Last month, Amy, Nat, Michael, Jon and I went to RubyConf 2014 in San Diego. I'd never been West of Salt Lake City before (unless you count a trip to Japan in when I was a teenager) so I was really excited about a trip to sunny California. Plus I was looking forward to hanging out with my co-workers (who thankfully are all really cool people) as well as seriously geeking out on all things Ruby and meeting some new people.

The hardest thing about RubyConf is the number of choices. The are always four workshops going on at any given time. And often I find myself having to choose between something directly job related and something that is just pure geeky fun. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, I went to some entertaining talks about Web application routing, and caching, etc. But my favorite talk was probably Loren Segal's It's so quiet. Let's make music. Definitely geeky fun.

There were also some talks that didn't dig into code all that much, but were still quite interesting, including Liz Abinante's Programming, Education, and the American Dream. Also very cool was Kids, Ruby, Fun!: Introduction of the Smalruby and the Ruby Programming Shounendan by Kouji Takao, where he showed Smalruby, which looks a lot like Scratch, but it is Ruby under the hood, and you can actually work directly with the Ruby code if you want.

We also hit some great restaurants and bars, and enjoyed the sunny and somewhat warm weather. Altogether I didn't really see much of San Diego, I was too busy. We were in the Gaslamp Quarter, which was an interesting area. There were lots of fancy hotels and restaurants with great food and at least a bit of decent mid-week entertainment. On the other hand there we also quite a few homeless people on the street asking for change. I don't love handing out money to strangers, but I also don't like the feeling that I'm swooping into town with a bunch of other young, urban, professionals, using what the area has to offer, and swooping out again without a thought for the people who call that town home. So I gave a small donation to the San Diego Food Bank to ease my conscience a bit. Wouldn't it be great though if you could get all conference attendees to make a donation to a local charity? There were almost 1,000 people at the RubyConf, and that's nothing compared to the 130K or so people who attend Comic-Con in San Diego each year.

For me, the most stressful, and also most rewarding, moment was the lightning talks session. I got up and talked to almost a thousand people for 5 minutes, showing some stuff I had done with the tools demonstrated at the Let's make music talk.

All in all, it was a great week. On the way back, I thought about how lucky I was to get to take this trip. PLM pays for one conference per year for engineers, and I think it is one of the best perks of working here. But I found myself wondering, what's in it for PatientsLikeMe? I came up with a few possible answers to that question:

  • We learn some new tools and skills.
  • We get to feel like part of the greater technical community.
  • It helps to keep our passion for coding alive.
  • Getting to know our co-workers makes working together that much better when we get back to the office.
  • These kinds of perks keep engineers happy, and happy engineers are likely to stick around and keep doing good work.

A win-win! I can't wait for next year's conference. I could go to the next RubyConf, or the RailsConf, or some client side conference, or...