The theme of the closing keynote by Dave Thomas at the Rails Conference was Rails is Love. But there was an undertone of anxiety in the keynote, and throughout the conference really, that Ruby might somehow become unlovely.
The Ruby on Rails community has exploded. There are over 8,900 people on the Rails interest group. 1,600 people turned up for the sold-out conference. And this year, the suits and other non-developers, like myself, have begun to appear at the conference.
Dave believes the undeniable success and growth of Rails has nothing to do with technology. In fact, one of his peeves is that we seem to be endlessly repeating ourselves in some kind of slow-motion Groundhog Day repetition of the same technical solutions to the same problem. From a purely technological viewpoint, we are stuck.
Given that object oriented programming, and rich client-server applications are not new, and that Rails and Ruby have added nothing fundamentally unique to the technical mix, what’s really happening? What is driving the success of Rails and the resulting flood of interest in Rails?
The lightening speed with which Rails developers are able to develop, deploy and modify truly great applications is astounding. The reason for this is the social fabric of the Rails community that is enabled by the very tools the community is building. Even the lone programmer in some small shop in Nebraska is able to leverage the active and helpful community of Rails users quickly and effectively, in a way not seen before with other development frameworks.
Dave notes that the Rails interest lists are even a little more civil to the n00by poster than they were a year ago, and that there is a little less colorfully offensive language at the conference.
Dave is very concerned with nurturing this aspect of the Rails phenomena. He has put in the forefront the importance of giving, to the point of pushing very concrete giving to charities as a part of every Rails event; this reinforces the perception and the attitude of giving, and ultimately loving, in the Rails community.
The Rails community is all about love. Even the absurdly named http://savingtheinternetwithhate.com/, a project called Utu, by the original developer of Mongrel, Zed Shaw, is arguably a labor of love. He wants to save the Internet by promoting healthy retribution for the rude and the ruthless on the Internet.
But it’s all good, it’s just tough love. In an open mic session, Zed was asked “is there redemption” on Utu. I sure hope so, I’m imperfect, and strive to be a kinder and gentler architect daily, but frequently miss the mark.
Dave elaborated on this theme of civility, interaction and conversation in the Rails community through a quote by Ze Frank in his keynote, that the message is in the focus of the conversation. We have to talk, a lot, and keep talking. The conversation itself is as important as the content.
The anxiety is that this purposeful giving back will somehow fade as the community grows, particularly as the community begins to encompass more and more non-developers: designers, business people, administrators and “enterprisey” architects like myself. In fact, the conscious transition of Rails to the enterprise has spurred all manner of contemplation and anxiety about what this inevitable transition might do to the Rails phenomena.
Sun knows something about the importance of open communication. Our CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, has made a very public, conscious effort to increase transparency and open communication inside and outside Sun, and he leads by eloquent example. But no one, even our CEO, can issue an edict demanding all employees participate in the participation age.
He also has less influence on the flow of civilized communication than you would think. Some of the mail aliases at Sun are needlessly hostile and brutal, which only benefit the cult of the wizard. Dave had something to say to the wizards out there in the Rails community in his keynote, you are insecure. Play nice. Be humble. Do the right thing. Orthopraxy over orthodoxy.
I can relate to the concern about civilized conversation as a key aspect of every successful project I’ve been on. I have spent an inordinate amount of non-productive time getting competing factions to get out of their comfortable cubes and talk with each other. Its silly.
The Rails community is ready to spread the love, but it’s not a one-way street. Any of you non-developers out there who think they might have a Rails implementation on the horizon should start now to figure out some way of understanding and internalizing this Rails thing from your perspective. We need to meet this half-way. This means more than buying the book, this means risking flames and getting out there on the forums and lists and the IRC. It’s best we get ready for the first big Rails project to hit our data centers, on every level. The flood is coming.railsconf2007, ror, web 20