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Talking about Acts_As_Conference with Robert Dempsey

by Robert Bazinet on Jan 02, 2008 |

InfoQ had the chance to talk with Robert Dempsey, Program Chair and Founder of the acts_as_conference, a Ruby on Rails conference to be held February 8-9, 2008 at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites at the Main Entrance of Universal Orlando® Resort in Orlando, Florida.

Robert began a career in IT more than 9 years ago, transitioned to web application development in 2001, teaching himself PHP and VB.NET. In 2005 he dove into learning both Ruby and Ruby on Rails. What he found caused him to change the focus of his company, Atlantic Dominion Solutions (ADS) to a full-service Ruby on Rails development firm. Today, ADS specializes in Ruby on Rails development, Amazon Web Services, and Data Warehousing and Data Mining.

In March of 2007, Robert launched the not-for-profit Rails For All, with the purpose of giving back to the community that had given him so much. Robert gives frequent talks at local Ruby and Java user groups, teaches the basics of Ruby on Rails, publishes articles for the Amazon Developer Connection, and mentors budding entrepreneurs.

When asked to describe what the Acts_As_Conference is exactly:

acts_as_conference is a two-day Ruby on Rails conference being held in Orlando, Florida February 8th and 9th. Hosted by Rails For All, acts_as_conference will have talks on advanced Rails topics, as well as integrating Rails with other technologies such as Adobe AIR and JRuby.

Many conferences these days are setup to be multi-tracks, where attendees must chose a session from one track or the other.  Attendees often miss a session they may have wanted to take, this conference is different, hosting a single track:

The conference is a single track so that no one misses any of the good stuff. Attendees will learn about topics ranging from building advanced domain specific languages in Ruby to JRuby to advanced ActiveRecord.

Creating any kind of conference takes a lot of time an effort, with regards to taking on such a task:

I have had the idea for a local, Rails-centric conference for quite sometime. We had been hoping that the Rails Edge from the Pragmattic Studio would come to Orlando, and when that fell through, we were disappointed. However, at the Ruby Hoedown, I  talked about having a conference with Jason Cartwright and Naomi Butterfield. They both said that they were on board so we teamed up to make it happen. We have an educated, growing Rails community in Orlando, and are always looking for advanced Rails training.

Hosting a successful developer conference takes coordination and is often harder than expected:

With Jason and Naomi helping, not at all. It was a team effort that made it happen and made it easier. Also, I was advised by David Black, Nathaniel Talbot and Jeremy McAnally to keep it to one track.

This type of conference, regional much like the Ruby Hoedown, often attracts a narrow audience.  The list of speakers have broad enough appeal to possibly attract more than just developers:

The conference is targeting not only current Rails developers, but any designer, developer, business person or student that is interested in what Ruby on Rails has to offer both as a standalone framework, or integrated with other technologies such as Adobe Flex and JRuby. We are able to comfortably seat up to 150 attendees at the venue, which by the way, is right across the street from Universal Studios.

Price of admission to conferences can run upwards of a couple thousand dollars, for acts_as_conference the price of admission is $100 which is very attractive.  The reason Robert told us was:

We wanted to ensure that price was not a barrier for anyone. We are also fortunate to have a number of great sponsors who are helping us to cover the costs of the conference.

The list of speakers includes many well-respected authors and lecturers, including our own Obie Fernandez, when asked about other speakers:

When choosing our keynoters, we wanted to show off some Florida talent and chose Obie Fernandez and Dan Benjamin. In choosing our speakers, we wanted to cover a range of topics from development to team building. All of the speakers are great. To name a few:

  • Anthony Eden (ActiveWarehouse, RDDB) - his understanding of Rails is superb and he is a great speaker
  • Neal Ford (ThoughtWorks) - an extremely knowledgable and competent speaker
  • Charles Nutter (co-lead of the JRuby team) - JRuby is HOT and we have a huge Java community here
  • Bryan Liles (Smarticus University) - many Rails developers here use RSpec, and any information we can get on it and BDD is welcome

The popularity of Ruby and Ruby on Rails is opening up the possibility to support this type of conference on an annual basis.  Asking Robert if this is something he would entertain:

If the community wants it, we are more than happy to do it again next year. Florida is a great place for conferences, and for all of your readers who are freezing, I'm wearing shorts on a daily basis.

Above and beyond the two-days of Ruby on Rails talks there will also be a charity even on the first day where Ezra Zygmuntowicz and Evan Phoenix will be speaking. Readers may recognize Ezra as the creator of Merb and one of the founders of the Engine Yard.  Evan is one of the developers working on Rubinius, a Ruby runtime written in Ruby. 

The EngineYard has also announced:

"We will give away a free 3 slice configuration for a year at random
to an attendee of the charity session"

The charity event has a minimal $50 donation to attend, and with all of the talk about Rubinius and Merb, and the benefits of both, this is a must attend event.  Adding a bit more value, attendees can hang out with the speakers and the event coordinators at a meet-and-greet party sponsored by Rails Machine on Saturday evening.

More information about acts_as_conference can be found on the event web site.

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