I recently got back from Elixir & Phoenix Conference in Orlando Florida. Before attending I knew next to nothing about Elixir. What I did know is that every time I would go to my local Ruby meetup I would hear more and more people talking about and experimenting with Elixir.
Even though I couldn’t have told you about all the technical advantages of using Elixir over Ruby, I could sense the excitement and energy around the language. It was a little intimidating attending my first conference on a language that I knew nearly nothing about. Still, I couldn’t wait to talk to other people about Elixir and see what they were doing with the language.
On the drive down to Orlando Steve made sure to tell me about all the strange hazing that first-time attendees are subject to. Thankfully I could tell most of what he was saying was bullshit but he did have me a little worried.
From the first talk I saw, Chris McCord’s keynote on Phoenix, I knew that I was going to have to accept a lot of these talks going over my head. Much of Chris’s talk was about the changes that he made in the Phoenix framework over the past few months. Since I had never used Phoenix before it was hard for me to grasp the significance of these changes.
One point that stuck with me was Chris’s notion that “Phoenix is not your application”. According to Chris, you should not try to put all your logic inside of the Phoenix application. Instead, you should have Phoenix make calls to your other applications that will handle the business logic.
A highlight of this talk was when Chris showed off his sketchpad app. As soon as he pulled up the app half of the audience went to the url and started drawing. This caused for a hectic but entertaining 10 minutes.
The next talk was targeted towards junior developers that are new to Elixir. The talk was titled ‘Giving up the Object-Oriented Ghost’ by Zoe Laco. In this talk Zoe had two applications that she pulled up side by side, one written in Elixir/Phoenix and one in Ruby/Rails.
For me coming from a Ruby/Rails background I found this to be extremely helpful. As she went through the application she would describe the different ways to solve problems in OO vs. Functional programming languages. I learned a lot from this talk and appreciated that they had a speaker geared more towards junior developers.
Here is a great link for anyone with a Ruby background that is interested in Elixir
Another talk that stood out to me was ‘Selling Food With Elixir’ by Chris Bell. This talk is for more advanced Elixir developers but I still found it fascinating. Chris described his experience architecting an application in Elixir and Phoenix for Cava Grill. Chris showed how him and his team built a series of services, written with OTP, that are resilient in the face of store outages, able to handle failure in isolation, and able to scale to serve an expanding restaurant chain.
He also discussed how in Rails we would have had to store all of the state of the application inside the database, but in Elixir they were able to use ETS tables. ETS is a robust in-memory store for Elixir that is capable of storing large amounts of data.
It was fascinating to hear from someone who was using Elixir in production especially from someone as good of a speaker as Chris. You can watch his talk here.
One of my favorite talks was the closing keynote by Boyd Multerer. I had never heard of Boyd, but judging from the packed room, I gathered that I was probably one of the few who hadn’t.
A little research showed that Boyd ran engineering for Xbox live as well as software engineering for the Xbox One. If you are curious about Elixir, but on the fence and unsure if you want to take the dive, I recommend watching this talk right now.
Though the talks were great my biggest take away from Elixir conference was how amazing the community is. The energy and excitement around the language was infectious. I met some great people and everyone was willing to give me some pointers on my career.
Going into this conference I had a ton of questions about the next step of my career. I loved working for LessEverything but to be honest I had no clue if these guys really knew what they were doing. (Please don’t fire me) This is nothing against Alan or Steve, it was just tough as a new developer to figure out if I was in a good position to grow and advance my career.
In addition to those fears I was also concerned that I might be wasting my time trying to learn Elixir. After all it is a relatively new language that is not being widely used in production yet. My worry was I would be hurting my future self by not focusing full time on Ruby.
After attending this conference both of these questions were put to rest.
I can’t count the number of people that would pull me aside and tell me how lucky I was to be working for the LessEverything. It happened so often I began to think Steve and Allan might have had half the people there paid off! I think everyone needs to be told once in awhile that they are on the right track. Hearing such great things about Steve, Allan. and the company from so many different well respected people made me even more excited about my future at this company.
As far as my other concern about wasting my time learning Elixir, that one was wiped out within the first day of the conference. I was swept up in all of these new and exciting ideas and concepts being thrown around. After each talk the audience would spill out into the hallways huddling up in small groups and chatting about different ways they would apply what they just learned. It was somewhat intoxicating to be around, and the anxiousness I felt about learning a new language quickly turned to excitement after the weekend was over.
All in all it was a great experience. I met some amazing people, learned some interesting things, and got to spend some time bonding with the LessEverything crew.
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