Max VelDink

I like Ruby, portable architecture, type systems and mentoring.

Railsconf 2024 Recap

Last week, I had the privilege (thank you, Justworks 💜) of attending Railsconf 2024 in Detroit, Michigan. The experience was about the technology and the vibrant community I’ve been a part of for nearly a decade. The people I met, the projects I saw being started in 2024, and the improvements to the framework and language carried about by the core teams were all incredible signs of life from a community that has been quietly getting things done in the background, even as the hype cycles has featured other tools over the past 20 years. This sense of community, of being part of something bigger, reignited my passion for Ruby & Rails and why I returned so excited to jump back into our decade+ Rails monolith at Justworks and choose Rails to build new projects.

First off, let me tangent into the city of Detroit. Most folks have their impression of Detroit from movies (probably darker dramas). Mine’s from Robocop. But, the downtown blocks where Railsconf was held, including the humongous conference center where the Detroit Auto Show is held and the concrete maze that is the GM Renaissance Center, are both awe-inspiring venues, connected by a lovely little river walk. The highlight for me, however, was the Detroit People Mover. This tiny, one-direction ~10-stop monorail circles the downtown area and allows you to go a little more uptown to restaurants and the sports stadiums, with stops at the hotel and conference center. I came away with a far more favorable impression of Detroit than I anticipated (which, I guess, is the reason cities want to host conferences, so mission-accomplished Detroiters)!

Now, back to the conference. We started with the unfortunate news that next year’s Railsconf would be the last one (with the city to be determined by community polling). At first glance, I reacted negatively; how can you simultaneously promote the framework and ecosystem and then pull back from one of the most public, well-attended conferences? On reflection, it makes perfect sense. Ruby Central, the backing organization for Ruby and Rails confs and most of the infrastructure that powers the Ruby community, was conducting two huge conferences annually in different cities. The planning strain on resources is immense, not to factor in the financial lift. Having Ruby Central focus on one large conference each year and use the new slack in the system to assist with regional conferences and meetups is going to be a net positive in the community (plug for Blue Ridge Ruby, which you should totally attend, not just to hear me speak 😉). Rails World is the latest player in the conference space and, by all accounts, a neat replacement for Railsconf.

I thought most of the talks I attended were fantastic for the content. At this point in my career, I’m mainly sourcing talks I can share with my team to shore up some knowledge gaps that pertain to a particular problem we’re solving. There was a great diversity in subject and experience level (I’ll update here with links to talk recommendations once the videos are available), and several talks highlighted some areas of Rails that I haven’t seen addressed recently, such as logging, Rails versioning, and common, similar methods, and a newbie-focused comparison of them. My favorite talk, by far, was from Dawn Richardson at Thinkific on lessons from beyond senior on the technical career path. She did a great job of encapsulating the myriad of high-level responsibilities as a staff+ engineer and the personal and professional challenges accompanying them. I’ve been maddened by the lack of resources in this area, and it was refreshing to hear such a concise summary that I can refer back to and refer others to when they ask, “So, what exactly does a staff engineer do?”

The keynotes were a high point, as expected. Nadia Odunayo’s opening keynote on the Storygraph (an app I sang the praises of when it was initially released) was inspiring, and it made everyone in the room want to start a new startup on Rails. Closing the first day, Irina Nazarova from Evil Martian continued this thread by spotlighting startups and existing companies who were choosing Rails in 2024; some even migrating from other tech stacks or architecture choices (cough microservices cough) to the tried and true Rails. Both of these talks highlighted the urgency of talking about (of which I’m trying to do my small part) and showcasing what teams are building with Rails and why we’re choosing to do so.

On the other end of the spectrum, John Hawthorn’s deep dive into the new CRuby profiler Vernier was a fantastic, technical deep dive, and I thought of no less than ten different profiles I wanted to run with it. Seeing a new Ruby profiler in 2024 made me giddy. Rounding out the conference, Aaron Patterson spotlighted some recent improvements to Rails and Ruby that Shopify has been cooking up. Their drop-in performance improvement at YJIT was an unearned present last year, so I am very excited about their work there.

Participating in the hallway track was one of the most enjoyable aspects of Railsconf for me. I (and my teams at Justworks) owe a lot to the work that Shopify, Stripe, and GitHub have done in the Ruby and Rails infrastructure spaces; from our adoption of Sorbet (with Tapioca), Packwerk and the Ruby LSP, these teams have revitalized not only Rails applications but the developer experience in working with the language and framework. Many of the deficiencies and criticisms I’ve heard over the years have been addressed by having an actively developed type system that provides inline signatures, and the real-time feedback that the Ruby LSP gives is a missing piece in the many developers’ Ruby workflow. Meeting, hanging out with, and learning from the individuals on these teams was fantastic. Personally, seeing a contribution path forward for the Rails LSP and Tapioca are avenues that I’m looking forward to exploring in the coming weeks. A special shout out to Andy Waite on the Ruby and Rails infrastructure team at Shopify for spending a lot of time with me during the hack day explaining the internals of the Ruby LSP and setting me up for contributions to the Rails LSP. I look forward to digging into that soon!

If you couldn’t tell, I am very excited to work with, build on, and grow with Ruby on Rails. I was glad to be a part of the penultimate Railsconf and can’t wait to see what the next years hold for the Rails ecosystem.