After a pandemic lockdown and two stints in companies oblivious to the benefits of tech conferences (no wonder I didn’t stay), 2023 is the year where I’m finally attending confs again. I’ll be at Rails World in a few days, but last week, it was Euruko. TL;DR: in spite of a few organisational hiccups, it was great and I had a blast.
Venue and organisation
Being a bit of a homebody, and even more a complete ignorant of geography, I had a slight hesitation upon seeing that this year’s Euruko would be in Lithuania. It’s on the opposite side of Europe! But, bless be the EU, getting there was as easy as going to, say, Amsterdam.
I was expecting Vilnius to be charming, with some discrete relics of its Soviet past, and this exactly how it was. It is modern and yet history-rich, and very lively – I wasn’t expecting that many people on terrasses and paved streets. I went for a run one evening, through the old town with Carpenter Brut playing in my Airpods, and between the Renaissance façades1, the occasional brutalist artefacts, the busy crowd and the soft public lighting, I felt like in the Prague hub of Deux Ex: Mankind Divided. Which was great (it is a good game after all).
The conference took place in the main campus of VILNIUS TECH, a few minutes by car from the city center. I was initially disappointed to see that the venue was not practically accessible by foot, but it turned out not to be an issue: the organisers had put a perfectly fine transfer system and the ride was an extra opportunity for sightseeing. And the campus was ideal for a conference: modern, well-equipped, with plenty of room to sit or chat. The catering was, let’s say, canteen-level, which made sense in an university, I guess. Still, I don’t want to complain: these things are hard to organise, and we didn’t come for a gastronomical experience anyway. So, overall: the venue was fine.
In fact, fine could describe the whole of the organisation. Nothing was particularly astonishing, and since 2023 was Ruby’s 30th anniversary, Euruko’s 20th, and Vilnius 700th, and was kind of expecting something really special, but this excessive hype is on me. There were a few unfortunate technical issues, but these things happen, and once again: organising a conference is a lot of difficult work, so having almost everything run smoothly is already a great success. My only serious complain is on the agenda – but I’ll come back to this later.
The conference talks
I’m happy to say that the planned talks were exactly what I wanted from Euruko: varied2, sometimes technical and sometimes aspirational, sometimes straightforward and sometimes weird, sometimes beginner-friendly and sometimes more advanced. My personal highlights are Steven Baker’s “Reflections on a Reluctant Revolution”, Hitoshi Hasumi’s “A Beginner’s Complete Guide to Microcontroller Programming in Ruby” and, unsurprisingly, Matz’s keynote on a sensitive topic: the GVL.
A few talks stood out as not being especially Ruby-centric, such as Carla Urrea Stabile’s (on passkeys), Scott Chacon’s (on version control), or Hana Harencarova’s (on feature flags). Those did smell like sponsor talks, but each time the speakers were really nice and entertaining, and didn’t push for their respective companies’ products. (And Carla, in particular, was very patient with the technical difficulties she had to endure.)
The unconference talks
These are the problematic ones. This year, Euruko’s organisers choose to dedicate half the agenda to ”unconference” talks – talks pitched and then given by audience members, without oversight by the selection committee. I’m fine with opening the stage to mere audience members, but 8 talks – that’s a bit much, to me at least, and it felt like padding.
To their credit, all the speakers where confortable with the exercice and knew their material; however, most of the topics were not really interesting (IMHO once again; YMMV). Lots of talks about performance, for example, which is rarely a concern of mine. Still, I really enjoyed 2 of these unconference talks: Chikahiro Tokoro’s, because of the pure joy of programming that he radiated, and Johnny Shields’s, which was genuinely interesting from a technical point of view.
The people and the hallway track
Even though you definitely shouldn’t focus on it, the “hallway track”, and more generally the socialising, is the big appeal of conferences. And this is what made Euruko such a great experience for me this year. Going by myself instead of with a bunch of colleagues definitely helped, since I had to mingle and join conversations. Socialising at conferences is a bit like TDD: it may seem like an extra burden at first, but once you do it, it becomes obvious that it’s the most important thing you could do.
There is something special in spending time talking about what is both a common passion and a daily, professional concern with people from a different-but-alike background. From a practical, pragmatic perspective, it is very enlightening – you get to compare experiences, challenge opinions and have yours challenged, and in the end learn a lot. It is stepping outside of one’s habits zone while being guaranteed to stay within one’s domain of expertise. A invaluable bowl of fresh air.
But, more importantly, it recharges your passion batteries. I don’t envy, and don’t value a lot, developers who claim not to care about the language or framework they use. ”It’s just a tool” is misguided at best, and symptomatic at worst. I’m a firm believer in being passionate about one’s work – it is a luxury not everyone can afford, but because it is affordable in programming, we should all strive for it. And passion is also fuelled by the feeling of belonging to a community, to be among peers, and by sharing time and ideas with them. This is especially true in Ruby, the friendliest and smartest language, with the friendliest and smartest community (MINASWAN FTW). The time I spent talking with fellow rubyists of all walks of life was the most rewarding of the whole 3 days. It taught me a lot, energised me a lot, and renewed my love for my work.
But besides a full charge, did I bring back any souvenirs from my trip to Vilnius? Yes, a couple, in fact.
First of all, Ruby is old. It is common to say that is it mature, but this is an euphemism. Ruby has a long history, and is showed throughout the conference – in Stephen Backer’s memories of the early days of the Agile Manifesto and the famous names of this era, in Matz’s rationals for the GVL (a design choice made at a time when computers had only one core), and in the number of participants with 15, 20 or 25 years of experience with Ruby. Ruby’s popularity came late, but it doesn’t negate the fact that Ruby’s history is long, and covers several generations of developers.
And yet, Ruby ages gracefully. That is in part due, in think, to the core team’s excellent leadership, and ability to accept change and new features, while having the courage to refuse proposals that wouldn’t be right. Once again, Matz’s thoughts on the GVL embody this brave balance: just because nowadays everybody seem to want to get rid of it, doesn’t mean that it should be done, but let’s keep an eye out and an open mind.
Another factor in Ruby’s excellent shape despite its age is certainly the new blood joining the community continuously. Ruby may not be as trendy as it was 10 years ago, but it’s still a common first language, for very good reasons, and having so many beginners in the community helps in a least two ways: it brings in new ideas, and forces us old-timers to stay welcoming and keep our craft accessible – or even inclusive. Yet, after realising how important the history of Ruby and its pioneers was for me, and seeing how many people were oblivious to it because they were not there then, I believe that we should do more to share these 30 years of history. _why’s poignant guide deserves an update.
Euruko was also a great reminder that Ruby is greater than the Web, and is not limited to Rails. Yes, both these things have played a great role in Ruby’s popularity, and still do, and Rails in particular influences significantly Ruby, but this overlap should not limit Ruby’s horizon. One of the best talks this years was a demonstration of Ruby running on a computer so simple that it could only light up a LED. A very few talks even touched upon the Web, let alone Rails.
Finally, and unsurprisingly, I came back from Euruko with an exhilarating feeling of belonging. Ruby was conceived for developer’s happiness, and developer – or, more broadly, people – are still at its core. This showed through Steve Backer’s personal talk, but also in Masafumi Okura sharing his delight of simply reading (abstruse) Ruby code, and obviously in Matz’s friendly, caring personality.