I survived a Rails Rumble

Posted in rails, ruby by elisehuard on August 25, 2009

“Why do I do these things to myself ?” is a question that came to mind this weekend, during the Rails Rumble. The principle of the weekend is simple: you develop an app in 48 hours, from midnight GMT on friday to midnight GMT on sunday.

Hendrik, Yoni and I came together at the office i share to have a go (Tom helped us for a few hours). Hendrik did the front-end integration, Yoni the design and CSS, Tom is a Rails developer. We’d brainstormed beforehand and came up with a nice and simple concept: Same Same, an application that allows you to create before-after stories with pictures. Loads of potential for storytelling (before-after haircut, after 1 beer, 2 beers, 3 beers, before-after food fight, the stages of pregnancy) .

Well, it took caffeine, chocolate, pizza, blood, sweat and tears, but we made it, goddammit.

Lessons learned:

  • I do my best refactoring in my sleep, or in the shower. None of which were available in any great quantities during the weekend
  • Simple is better: in this case, adding more functionality made the application more difficult to understand. We probably should throw out the voting mechanism, and add a big and obvious ‘next’ button.
  • Lots of little technical things, like Rails templates I hadn’t used before, jQuery live validation, uploadify, …

What I’d do differently, if i did it again:

  • more than 1 (full-time) developer is necessary. You need a pair, or at least someone to do sanity checks – by hour 25 you’re starting to lose your edge.
  • Tests: i threw out testing thinking I’d gain time, but I didn’t – test sets immediately show breakages, and these occur even in the most sane situations, which this wasn’t.
  • sleep more, like 6 hours in the middle – i slept 3. What you lose in time, you gain in focus. When i woke up on monday, i knew how to solve the app’s most obvious bugs in about 3 code lines … frustrating πŸ™‚ No patching is allowed after the 48 hours …

I liked working with Hendrik and Yoni, and I think we made a good team, overall. We should have recorded our conversations from hour 45, it got fairly surreal. It was a good experience, one that, I think, made me a better developer. I’m intending to pick up Same Same later, rework it a little bit and put it online in a proper manner.

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8 Responses

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  1. Hendrik said, on August 25, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    As of hour 45 I was unable to understand anything you were trying to communicate to me.

    I agree with all the things you said. It was a good experience, we made some mistakes. We needed to make it simpler but got hung on featuritis and that didn’t do the app any good.

    Overall I think it was a fun weekend.

    Oh and a sys admin + extra rails developer was what we needed.

    Next year, we’ll win that belt πŸ˜‰


  2. Philip Paeps said, on August 26, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Glad to hear I’m not the only one who refactors in the shower. πŸ™‚
    Also don’t forget the power of a good long walk.

  3. Fritzek said, on August 26, 2009 at 8:53 am

    you described the purpose of the competition – learn to make it better. sometimes it’s necessary to learn the hard way and rails rumble is the hard way. But the fun version πŸ˜‰
    You’ve plumbed a nice app and it shows the potential. It tells a story from the very first beginning and is not triggering me to register before I can see what’s intended. The UI is nice and self-explaining (not all app share this). It was fun to follow the progress.
    keep me informed what happens after the rumble result presentation
    best regards

  4. elisehuard said, on August 26, 2009 at 9:06 am

    thanks Fritzek πŸ™‚ Your feedback is appreciated (so far it’s the only one :/ )

  5. Ghosty said, on August 29, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Some personal experience from a past lan-party gamer life confirms the ‘3 hours sleep is not enough’. Now I use as a rule of thumb that you should sleep at least 5 hours, if you do less you will get up feeling worse than when you did not sleep at all … so if you plan to do less than 5 it’s better to just pull through the night and wait till morning comes, sun adds that you will feel sharper again (but of course not recommended to skip more than 1 night)

  6. Wout. said, on September 23, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    That’s a lesson I learned as well.
    If you’re struggling with something just step back from the screen for a couple of minutes.

    And my best ideas come to me when I wake up.
    I guess you solve a lot of problems while you’re sleeping πŸ™‚

  7. Robert Gravina said, on November 30, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    Yeah I’ve come to think that a good nights sleep (i.e. 7 hours or so, whatever you normally get) is the best thing to do even with tight deadlines. You might save three hours by sleeping less, but you’ll feel like crap all the next day and like you’ve discovered not be anywhere near as sharp. I’ve even been in situations where I’ve even had to struggle to stay motivated because the need to sleep was so strong. As in, I know I need to do this but I need to sleeep πŸ™‚

    At least this works for me. YMMV.

  8. elisehuard said, on December 3, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    Same here. some of us just need that REM.

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