Ruby never powered a revolution

Published Aug 2, 2011

I just saw a post in my tweet stream by Derek Neighbors in which he asserts that todays Rubyists are a “drone army”: > The leaders have disappeared.  The second and third wave are just implementors. They are not idealistic.  The Merb team emerged full of new ideas and a swagger of yesterday but all that died when they merged back into Rails. > > It used to be about changing the world.  Now it’s just about tools.  Workflows are broken and complex.  We fix them with tools instead of ideas.  Regional Ruby talks are littered with talks about tools or non Ruby ideas.  No one is talking about ideals and communities of change. > … > We have become the drone army.  We are losing. > Derek Neighbors

I immediately took offense to this post, but I couldn’t quite pin down where the emotion was coming from. I asked myself if Derek was right?

I decided he was wrong.

Ruby was never about revolution, Ruby is about making us, as developers, happy. For many of us it was a language whose syntax, expressiveness and quirks touched the right nerves. It was the feelings we got about the language that made us want to use it. It wasn’t it’s speed (lulz), it wasn’t it’s libraries and it sure wasn’t its popularity. For many of the people that have been using Ruby for a long time, at one point they dreamed of getting a job that paid them to write Ruby. Today they are plenty of jobs.

And, mostly due to Rails, Ruby is a language that is still (rapidly) attracting new and exciting people to our community. All of these people bring new ideas and highlight unknown pains.

I'm firmly in the camp that believes most new Rails developers today are poor Rubyists. But, I believe its our responsibility to (nicely) teach those people what the practices and paradigms our community has adopted are. It's also worth noting that some of the oldest members of the Ruby community are still here, and still helping as much as they can. Spend some time on #ruby-lang, you'll see.

At the heart of Derek’s argument it would seem that the abundance of tools, and the creation of those and new tools or workflows are somehow unrelated to changing the status quo or spreading new ideas. I don’t understand this argument. I get a smile whenever someone decides that a tool doesn’t fit their needs so they make their own. I get exited whenever someone brings a new idea to Ruby or is unhappy about the way a library/application they use works so they fix it.

Derek also has a point about the abundance of “non Ruby ideas” at regional ruby events. Over the past year I agreed with him… until the weekend at Cascadia Ruby Conf. I had the pleasure of listening to John Barnette talk about the roller coaster of stress, physical & mental exhaustion and the blood, sweat and tears he was pouring into a startup.

It was at that moment that I realized that, getting up and standing in front of 100 of his peers to discuss that was exactly something our community has and always should support.

John Barnette never “revolutionized” Ruby, or software engineering or the world. John uses Ruby as a tool in his personal revolutions. We all use Ruby as a tool.

It could be a startup, it could be a game, it could be that they just wanted to see if something is possibly (cough Phuby cough). And just like John, there are countless other developers using Ruby to change their corner or the world.

With Ruby, we all do it a little happier than most.

Derek is a wonderful guy that has done amazing things for his community in Phoenix. This should not be misread as an attack on him or his ideas, I just disagree.