Rails Camp West 2016: a full review

| 4 min. (759 words)

Over the last weekend in August over 50 members of the web development community gathered at Camp Perkins outside of Stanley, Idaho for Rails Camp West 2016. This unconventional Rails event brings a diverse group of people from across design and web development from many languages, not just Rails, on a three day retreat in the mountains. The main focus is on community building, unconference-like talks, and getting to know the people behind the GitHub usernames.

The event was well organized and refreshing. Here’s what I learned while I was there, and what to expect next year if you are thinking of attending 2017’s Rails Camp West.

Attendees of Rails Camp West 2016

Attendees ranged from new developers just starting out with Ruby to veteran Rails engineers running their own development teams. Developers from all over North America, Australia, and New Zealand made the trek to Camp Perkins from Boise.

Where did Rails Camp West start?

Rails Camp West is an offshoot of Railscamps.com which has been hosting these outdoor development ‘get togethers’ since 2007. One of the key components of the weekends are that the locations typically have no internet access available at the camp/retreat site.

Attendees are encouraged to work together on projects to pool knowledge and learn from each other. The other key component is the non-technical community interaction that happens. Doing things like eating meals together, going rafting, and generally hanging out with other developers in a stress-free, supportive environment.

The organizer

Bobbilee Hartman was the main organizer for Rails Camp West. Bobbilee is a Ruby on Rails developer currently working as a software engineer for Iora Health. Bobbilee has an impressive work history and has previously spent over six months traveling around the world while working remotely.

Bobbilee coordinated all the sponsors, site booking, and event planning for the entire weekend, which was an amazing feat given how wonderful it all turned out.


While the entire weekend was an amazing experience, there were some definite bright points worth mentioning:

Sketch noting – Jennifer Tu

Likely you’ve seen sketch noting at conferences you’ve been to before but may be unsure of how to get started.  Jennifer provided a great class on how to get started sketch noting.  She also went over some of the common mistakes and speed bumps that most people experience when getting started.  If you want more information on sketch noting there are some great resources located here.

Fish Shell overview – Charles Maresh

Charles gave a great overview of how the Fish Shell compares with the basic Mac Terminal and shells like Zsh.  With a growing number of add-ons/modules adding things like Vim support, syntax highlighting, and docker support Charles demonstrated the power of the shell.  If you’d like to have a look at the Fish shell, you can find a great collection of curated documents courtesy of Charles.

Saturday fireside chat – Patches and Jessica Suttles (Hashicorp)

Saturday evening Patches held a fireside chat with Jessica Suttles of Hashicorp. For those who haven’t heard of a fireside chat before, they are essentially live interviews conducted in a very conversational manner.  Jessica and Patches covered her work history, how she went from a developer to a co-founder, and to having her company acquired by Hashicorp.

Sunday Fireside Chat  Patches and Zach Holman (formerly at GitHub)

Sunday evening Patches sat down with Zach Holman to discuss his work experience, mental health and burnout, and career progression. Zach’s insight into the line between giving a lot of yourself to a company you believe in versus knowing when you need to take care of yourself struck a chord with many of the attendees.

Take Away

The experience of Rails Camp West 2016 was what I expected from the Ruby community.  Open discussions, friendly people, and an amazing wealth of knowledge freely shared over a pint of beer and coffee.  One thing that I think Rails Camp does better than a normal conference is drawing people together.  At the end of the day having these interactions outside of the Internet shows us the people behind those projects and pull requests.

The biggest lesson I learned from the weekend is that at the end of the day we’re all people with feelings and emotions that feed into our code. We all put a little piece of ourselves into every method and every class. Keeping that in mind when we deal with the blank façade of a GitHub repo is important to keeping us connected and working towards the betterment of software development as a whole.