Opinion: Ruby on Rails' creator says not to work so hard, but I can't afford not to.
One of my favorite industry icons delivered a keynote speech in
Portland, Ore., that while it sounds good on the surface, just would
never work for me. The saddest part about it is that he's absolutely
right, but I just can't do it. I can't afford to. It's just not in my
David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of the popular Ruby on Rails
Web development environment, told an audience of Rails developers to
basically take time out to smell the roses
Hansson was talking about how the head start that Rails has over other
development environments is not bound to last and that for Rails
developers to ensure they're up to their game, they should code less,
sleep more, read more paper and do things other than try to bill as
many hours as possible and work superhuman hours.
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Now I agree with all of that. The biggest takeaway I got from
Hansson's talk was that folks, particularly developers, ought to learn
to work smarter. That was one of Hansson's pieces of advice-that folks
learn more about different aspects of the business and even about doing
design rather than just development.
But the problem I had with the talk was that it seemed to smack of
contentment, of having arrived. I am not content and I have not
arrived. If staying up an extra hour gets me ahead of my competitor, I
will. Hansson's right in saying you pay for it the next day, but I'm
willing to pay.
I guess a lot of my views on Hansson's presentation stem from the
fact we're in different businesses. I don't have a Ruby on Rails story
template that helps make me more productive than the next reporter. I
have to work at it and put in the time and the legwork and schmoozing,
etc. My business is largely about being first, and being first often
means being connected. And being connected-in order to be first-is
often about being awake, so I have my BlackBerry with me at all times.
Of course. it was obvious that Hansson was talking to an audience of
primarily well-paid geeks who could afford to take time off and whittle
or whatever. Yeah, I ought to do that. I really ought to. And someday I
will. Maybe when my son's in a nice college and about to graduate and I
won't have to worry about paying those bills anymore. But until then I
have to hustle. As they say in the streets, I have to grind.
Working 110 percent? My people have had to do that for generations,
and not always for pay. I don't have time to smell the roses. I just
have to make sure to plant, water, prune and care for them. I gots to
I do, however, invest in being better at my gig. I read everything I
can get my hands on-particularly paper. Much of the RSS stuff is just a
nuisance to me-too much noise amongst the stuff that's really useful.
I'm right with you there, DHH. Fact is, I'm with you on most of your
ideas. Our situations are just different.
For instance, I live in Baltimore, the home of the HBO show "The
Wire." Perhaps you've seen it-it's all about life in a gritty urban
world. I have family and friends that live smack dab where some of the
hardcore scenes were drawn from, let alone filmed. I go there to visit
my peeps and give back. That's my investment. While a quick-fingered
entrepreneurial geek can rave about how keen it is to stop and think
about it all and go learn to fly a plane, I ain't got time for all
that. Sure, I could leave the 'hood and all that behind and go stay in
my suburban bubble somewhere and feel like I've arrived. Or I could
take it another way and try to make those "investments" parlay into
whatever return I might get and start some sort of business where I
might be able to do even more for the folks. But that's not where I am.
I don't have any "surplus." And if I stop putting in the time, or
wearing my game face or staying on the grind, either one of two things
are going to happen. One is y'all are gonna read about me as a
statistic, or the other is you won't be reading me at all any more
because I'll have lost my job to the next hungry reporter who is
willing to do what I do for less money because I stopped to smell the
Ironically, one of my favorite characters from The Wire is a
homicide detective who whittles and makes miniature furniture for doll
houses. And he's like 10 times the average detective. So maybe I do
have something to learn, but I'm just too stubborn. I need somebody to
teach me, because all I know is to work. My father worked until his
retirement and never missed a single day of work. That's what I come
from. So I need somebody to teach me this new way.
I'm willing to grudgingly give it a try. My thing is gardening, but
roses are a bit too fancy for me. I'll have to settle for being proud
of the grass I've put down in the bare spots in my yard.