RubyConf had a most excellent “hallway track.” This was augmented by the fabulous Poken, which allowed you to “high-four” someone who you met and avoid rummaging around for business cards. It also let you look up someone’s name who you ought to know, but had forgotten.

This was the first time I attended RubyConf. I have been programming in Ruby for almost a year and through organizing outreach workshops and other RailsBridge activities, SF Ruby, and adventures in the twitterverse and blogosphere, I knew (and knew of) quite a few Rubyists.

The best part of RubyConf was meeting people who I had previously known only virtually — from people whose blogs or books I had read, to people whose software I had worked with, to those with whom I have had ephemeral conversations with via twitter or fleeting working relationships via RailsBridge. I found people to be very friendly and outgoing. More so than at any other conference I have attended, people would just start talking to me in the hallway and I found it easy to join people for lunch or beers. I’m sure it helped to be a speaker, but I have been a speaker at other conferences and been well-known in other communities which didn’t have the same feeling of being welcomed as a new friend.

Here are some highlights:

I was impressed by Jim Meier who rounded up a group of folks who didn’t all know each other for Thursday dinner at Steelhead Brewery. I got to meet Paul Brannan, a long-time Rubyist who is one of four people to have attended every RubyConf. Sadly, for the other folks I met that evening, my poken failed me. I got an awesome introduction to Erlang from a new friend, whose name I can’t place and whose vcard was not recorded in my poken.

Lunch with James Avery, Nathanial Talbot of Terralien, and Jim Weirich, creator of xmlbuilder and rake, who warmly participated in my Ruby word game: a good use of the word “closure” in a sentence and related challenges. Jim came up with: “Objects may be used to implement closures; and closures may be used to implement objects.” This not only led to intriguing lunchtime conversation, but also to fun Japanese translation (more on that later, after all of the phrases are posted!).

Caleb Clausen spontaneously invited me to a recap of his presentation, Toward a Ruby Compiler, which he was giving to Laurent (of MacRuby) during a break.

I had some nice real-time conversation with Andy Atkinson who I has previously only known thru twitter.

David Chilimnsky of RSpec fame, whose book I have enjoyed, had been following my adventures in test-first-teaching with RSpec. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised but the internet is a funny place where you never know who is really reading the bits of information that you send off into the ether.

I closed the conference by attending larkconf, where l4rk asked people who joined the circle of beer-drinkers to share their dream. That little kumbaya moment had the unexpected effect of making it just a tiny bit less awkward to be the only woman approaching a crowd of a dozen or so guys at a bar. I talking with Brian Doll about the SFRuby community and Brian Jenkins about interactive fiction and Ian McFarland about language.

Overall the conference for me was characterized by informal conversation with famous, lesser known and novice Rubyists. It was kind of sad that more folks could not attend, but I really enjoyed the small scale of the gathering.

What do you think?