• 10 min read

Reflecting on Rubyfuza 2015

Rubyfuza 2015 was amazing. Just like all the other years, this one stood out on all levels. I love referring to Rubyfuza as a massive family reunion, except that everyone is excited to see each other. I have a lot of Ruby friends, that I only get to see at Rubyfuza. Even with other trips to Cape Town, we seem to miss these Fuza-goers...

This year I was the second speaker, which meant that I got to enjoy the entire conference without tweaking slides. The fantastic Aaron Patterson opened the conference with a fantastic keynote on The Joy of Programming.

I opened with saying how great it is to see so many old friends, and how excited I was to make new ones. It definitely played out that way.

#rubyfriends @tenderlove #rubyfuza2015 #nofilter

A photo posted by Kenneth Kalmer (@kennethkalmer) on


Lets step back, we (Michelle and I) arrived at the hotel long before everyone else. We had the good fortune of bumping into Aaron at breakfast the day before, and had a bunch of laughs as we acclimatised Aaron to Africa (well, as close as Cape Town gets you to Africa). Michelle headed to the office, I got intercepted by Marc, the brains of the operation, and then conference chaos ensued as two teams from Internet Solutions (that I work with) arrived. Immediately you could feel the pulse raise, and the excitement build. Not only was the family coming together, they were excited to invite new folks in and spend some time with their heroes. I know I was!

I made a concerted effort to spend time with the international guests, to extract as much as I could and then spread the goodness amongst the family. It was great just spending time with Aaron, Charles Nutter, Loren Segal, Alyson La, Arne Brasseur, Lance Gleason, and Ray Hightower. I also tried to catch up with the familiars wherever I could.

I also had the fantastic honour of meeting Marc Bowes at Rubyfuza. Marc has been helping with daemon-kit for nearly 4 years! His been quietly triaging issues, cutting releases, and just making sure that things tick along. We've missed each other nearly every other time I've visited Cape Town, so this was a real treat.

Back to the talks

Overall the conference this year was more focussed on softer skills and topics. Less code, more lessons, more motivations, more excitement, more social good. A few of the main talks, and the lightning talks covered the gaps quite nicely.

To me this was refreshing, I'm not sure how this panned out for someone that expected more technical talks.

Social responsibility

We had some fantastic talks on various aspects of social responsibility by Mandla Magagula and Lydia Abel. It was Mandla's first talk ever, and you would not have guessed it. He put a lot us to shame. Mandla shared with us how they are helping kids from Diepsloot by teaching them Python over the weekends. Lydia was showing us how they help educators teach with robotics. It was inspiring to hear how selflessly they both give to their causes.

I'm going to add Pawel Janiak under social responsibility too. He gave us some insights into developing with accessibility in mind. He shared some amazing insights with us, even that our colour perception can be influenced by our moods. The importance for contrast, and so much else.


A few speakers shared with us journeys. Journeys through software development land, journeys about improving skills, living with mistakes, switching careers, and other acts of bravery. They invited us along, and the journeys were truly inspiring.

Jackline Mutua shared with us the challenges of always learning and improving. Simon Stewart dispensed tons of advice about becoming a freelancer, based on his own story. Alyson La came all the way from San Francisco to show us how she's moving from accountant at Github, to a data scientist, and how anyone could do the same!

Steven McDonald had an amazing story to tell about mentoring, and how he has pivoted between being the mentor and the protΓ©gΓ© and the challenges of both, especially being a first time mentor... Theo Bohnen shared his journey in becoming polyglot, making most of us very jealous.

ChΓ© Nxusani walked us through his experiences of having drunk the Single Page App-koolaid, and the rehabilitation since then. Grant Speelman had a moving story of a Rails 3 upgrade that is still in progress, after about 18 months of work. Lots of knowledge dispensed by both of them!

More cody-cody

We saw some Ruby, which is a welcome sight at the only Ruby conference on the continent!

Aaron's Joy of Programming was a whirlwind technical talk about the awesome things he's doing, or instigating, in the Ruby & Rails worlds. We learned some shortcuts to progress to next-level emoji use...

Charles Nutter's JRuby 9000 talk was fantastic. I've been following his presentations on Slideshare for years now, and I must say it is something else to see his passion for JRuby on stage. I've been so inspired that I've started adding jruby-head to my .travis.yml files, and I've restarted an effort to get ActiveAdmin building on JRuby 9000.

Brendon McLean showed off some magic for leveraging other languages outside of Ruby, via Ruby. In the event that you're doing massive statistical analysis, like Brendon, then Python might be the better bet for the time being. Brendon showed how they turn complex calculations into S-expressions and pass them over the wire for execution in a foreign land.

Chris Stefano gave us some awesome examples from his experiences of wrestling with various best practices, and keeping a large Rails application maintainable. Lots of goodies, and refreshingly few dependencies. Chris does a lot with plain old Ruby, where we might be tempted to grab the first gem that remotely resembles the problems we're having.

Garren Smith waved the CouchDB banner. He showed us the great many new things coming in version 2 of of one of the original NoSQL datastores. He walked us through the history, confirmed the pulse is still healthy, and then showed off Fauxton, the Futon replacement.

In no less than 115 slides, Loren Segal gave a fantastically fast-paced presentation on deprecations. I must admit, I got completely schooled by Loren on the topic, and I hope a lot of others did too. To me, deprecations meant that you emit a warning till some arb time in the future, and then delete the code. Loren pointed us to Java API's that got deprecated in Java 1.3 or 1.4, and are still available in Java 8, but have been deprecated for more than a decade... It gave me great hope for how to push daemon-kit through its next phases.

If you were ever curious about practical artificial intelligence with Ruby, then Simon van Dyk has you covered with his fantastic Diagnosing cancer with Machine Learning talk. Simon talks this complicated topic, and distills it down into something understandable and palatable. This honestly is one of my favourite talks, and I know a lot of other folks feel the same.

Since we were next to the Atlantic, and having the Indian Ocean a short drive away, it was quite appropriate that Ray Hightower showed off the Open ROV project. The Open ROV is an open source robot, or remote operated vehicle, that helps exploring the depths of our oceans, lakes & rivers. It was really cool, and his message was quiet clear: we should all get into robotics, it is easier than we'd think.

To close off the conference, Marc Heiligers shared with us some Sweet Ruby. Marc has this nack to share code snippets in a way that makes his audience get all excited about Ruby again. Sometimes I feel like he might be channeling _why the lucky stiff when he presents. That, and he found the strangest bands to use as inspiration for the talk. Oh, did I mention he worked in an intermission?

Post conference

There were three workshops on the Saturday at the venue. We didn't attend, but the feedback was great. I know John Anderson published the notes from his workshop, about dealing with data and concurrency in Ruby. I've kept the tab open...

We got invited along on the annual Siyelo wine tour on the Sunday, and it was awesome. We filled up a Quantum, went around to three fantastic wine farms and just had a blast. After the wine tour a subset of us ended up in Woodstock for some craft beer, and then in the dying moments of the night a few brave souls made it back to the Waterfront for more beer.


If I get accepted to speak again next year, I'd definitely spend more time on my slides. No longer is the Industrial Keynote theme sufficient. The quality of the presentations were amazing, thanks to all the speakers for raising the bar so high!

I love how the theme of "measuring and using data to improve" had surfaced throughout so many talks and each time it did the speaker could just build on the work of the previous speaker. Since I talked about measuring stuff for improved decision making, I've been keeping my eyes peeled and I'm relieved to see the general consensus in our community is the same. Having that immediate validation by the other speakers was fantastic.

I think the blind selection process, and a larger committee definitely had a positive impact on the conference. Everything came together so very nicely. I would have liked one or two more technical talks, but I'll be the first to admit that I won't be able to cut off a single one of the softer talks from the lineup. They were fantastic!

I can't wait for next year! Thanks Marc and everyone else that worked really really hard to make this event happen.


Kenneth is a regular panelist on The ZADevChat Podcast, where he's fortunate enough to have great conversations with some of the best & brightest in the South African tech community.

comments powered by Disqus