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January 13, 2008

About Rails and Ghettos

This is a post that has been a couple weeks in the making (in my head), but the more that time passes by the less interested I am in writing it. Nevertheless, there are a couple of points I want to get out there both for the record and for possible discussion.

First of all, it is obvious that Zed was using that ugly word in its current derogatory sense, and I'll keep that sense in my writing as well. According to the dictionary one of the definitions of ghetto is "an isolated group" or "a situation that resembles a ghetto especially in conferring inferior status or limiting opportunity".

In the greater realm of IT?

Does that definition ring true of Rails in the greater realm of Information Technology, or even just the programming world? I don't think so. The Rails community is not an isolated group, having members across a wide, diverse, range of enterprises and groups of individuals, from the highest-paid professional consultants, to the humblest program-for-fun enthusiasts.

What about inferior status, or opportunity limitations? That doesn't ring true either. If anything, the mainstream fascination with dynamic languages was ignited by Ruby on Rails a couple of years ago, which gives popular Rails practitioners a disproportionate amount of influence (ahem) in the programming world, and a prominent voice in online conversations about the future of our craft.

From my own (admittedly-biased) viewpoint, Rails is continuing to explode in popularity. Among other things, my book The Rails Way is selling extremely well, and we just had to do a rush reprint because demand exceeded even our optimistic estimates. It's currently a top-seller on Safari (a good indicator of traditional corporate developer interest levels), and has been hovering in the hundreds ranking on all of Amazon.com.

But where are the jobs?

To those that would use the number of Rails-related listings on major job boards as evidence of opportunity limitations, I point out that due to extraordinary demand for Ruby talent in the marketplace, it is almost pointless to advertise Ruby job positions via conventional channels. The way to find Rails talent is via targeted Ruby job boards, word of mouth, and blogging. Counts on mainstream job boards are meaningless at best, misleading at worst.

Most Rails developers worth their salt are contracting, simply because it is very lucrative right now. Rates for premium Rails talent is now in the neighborhood of $200/hour and continuing to climb. Average Rails talent costs at least $100/hour.  The work is finding them, not vice-versa. Why are clients willing to pay so much? Because they know we are a cost-effective bunch, doing the same amount of work (as individuals) that would take multiple traditional programmers in other mainstream languages, and with higher-quality as the  "icing on the cake".

How about just in the Ruby community?

Considering Zed strictly within the confines of the Ruby community, and not in the much bigger sphere of programming, I think he's still wrong. Like a newbie OO programmer violating the rule prefer composition over inheritance, he made an is-a/has-a mistake. What is true perhaps, metaphorically, is that Rails has ghettos, and Zed made the mistake of attributing qualities of a ghetto to the whole.

What I"m trying to say is that there are groups of people that have come over to work in Rails, the city of Rails if you will, who have settled into neighborhoods that can be very dangerous (monetarily) to inexperienced clients.

But why can't Zed get a job then?

What put me off about Zed's rant was not so much the content, but rather that it achieved such wide circulation. It wasn't meant to be read so widely, and I don't believe that he had destructive intentions when he wrote it. I lived and worked with Zed for five months during 2007, a time in which we became (and remain) good friends. I swear to you that Zed is a good, friendly guy, in person. (His created, over-the-top, narcissist online persona is another story!) The rant was filled with tons of inside jokes and commentary that really only make sense to other clued-in Ruby people, stuff that comes across as just mean, stupid or crazy to everyone else.

For instance, a significant percentage of readers obviously understood from the rant that Zed is unemployed, starving, and/or stark-raving mad. All three could not be further from the truth. Zed is happily employed by a major, household-name financial institution in New York City, where he comes into work everyday with a nice shirt and tie, and leads a Rails (yes, Rails) development team. Of course, none of this is news to those of us that really know him, but the rest of the world got a totally different story.

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