Chicago- Day 2- Getting Real Workshop

I woke up, got ready, checked out of the hotel, stashed my luggage in my car and headed out to find the Gleacher Center. After walking a few blocks in the wrong direction (ahem) I found the right street and ended up… at the loading dock. Apparently there are some two level parts of Chicago. I was on the right street, just on the lower level.

Imagine sixty geeks sitting in a room, the vast majority with Macs, and you have an idea what it was like. There was a documentary about an architect playing as a prelude. The continental breakfast was way better than the hotel (unfortunately I had eaten at the hotel). I grabbed some real OJ (thank god – the minute maid crap at Embassy Suites was killing me – I am a total OJ snob) and a Coke to start my morning right 😉

The workshop was great. Although I have heard a lot of their ideas and mantras in bits an pieces on their blogs and by listening to various interviews, it was good to have it all in a cohesive and entertaining presentation.

They allowed us to use a pre-release of Campfire (online chat done right) during the entire workshop! This allowed us to chat amongst ourselves, have a running commentary (which got almost Pentecostal during David’s session), and talk to the 37s folks not actively presenting. Read my Campfire post for more info.

The presentation style was very natural- short phrases really big on screen fleshed out in a natural conversational style. Lots of laughs were had and everyone enjoyed themselves. The room was mostly entrepreneurs and people from small companies so some of 37signals more controversial ideas (no functional spec, don’t wire frame, etc) were widely accepted and there was little to no pushback from participants.

David Heinemeier Hansson (creator of Ruby on Rails) was a lot of fun. As usual, he showed gorgeous ROR code and talked about the advantages of being a happy programmer, working smarter instead of harder, and “kicking ass angel style.� He talked about how PHP is the devil and other assorted good versus evil comparisons.

This is part of the reason for my recent decision to switch. I realized that I really want to use ROR for personal development – that it will make me a happier programmer, and to really be happy using ROR I need to be on OS X using TextMate. So… here I go!

Lunch was amazing- the event was catered by Wolfgang Puck catering. I regret not sitting with the 37s crew – I was about to, hesitated, and then didn’t. They all sat together which was a bit intimidating (I wish they had spread out more). Others did sit with them and had great conversations I’m sure. I had some good conversations at my table.

The afternoon delved into more of the business side of things- customer support and marketing among others. It ended with “What we might have wrong� – not surprising for 37s – they definitely don’t think they have found the only way, or even the right way to do everything. Some would say it takes guts to stand in front of 55 people who just paid to hear you talk and list off things you could be wrong about. I’d say it takes more guts (and a healthy does of ego and deception) to not do that.

I found myself looking hard at the last few months of my life- realizing that the joy had gone out of programming for me in many ways. I also realized that simply building web sites for clients as a freelance gig was not a challenge for me anymore and that I really needed to stop. I still enjoy my day job as it allows me to flex more of my muscles and really be involved in the strategy for a site.

The next challenge for me is launching a public web app – a really useful (and hopefully profitable) web app. I’ve built them as internal projects for clients and employers, but never for me. I’ll be keeping my day job and will be building some web apps there (some for limited release and hopefully some for wider release).

One of my favorite momens of the day was their mantra: “Half way, not half ass.” I really identified with this as I struggle to start things (being a procrastinator) and I never want to do them half ass (being a perfectionist) which can be paralyzing at times. Realizing that getting half way is better than not even starting is a freeing concept. I had heard it before, but I think this time it sunk in for good.

So to sum up: the workshop rocked, DHH is my hero, I’m switching to Mac and ROR, and I hope to be a happier programmer and first time entrepreneur in 2006.