I'm a newer Ruby developer, and RailsConf 2012 was my first chance to observe Rubyists in the wild. Most of my experiences come from Hashrocket – and since we're a consultancy, we run into a vast range of problems and puzzles – but somehow, that's a little different than having thousands of people, each with their own variance of issues, together in one place to share their problemsolving tactics.
My first glimpse into this community was Monday's keynote. David Heinemeier Hansson gave what I found to be an interesting and sensible speech as he warned us of letting our curiosity decay into suspicion. This was not what I expected. I figured something more along the lines of "We are great. Rails is great. Let's celebrate our awesomeness." But the introspection and self criticism was refreshing, inspiring, and reassuring that I'm in the right place in my career as a software craftsman. It led me to believe the leaders of the community are aware of the dangers of complacency and know what it takes to make it last a long time.
The following keynotes took similar approaches by reminding us of aspects that are easy to forget or take for granted, and proposing challenging (and somewhat controversial) ideas for the community to chew on. If a young ambitious student were ever in need of a lesson in humility and how it benefits the growth of one's self and community, I would grab his or her head and slowly turn it to the Ruby community as a prime example.
The talks of RailsConf 2012 had an interest range of topics, all with different scopes. Some talks were very narrow and solved a specific problem that many could benefit from. Others seemed to simply cover new trends in the community. There was some questioning as to whether or not certain topics were worth an entire 45 minute block. I obviously didn't go to every talk (haven't figured out how to be in multiple place at one time yet) but I'd say they were worth it. They all seemed relevant to what's going on in the community.
I'm sure there were others (besides myself) that left each block with at least one thing to take home and add to their toolset. I also think it's important to keep in mind that an idea I don't immediately see the value in could be exactly what another has been searching for.
I've been wondering for a while what my fellow developers are like. And I'm talkin' developers in the wild, not the ones in my own back yard- there is a good group of us here at Hashrocket. But we're family and I'm around them all the time so it's a little different. I wanted to see other people's problems, how they approached them, and how their ideas and programming skills compare to my own. Maybe I'm a more competitive person than most (which I doubt), but I find validation of my own abilities to be encouraging.
So what did I get from meeting other developers at RailsConf? I found that most Rubyists are enthusiastic, dedicated, intelligent, and very nice - Willing to share their knowledge and ideas with anyone who asked, open to criticism and welcoming to ideas that challenge their own. I can't remember having a sour interaction with anyone. And how do my skills stack up against the rest of the community? Ehh, it doesn't matter. I don't care if someone can talk circles around me in some topic they have been studying for the past four months.
It seems like real gauge in this arena is how much you contribute, give back and consider the community as a whole. I've decided this will be my new approach to measuring my skills as a developer.