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WindyCityRails 2013 features an all-new schedule with more talks and more time for networking. Plus, we've packed the schedule with practical tech talks that will help you build better Rails apps.

Thursday, September 12th

9:00am–9:30am Neal Ford

Rampant Emergence: Lessons Learned from 4 Years of Aggressive Change

Neal Ford, ThoughtWorks

At ThoughtWorks, we’re big fans of evolutionary architecture and emergent design, which allows great technological and business flexibility. But like many accelerants, it isn’t entirely free. This talk explores decisions made and consequences (both positive and negative) from a real world project that has used these techniques aggressively for 4 years. I discuss the distinction between architecture and design, the impacts of change on each, and how you can sometimes exchange them.

Neal is Director, Software Architect and Meme Wrangler at ThoughtWorks, a global IT consultancy with focusing on end-to-end software development. He is the designer/developer of applications, instructional materials, magazine articles, courseware, video presentations, and author and/or editor of 8 books. He also speaks at lots of conferences.



9:45am–10:15am Jessica Kerr

Functional Principles for Ruby Developers

Jessica Kerr

So you consider yourself an Object Oriented developer? Don’t limit yourself! See what functional programming can do for Ruby. Learn the “why” behind functional programming, and how the same considerations can help OO code. Some of these principles you already use; some express patterns old and new; all give us different ways of thinking about problems. Developers without expertise in functional programming will find new techniques for thinking and coding in Ruby.

Jessica Kerr writes Scala for a living, and lives to share what she has learned. Thirteen years of Enterprise development led to a love of git, functional style, and the cognitive science of programming. Besides speaking, her victory conditions include raising two subversive daughters, drinking good beer, and meeting people who help her see when she is wrong.



10:30am–10:45am Ryan Briones

The City of the Future, Today

Ryan Briones, City of Chicago

What if your city could monitor the health of community areas and make smart investments in infrastructure and services to make that community better? In this brief talk, the presenter will tell about the amazing ways the City of Chicago is using technology, including Open Source projects, to meet the charge of Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel of making City services and operations more efficient and effective.

Ryan Briones is the Director of Software Architecture and Design at the City of Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology. takes breath He leads the software engineering efforts at DoIT experimenting with ways to make the great City of Chicago even greater. Ryan draws on 15 years of experience in software development and technology coming from e-commerce, consulting, startups and non-profits. Ryan also enjoys experimenting with finding deliciousness in various coffees, foods, cocktails and open source projects.

10:45am–11:15am Randall Thomas

Data Science: New Snake Oil, Same Old Machine Learning

Randall Thomas, Thunderbolt Labs

Machine Learning and data mining have long been “black arts” because they sit squarely between various rigorous disciplines: statistics, linear algebra, analysis, geometry just to name a few. Factor in that all the reference material targets people who have Ph.Ds and are probably working on another one for fun and it’s hard to know where to start. We’re going to split the time between covereing the basic knoweldge set for ML tasks and looking at a few applications of ML.

Randall Thomas is a classically trained musician, both blessed and cursed with a strange form of technology ADD which he satisfied by working in various industries with numerous startups; his experience spans from robotics, to low level telecommunications and networking, to applied computing for stock trading systems. Randall is an internationally renowned speaker on practical data mining techniques and the business of startups.



11:30am–12:00pm Matt Konda

Insecure Expectations

Matt Konda, Jemurai

Many of us have come to rely on tests or specs to verify that our code is working properly. Few of us leverage the tests we are already writing to demonstrate security controls are properly applied. In this technical talk, we will walk through hands on examples of tests that demonstrate how to test for common security issues that arise in Rails applications.

The goals are twofold:

  1. To illustrate some common Rails security issues in a technical way.
  2. To give developers something concrete they can do about them.

Matt Konda is a veteran software developer that has played various roles leading up to starting his own company, Jemurai, to focus exclusively on application security and bridging the gap between developers and security experts. Jemurai provides security training, code review and SDLC integration, and is building tools (in Ruby and Rails) to help development teams build security in. Matt spends his free time learning from his wife and kids, playing soccer and reading.




Lightning Talks: Day One

Lightning talks are short, five-minute talks given by your fellow attendees! Have a topic that you’re passionate about that you’d like to share with the WindyCityRails audience? Submit your proposal!



2:45pm–3:15pm Nell Shamrell

Test Driven Development: A Love Story

Nell Shamrell, Blue Box Group

Practicing Test Driven Development (TDD) is like falling in love. It may first seem like all your development problems will disappear. However, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. You have to work at it, and keep working at it, for the rest of your development life. It is hard, and it’s natural to question whether the value is worth the effort.

So why do it? Why would you bother going through all that trouble, dramatically changing the way you code, learn new domain specific languages, and initially slow down the rate at which you produce code when you have no time to lose?

This talk will answer the “why” by sharing my experience of passing through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) as I learned TDD, and how acceptance grew to love.

You will walk away from the talk with techniques for maintaining and strengthening your relationship with TDD. Test frameworks and languages may come and go, but the fundamentals and value of TDD remain.

Nell Shamrell works as a Software Development Engineer for Blue Box Group. She also sits on the advisory board for the University of Washington Certificate in Ruby Programming. She specializes in Ruby, Rails, HAML, and SASS. Prior to entering the world of software development, she studied and worked in the field of Theatre. The world of Theatre prepared her well for the dynamic world of creating software applications. In both, she strives to create a cohesive and extraordinary experience. In her free time she enjoys practicing the martial art Naginata.



3:30pm–3:45pm Greg Baugues

Devs and Depression

Greg Baugues, Table XI

I have Type II Bipolar and ADHD. For years I was crippled by intermittent depression. Five years ago I got the right medication, found a good therapist, and married a great wife. Depressed developers need to know that they are not lazy or weak, but are suffering from a treatable medical condition.

Greg currently serves as Director of Client Services at Table XI, where he has worked as developer and evangelist for six years. In his free time, Greg writes, speaks, codes, cooks and travels. Greg and his wife spent eleven weeks traveling Turkey and Western Europe. Read more at

3:45pm–4:15pm Benjamin Smith

Keeping Your Massive Rails App From Turning Into a S#!t Show

Benjamin Smith, Pivotal Labs

Rails is a great framework for creating web apps… for awhile. What do you do when your codebase grows large? How do you handle large teams of developers? When performance becomes an issue, how do you scale? Most importantly, how do you write code which can easily be refactored later?

Learn lessons from several real life projects: how to partition your Rails app into distinct modular engines, how to speed up your test suite by only running code effected by your changes, how to add a layer on top of ActiveRecord to enforce loose coupling, and many more!

This talk comes from experiences I’ve had on the current project I’m working on. The project was architected from day 1, with scalability, parallel development streams, and a large codebase in mind. Thus far, our architecture decisions (along with aggressive refactoring) has worked extremely well. This presentation is a bit of story of the journey we’ve taken on the project and how we got to where we are today.

Benjamin Smith is a developer at Pivotal Labs. He has a strong passion for TDD, pairing, Agile and using technologies that get out of the programmer’s way. When not writing code, he follows his other passions into the outdoors to rock climb, back country snowboard, kayak and surf.



4:30pm–5:00pm Mitch Lloyd

Hardware Integration with Rails

Mitch Lloyd, Gaslight

Where does Rails fit in the world of hardware projects? The agile culture and rapid development times associated Ruby on Rails make it a great option for developing user interfaces that integrate with hardware in the physical world. However, working with hardware brings new challenges beyond that of a typical web app.

On a recent project we communicated with custom hardware using byte-based protocols, bridged the gap between stateless web requests and on-going hardware communication, and used rich-client technologies for real-time interaction with hardware. This talk will cover all of these topics and more to help you succeed on a hardware project and expose you to the fun world of hardware hacking.

Mitch Lloyd is a developer at Gaslight that loves building software, physical challenges, and citrus. He works primarily with Ruby, CoffeeScript, and Web Technologies. He created and hosts the Gaslight Podcast, a bi-weekly podcast for developers and technical entrepreneurs. Mitchell graduated from Indiana University and has a masters degree in Information Systems.


After Party

Join us in South Shore Cultural Center’s Solarium for our opening night after party.

Friday, September 13th

9:00am–9:30am Noel Rappin

Rails vs. Object Oriented Design

Noel Rappin, Table XI

Over the past year or two, there’s been a lot of conversation in the Rails community about the applicability of Object-Oriented techniques to Rails applications. This conversation becomes especially important as the Rails community is increasingly managing long-lived applications.

Techniques and phrases like “DCI”, or “Rails is not your application”, or “Composition is better than inheritance” or “Dependency Injection” get thrown around. All these techniques sound impressive, but if you look to Rails for simplicity, then they may seem like overkill. In part, the techniques are about what kind of design is best suited to planning for unknowable future change.

This talk will show how these techniques can be applied in Rails, and how they can help you prepare for the future without making the present complicated.

Noel Rappin is a Senior Developer and Table XI’s Agile Coach, with a history of teaching and mentoring developers to help them improve their skills.

Noel has authored technical books, including Rails Test Prescriptions and Master Space and Time With JavaScript. Before joining Table XI, Noel spent time running internal training at Groupon and was a Senior Consultant at Obtiva and Pathfinder.



9:45am–10:15am Aja Hammerly

Seeing the Big Picture: Quick and Dirty Data Visualization with Ruby

Aja Hammerly

Data is a hot buzz word in the industry. Every day there are more startups with “Big Data” somewhere in their elevator pitch. There are dozens of devices to record how we sleep, what we eat, how much we exercise, even how often we breathe. Every action we take online generates data that is stored and analyzed.

Understanding all this data can be difficult. Humans aren’t designed to see patterns in thousands of lines of json or XML. We are good at seeing patterns in pictures, graphs, diagrams, and spots in the underbrush.

Often a simple visualization is what you need to understand a problem. In this talk, I’ll demonstrate tools that you can use to quickly generate “back-of-the-envelope” visualizations from a variety of data sets.

Aja lives in Seattle where she is a developer at Substantial and a member of the Seattle Ruby Brigade. Her favorite languages are Ruby and Prolog. She also loves working with large piles of data. In her free time she enjoys skiing, cooking, knitting, and long coding sessions on the beach.



10:30am–10:45am Aaron Kalin

Hey Kid! Don't Copy That Floppy!

Aaron Kalin, Treehouse

Do you license your software? How well did you read that LICENSE file? We’ll go over what types of licenses are out there and why you’ll need one before you end up on the wrong side of a DMCA notice.

Aaron Kalin is a developer for Treehouse hailing from Chicago and has been programming for over 15 years. At night you’ll find him hacking on game servers or experimenting with other programming languages. He’s passionate about solving problems and enjoys giving back as much as possible. You’ll sometimes find him dressed as a Stormtrooper to raise money for charity or cheering up sick kids in hospitals.

10:45am–11:15am Corey Ehmke

Lightweight Business Intelligence with Ruby, Rails and MongoDB

Corey Ehmke,

Agile companies need timely and reliable access to data to make critical business decisions. In the enterprise world, this is accomplished with expensive and esoteric data warehousing solutions, while younger organizations make do with generic analytics platforms. In this talk I will introduce an agile approach to business intelligence that drives decision support, feeds data analysis, and delivers flexible reporting capabilities, all built using Ruby, Rails, and MongoDB. We will explore the complete architecture of a lightweight BI system that is used in the real world to capture and analyze customer information, monitor user behaviour, feed machine-learning algorithms for decision support, and deliver real knowledge and value to business stakeholders.

Corey Ehmke is a technologist with over 20 years of experience in developing for the web. He successfully transitioned out of enterprise software development into the Agile world with Ruby and Rails six years ago. His areas of specialization include the development of API-driven architectures, business intelligence, and machine learning. An active Open Source author and contributor, he’s currently serving as Lead Developer at



11:30am–12:00pm Mat Brown

Big Data Modeling with Cassandra

Mat Brown, Rap Genius

When choosing the right data store for an application, developers face a trade-off between scalability and programmer-friendliness. With the release of version 3 of the Cassandra Query Language, Cassandra provides a uniquely attractive combination of both, exposing robust and intuitive data modeling capabilities while retaining the scalability and availability of a distributed, masterless data store.

This talk will focus on practical data modeling and access in Cassandra using CQL3. We’ll cover nested data structures; different types of primary keys; and the many shapes your tables can take. There will be a particular focus on understanding the way Cassandra stores and accesses data under the hood, to better reason about designing schemas for performant queries. We’ll also cover the most important (and often unexpected) differences between ACID databases and distributed data stores like Cassandra.

Mat Brown is a software engineer at Rap Genius, a platform for annotating and explaining the world’s text. Mat is the author of Cequel, a Ruby object/row mapper for Cassandra, as well as Elastictastic, an object/document mapper for ElasticSearch, and Sunspot, a Ruby model integration layer for Solr.




Lightning Talks

Lightning talks are short, five-minute talks given by your fellow attendees! Have a topic that you’re passionate about that you’d like to share with the WindyCityRails audience? Submit your proposal!



2:45pm–3:15pm Zach Holman

More Git and GitHub Secrets

Zach Holman, GitHub

This talk covers both Git and GitHub: different tricks Zach has picked up after three years at GitHub, helpful advice on common gripes he has seen in support tickets and tweets, and just general nifty things that make you a faster, more capable technologist.

A Ruby developer with sound fundamentals, firm grasp on the industry, and innovative development approaches are all phrases inapplicable to Zach Holman. He works at GitHub, and hacks on sparkline generators, robot music DJs, and ethically frightening FaceTime + Chatroulette mashups. He blogs, he tweets, he evades his taxes.



3:30pm–3:45pm Neal Sales-Griffin

The Learn to Code Movement

Neal Sales-Griffin, The Starter League

Neal will discuss how a simple idea to teach 12 people inspired a myriad of software schools to open in the past 2 years, and what’s in store for the future of software education.

Neal Sales-Griffin is currently the founder and CEO of The Starter League, a beginner web design and development school in Chicago. Neal has worked and consulted with numerous startups and not-for-profits across multiple sectors. He has had the privilege of working with OCA Ventures and Sandbox Industries, two prominent venture firms in Chicago. Neal also serves as a board member of the Chicago chapter of International Game Developers Association.

3:45pm–4:15pm Ryan Davis

Minitest Insights

Ryan Davis

Minitest, despite its size and simplicity, is an oft-misunderstood toolset. Sandi Metz and cohort have given fantastic talks on the process of testing and what to test. This talk will focus on the testing tools themselves. Not just how to use them, but how they’re made, how they work, and what we’ve done to make them cleaner, easier to use, and easier to extend to your needs. I’ll talk about my minitest, Mike Moore’s minitest-rails, and Aaron Patterson’s minitest integration changes to rails itself.

Ryan Davis created minitest. He has been using Ruby since 2000 and is a founding member of the Seattle Ruby Brigade, the first and foremost ruby brigade in the world. In ruby/rails, he has worked on developer productivity and test automation tools such as heckle, hoe, ruby_parser, ruby2c, ruby2ruby, rubyinline, zentest, minitest, and many more.



4:30pm–5:00pm David Demaree

One Morning You Wake Up And Find Yourself Kind Of In Charge

David Demaree, Adobe Systems

Say you’re just another engineer, working, learning, delivering features. Then, one day, you notice a change: people are listening to you more, coming to you for advice or decisions, maybe even asking you to settle debates or help organize the team’s work. In short, you find yourself kind of in charge. You may not have anyone reporting to you, but you are expected to lead.

I’d like to talk a bit about what that means, and how it works in practice. How do you make the transition from writing code to helping others write code? How is leadership different from management? What’s the best investment strategy for your political capital? And finally, when you wake up and find that you can change things, how do you know when you should?

David Demaree writes code, designs interfaces, and generally works to make customers happy as a member of the Typekit team at Adobe Systems.


After Party

Join us for bowling and billiards at Seven Ten Lanes in Hyde Park.

Seven Ten Lanes
1055 E. 55th St. (55th & Ellis)
Chicago, IL 60615
Metra Electric Stop: 55th - 56th - 57th Street