Rails is More...

code better • have fun

One of the emerging benefits of attending a Rails Studio is membership in the Studio mailing list. The posts in that list are consistently on target.

A few weeks back, Eric Knapp posted a long message which I feel nicely sums up the difference Rails makes. It isn’t an issue of Rails being substantially different to the alternatives. It’s more that the lowered barriers to entry enable a broader base of people to benefit.

Anyway, with Eric’s permission, here’s the body of his post. It was titled

Rails is more than I thought

This past Friday I had a meeting with a client who is the director of educational research and IT at a medium sized public school district. I’m sure that you are all aware that school districts are under intense pressure to cut their budgets and expenses. My client can no longer replace any IT employee when someone leaves. They are down to one network administrator (!) and two programmers. Their programmers are just maintaining an old legacy system and really don’t do any new development anymore. New development is done by student interns from my Java program at my college. My students really struggle with all kinds of limits that are set by the district’s policies, procedures, and equipment.

My client has also been struggling with how to move to the future. He is under lots of pressure to cut even more deeply. There are those within the district who want to end all development of new things and only use off-the-shelf applications, as-is, with no customization.

My client is not an IT person and he knows nothing about programming. But, he is a very smart man and is very perceptive. My meeting started with an overview of his current development efforts with my students. Then I started sharing rails with him. I like rails and I tend to be enthusiastic. About ten minutes into my presentation he interrupted me and said, “So, this could save my IT department, couldn’t it?”

I was really taken off guard by this! I simply answered, “Yes.” He took over our meeting and started talking about all the things that he and his people would like to do, but just can’t afford. He talked about all the ideas that are shared with him by his staff and teachers that also are just too expensive. My interns have started to help him and we have worked very hard at trying to bring Java to his department. But, they are just too slow, everything takes too long to be viable anymore. I believe that we are now going to give up on Java.

We now have scheduled a kick-off meeting for maybe bringing Ruby on Rails to this school district. Later he told me that this has given him a little bit of hope. I might be able to have good geek fun while helping children at the same time.

This is exciting stuff! Rails appears to have reached some sort of critical mass of productivity where ideas that live in the hearts and minds of most people have a chance of getting out and onto the screen. I’m starting to ask students and friends what those ideas are. I am getting really interesting answers.

I hope I’m not making too much of this, there is still lots of work to be done and we will have to get grants to do it. But, there are possibilities now where there weren’t any. There is a little bit of hope. Sounds good to me. Many thanks to the rails community and to this group for helping me get to this point.