great event for the community. We do plan to run a very professional, high-value regional conference, and I believe RubyNation will be one of the better ones. I think the program committee has done a great job this year in putting together an interesting and relevant program. We have the two talks of David A. Black speaking on Ruby 1.9, and Yehuda Katz speaking on Rails 3.0. And Chad Fowler presenting some of the ideas from his Passionate Programmer book. The quality of speakers is very high. Even the local presenters are high quality. There is a lot going on in the DC area. The breadth of topics is very broad this year. We have several Rails topics, some database ones, user interface topics, and some non-Ruby ones, and so on.

What's your favorite memory from last year's RubyNation?

Gray Honestly, as the chief organizer, I had a grin from ear to ear when it was over and we had pulled it off successfully. It was a ton of work, and it was just a great feeling to have it work out so well. Otherwise, some of the lightning talks were surprisingly fun or me. Byran Liles did two rather long lightning talks, one each day, that I loved, especially the first one. It was a very quick version of his test all the f-ing time talk that he has since done at a few other conferences. He was our backup speaker last year, and that was a way of getting his talk in. In 15 minutes, he was the star of the conference. Not as PC as it should have been, especially in light of the recent controversies about whether or not we should be keeping the conference talks PG rated, but it was very funny.

What are you most looking forward to for this year's RubyNation?

Gray For specific topics I am interested in the Reia talk. It isn't Ruby, but in my opinion, the talks don't all have to be about Ruby specifically, just of interest to the Ruby and Rails community. I would like to hear what Bruce Tate thinks about it. He was the author of Beyond Java, a book written to explore the notion of what comes after Java. I am also glad to see several talks on user interfaces, like the ActiveScaffold talk, or the one on improving an application's perceived performance, or Bruce's talk on facet-based navigation. The database talks will be interesting, too. There are a bunch of talks that are interesting to me. Come to think of it, the Herding Tigers talk should be really good, too. Daniel sounds like a fun guy. I love the idea of a guy having an alias. He was in a punk band, and called himself Danny Blitz for a while. I need to met him.

[ed. you can learn more about Reia in my interview with Reia developer Tony Arcieri.]

Why should people come to RubyNation?

Gray It's fun. You can attend a really fun Ruby-centered event, right in our area. We are small enough that everyone can participate. You can ask questions, or talk to the presenters during breaks. They usually all attend the whole thing as participants, too. Or you can give a lightning talk. I would really like to encourage people to do that, especially if they are wondering what it would be like to actually give a regular presentation at an event like this. Maybe it will spark someone to submit a talk proposal next year, or speak at our user group. Growing the local community is what we are here for, after all.

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