The Ruby Community: The Next Version

Posted on May 18, 2015 - Subscribe - Home

The Ruby community is and has been moving in the wrong direction for some time. It has taken me some time to acknowledge this and more time to pinpoint why and what can be done. The community is facing large technical and mindset issues. We must reorientate ourselves to survive and thrive.

The technical choices and mindset that reinforces them create large amounts of long term technical debt. The ecosystem is not producing libraries and programs that obey fundamentally sound software design principles. The ecosystem is riddled with large projects that do not respect architecture boundaries, or are overly coupled to many things, rely on monkey patching third party code, and the list goes on. It is sad to see projects collapsing under technical debt at a high rate. Businesses are also suffering due to bad engineering practices. There are business models that exist to specifically clean up this mess. We can do better.

Ruby developers are used to being spoonfed integrated solutions. Many new and intermediate developers immediately reach for gem install business-logic, expect to configure something then ship. This creates a cycle of focusing on immediate needs and not long term sustained development. How many of us consider ramifications of using a library or other decision 6 months from now, or even two years from now? The long term result is many Ruby developers cannot shoulder technical responsibility or code ownership. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find developers who have experience implementing business logic, low level technical requirements, or cannot survive without frameworks.

Matz created Ruby to make programmers happy. He made programmers happy by creating superb APIs (like the Enumerable module), powerful metaprogramming constructs, and a true OO implementation peppered with the best functional programming bits. Programmers were happy because they could produce working software quickly. Matz's initial words have stuck with us and influenced our culture. Today the culture prefers pretty code over technical correctness. This is evident in proliferation of DSLs instead of well designed and reusable APIs. Ruby's metaprogramming support is the most powerful language feature. Unfortunately it is routinely overused to create overly complex and opaque solutions through implicit dependencies. All of these factors are turning developers into unhappy Ruby developers.

A conversation is starting in private circles. It is a backroom chat happening at conferences and small corners of the internet. There are mumbles of dissatisfaction and wanting for something different. But it is a private mumble. Why is it private? It may be because people are scared to broach the topic since it may be seen as biting the hand that feeds them. It may also because the current thought leaders do not see it as a problem--which is more concerning. It is unfortunate that is not more public conversation. People need to voice their opinions so we can work together to improve.

The antidote is painful. It requires a complete reorientation. This is not easy. I know because I have tested it on myself and I know others have as well. It is drastic but we must act now. There will never be a better Ruby ecosystem if we do not.

Experienced developers must lead by example to create small well designed libraries that use simple and explicit code constructs to compose larger stacks capable of sustaining development across long time periods. We must actively encourage better engineering practices among our peers and actively discourage inadequate technical solutions. We must teach beginner and intermediate developers how to avoid these pitfalls so they in turn can teach others to build more fundamentally sound solutions.

These changes will slowly chip away at many of the issues plaguing us today. We will emerge stronger, better, and more informed community. I am convinced that adopting this way can build the next version our community. It transformed my development habits and I have witnessed independent transformations in others. We must use these points to reorientate ourselves:

Will you reorientate yourself and build the next version of the Ruby community?

P.S.: This post and the wider ruby ecosystem is discussed in a great podcast!

— Adam Hawkins