Can Ruby, Rails Make Developers Shine in a Downturn?

Will specialty coding skills help developers ride out the financial crisis? Some say environments like Ruby and Ruby on Rails may enable developers to fare better in times of financial stress because they can do more with less and be more productive. Others say that argument is a stretch.

When the going gets tough ... well, you know the saying ... the tough get going. However, in the case of software development, in times of financial crisis-like we're in-when belt-tightening begins, some developers and development shops might be better suited to roll with the turbulent times than others.

These folks include Ruby and Ruby on Rails developers, and other programmers who focus on dynamic languages or provide specialty programming skills that many people claim enable them to do more with fewer resources.

Whether that's totally true or not, I don't know. Ruby and Ruby on Rails developers typically boast of large productivity gains from moving to those environments-whether they get performance gains is another story.

"I think Rails developers are much better positioned to weather the storm as they generally stand for delivering more with less faster," said David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of the Ruby on Rails Web application framework. "It's the traditional mainstream environments that are going to see much more pressure to deliver."

Lance Walley, CEO of Engine Yard, a Ruby and Ruby on Rails hosting and deployment service provider, said, "A slowing economy will likely lead to constrained IT budgets. There's a good chance this will have a positive impact on the uptake of open-source options, such as Linux, Ruby and Rails."

Click here to read about Engine Yard's drive to use Ruby and Ruby on Rails to build large, scalable applications.

Indeed, Walley said, in Engine Yard's experience, "developing Web applications with Ruby and Rails results in a five-to-six-times project time reduction and a project completion probability increase from the industry average of 10 percent to well over 50 percent. We see this over and over from Engine Yard customers. With many hundreds of customers, this is not a fluke of one customer or a few customers but real, proven savings."

Echoing Hansson, Walley added, "When times are lean, IT managers are forced to do more with less. Ruby and Rails present a way to do just that. Developers are [rarer] and more expensive in terms of hourly rates, but projects can be cut down from 30 man-months to six man-months. That's a huge cost savings, plus it's always good to be done sooner than later."

Meanwhile, Doug Levin, the CEO and founder of a new stealth startup company and founder of several other startups, including Black Duck Software six years ago, said:

"Rails is very hot and Erlang is super-hot at this time. This is because there is more expertise in the market, people are understanding their strengths and weaknesses, more support is available and these technologies have recently improved. Specialty coding shops always do well. They will net out positively during these times: Some companies will avoid them because of the risk and uncertainty; some will double down with new projects because they see opportunity."

Even non-Ruby or open-source-related observers said they believe there could be a connection between the language/framework platform and productivity and savings.

For instance, Jonathan Lindo, CEO and co-founder of Replay Solutions, said he also believes specialty coding shops could fare well in a down economy. "Companies that have IT requirements but don't have the stomach to hire a team or build an off-shore operation may increasingly turn to specialty shops to deliver smaller, well-scoped projects," Lindo said. "I believe there is good opportunity here for trusted shops to do well."

Hansson added:

"I think now is exactly the time to follow what we've been preaching with Getting Real for all these years. Build less software with fewer resources! Build half a product, not a half-assed one. Don't do preemptive hiring. Charge money for your software. Try to 'underdo' your competition."

Moreover, Engine Yard's Walley predicted, "If there is a downturn in IT spending, it may very well be a boost to Ruby and Rails and companies like Engine Yard, as well as the many Engine Yard customers who are specialized Ruby and Rails development shops."