One Time, At RailsCamp

Last month Intridea sponsored RailsCamp New England – a Rails retreat in the western mountains of Maine. Adam and I attended the event for the second time (this was the fourth U.S. Rails Camp, and the second one in Maine) along with 38 other Ruby and Rails developers. On a rainy Friday evening we all settled in the cozy Maine house for a long weekend of geekery.

Ben Askins started the RailsCamp movement in Australia in 2007 and with the help of Pat Allan’s enthusiasm, RailsCamp took off! In 2009 Pat and Brian Cardarella worked together to bring the tradition to the New England area. In the last five years RailsCamps have been organized throughout much of Europe, the UK, Australia and the eastern side of the U.S.

The spirit of RailsCamp is simple – bring Rails devs to the backcountry, isolate them in a house for a long weekend, and watch what happens. There is a local network for sharing resources, and a local server with a mirror of RubyGems. If the idea of limited access to the internet and modern amenities causes you alarm, do not fear – it’s not a Luddite conversion retreat. Though the setup seems primitive it is actually quite intimate and inspiring. The isolation removes most non-programming-related distractions, and the relaxed environment is conducive to epically long hack sessions. So what does happen when you throw 40 programmers in a house together without internet?

We hack. We collaborate on projects. We share information and tools. We get feedback on our code. The veterans share the experience they’ve gained from decades of programming. The shy ones hack in quiet corners and observe and absorb the information that’s being shared. We share meals, enjoy evening beverages together, fight for our lives in fireside games of Werewolf, swim under a sea of stars in a cool lake, and flex our gamer cred in fast-paced rounds of Urban Terror.

This year we even produced something other than code! Pascal Rettig brought along a Thing-O-Matic, a personal fabrication machine, which we used to make 3D plastic RailsCamp logos. As we all geeked out over this I marveled at how the reaction to creating a tangible item was as thrilling for us as creating applications. I thought more deeply about the similarities between manufacturing and programming, so look for that post in the near future!

As the Rails community continues to expand and evolve rapidly, its conferences have become increasingly monolithic. While the larger conferences still have a tremendous amount of value, it’s nice to have events like RailsCamp, where there still exists a profound intimacy among coders. For a passionate Rubyist it doesn’t get much better than a laptop, a local gem repository, good food, games, and a cabin in the woods with a group of other passionate Rubyists. It’s the stuff geek summers are made of. You can view additional photos on our Flickr page!