High in the Southern Alps in New Zealand's South Island, up a long steep unsealed road, is a small ski field named Mt Cheeseman. In the summer off-season the snow melts away to reveal great slopes of gravel scree, tussock grass, and dwarf forest. The air is crisp, and the mountain weather changes quickly: sometimes the lodges are embedded in thick cloud, at others there are clear views over great distances.
It's not a typical location for a technology conference. But Rails Camp New Zealand returns there every few years by popular demand, because it's not a typical conference.
Rails Camp is an unconference. The goal is not to present a rigid schedule of talks and presentations, but to foster community and professional connections within the Rails community. Participants are provided with excellent food and accommodation, and a blank schedule to fill in with whatever they like. It's a great opportunity for the kinds of conversations that help new ideas grow, but are hard to fit into a structured programme. Cheeseman's limited cellular coverage also helped us shift attention from the internet to the people in the room.
2017 was Stembolt's first year sponsoring Rails Camp, and I attended as our first New Zealand employee. Other participants came from around the country, along with a big contingent of Australian Rubyists, and some returning friends from the US.
The lodges were a hive of activity all weekend. Lots of participants took the opportunity to learn new programming languages and tools. Some were complete beginners, learning Ruby for the first time while surrounded by lots of supportive, experienced developers; others brought particular projects they wanted to give some focused time. Samuel Williams (Twitter, Web) brought a robot that painted ink-brush renditions of photographs. Rob Jacoby (Twitter) and Tim Lucas (Twitter, Web) designed and built an app to track their personal whisky blends. I hacked on an automated documentation project capybara-guides. In the evenings there was star-gazing and the perennial conference game of Werewolf.
Thanks very much to the organisers Daniel Fone (Twitter, Web), Patrick Davey (Twitter, Web) and Phil Arndt (Twitter, Web), and also to the many other people who participated in various ways to make a great event. Next year's New Zealand Rails Camp venue will be held near Queenstown, and in the meantime other Rails Camps will continue to be held all over the world. Check railscamp.com for one near you.