RailsCampUSA

 Photo credit: Bobbilee Hartman

Photo credit: Bobbilee Hartman

I must admit that I was quite intimidated to attend Rails Camp as a new programmer. If it weren't for the encouragement of its organizer, Bobbilee Hartman, my friend and ex-neighbor, I probably would have wished her luck and ask for pictures/updates later. But that would have been a major mistake!

Rails Camp USA, which I will now refer to as "Best Weekend Ever", was an incredible experience. It was hosted at Camp Jack Hazard in the Stanislaus National Forest, September 11 to September 14, 2015.

I'll try my best to be brief. Let's go off the itinerary! 

Friday, September 11, 2015 - 

It would've taken me about 8 to 10 hours to drive to camp, so I opted to hop on a plane instead. My flight from San Diego was only 1.5 hours long and I actually arrived way too early, which ended up being perfect because I was hungry and I got lost. But during this time I managed to make a friend or two with fellow campers; their sleeping bags gave them away. A bus was scheduled to pick us up from Sacramento International Airport at 2:30pm. The ride was kind of long (about 3 hours), but thankfully we made a pit stop for snacks along the way. If you get car sick, you may want to pop a pill or two because the roads twist and turn along its way up the mountains. Also, because the elevation is so high, drink lots of water! 

When we arrived, we were greeted by Bobbi and the camp staff, who helped carry our bags to the cabins. Originally, I started to unload in the "Girls Only" cabin, but since I'm the proud owner of a crazy loud snore (heh) and because there were way more cabins than attendees (about 50 campers), I got to sleep in my own cabin for the night! (I was joined by another fellow snorer for the remaining nights... I won't name names though!) 

That night (and every night) we all had dinner, played games (Werewolf is THE BEST), and got to know one another over bonfires and smores. Bobbi and the staff were extremely organized. For some reason, I never even thought about bringing a flashlight! But she literally had anything you could need, ready to go. Also I should mention that during our stay, delicious hot meals were prepared 3 times per day; they would ring a bell once it was ready, like I've seen done in the movies! Oh, also, there were bathrooms with toilets, toilet paper, and hot showers! My type of camping! 

Saturday, September 12, 2015 - 

This was the day that made me the most nervous because it was time for Code Retreat, which took up half the day. It was this moment that I would see if all my studying would pay off, amongst other programmers who have literally been in the business for 5-10+ years. At this event, we were given several 45 minute sessions to figure out and pair program "Conway's Game of Life", led by Pat Maddox. Each session we'd have to delete our code and switch partners. If some wanted more of a challenge, they could also enforce guidelines such as not being able to speak to your partner, but I had a hard enough time trying to figure out the game's objective alone. Oh ya, we had no cell phone service or internet so Google wasn't an option. Thankfully, one of my partners, Emmanuel drew pictures! I am a visual learner and especially appreciated his approach and patience! He instructed me to write/draw everything out to make sure I fully understood the objectives, before even thinking about HOW to code it on the computer. Once accomplished, he then had me practice BDD, Behavioral Driven Development; I knew what I wanted to accomplish so I would code the tests firsts. Then, as I was coding, I would frequently run tests to see if anything was wrong; if so, I'd fix it right there, versus trying to code the entire program in one go, becoming overwhelmed! We took a big problem and made it into a bunch of tiny ones that we'd tackle one step at a time. I learned A LOT from this exercise. 

It was great working with and observing my other partners too, even though I wasn't ever able to fully complete the challenge. This was my first time pair programming! 

Afterwards, we went for a hike. Unfortunately, I left my camera, otherwise I could show you beautiful pictures of an icy cold river we swam in. We also explored what looked like a mountain high pile of rocks, but it was actually lava! Don't ask for anymore details because I would fail at scientifically explaining what it was exactly, just know that it was beautiful; it was awesome. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015 - 

After breakfast, the "Unconference" kicked off. An Unconference is an informal conference. Weeks to moments leading up to this event, we would submit our ideas of what we wanted to hear and/or talk about, which were then scheduled into time slots for the day. Topics could be about anything, not just programming related. About every hour you could choose between several sessions to attend. I attended "Advice for newbies/How to go from Jr. Programmer to Sr. Programmer" which was led by Rob, co-founder of a Rails and Javascript Bootcamp called Learn, "Sketch Noting" which was led by a super sweet developer named Jennifer, and then I opted for free time to work on a personal project I've been wanting to build. Here's s sneak peek, thanks to the help of Sean Marcia, who will be speaking at this year's RubyConf! 

Monday, September 14, 2015 - 

We were all up early to say our goodbyes and catch the bus back to the airport. We made it back just in time, and my return flight was even quicker than before, taking only an hour to reach SAN. On the flight home I sat next to a fellow camper who asked me an interesting question, "Did you learn anything new?" While I had a hard time searching for particular Ruby skills or methods I may have picked up, what I do know is that Rails Camp was an extremely motivational, inspiring, and encouraging experience. I learned that I want to pursue this calling, full time. It was a weekend outside of my comfort zone, and I met the most amazing people. It will be a weekend I will never forget, and I've fallen in love with the Ruby community even more. I am looking forward to attending the East Coast's Rails Camp in March! I hope to see you there!