Rails' Creator Promotes Balance

Hansson said developers should sleep more and code less.

PORTLAND, Ore.-At the RailsConf conference about the Ruby on Rails Web development framework here on May 30, Rails' creator David Heinemeier Hansson gave a rousing keynote that had him part motivator, part life coach and part therapist to a crowd of developers seemingly hanging onto his every word.

In essence, Hansson called on Rails' developers to become more like "renaissance" developers and take the time to learn more about the profession rather than just code galore. He admonished the audience to learn more about the business side of the technology industry, as well as to learn design. Perhaps most interesting is that Hansson told the developers they ought to program less and get more sleep.

For his part, Hansson was trying to tell developers how to become better people, but also better programmers by broadening their horizons.

In his talk entitled "The Great Surplus," Hansson spoke of how Rails after five years still maintains a "lot of surplus productivity over other languages," although mainstream environments dominate the industry. Yet, the Rails' surplus is not unique in that other environments also provide surplus productivity, "but they don't have whatever it is that makes it go green; we have something we can sell."

Hansson said what makes Rails a blue-chip technology is actually a handful of things, including that the Rails' community has confessed commonality, ceded flexibility, and decided tech matters. He cited Ruby creator Yukihiro Matsumoto's motto that Ruby is designed to make programmers happy. Regarding ceding flexibility, Hansson said that "people like choice a lot better than having to choose."

However, the bad news is that the surplus will not last forever, Hansson said. He predicted one of three things will happen, including that the mainstream companies and technologies will copy Rails and the productivity surplus provided by Ruby on Rails will be over. However, "I don't have a lot of confidence this will happen," he said.

Another possibility is that another dramatic alternative arrives that provides better productivity for Web developers. "But you can't out-Rails Rails with a 5- to 10-percent increase in efficiency," Hansson said. Although he noted this was a more likely scenario.

The third possibility is that Rails becomes mainstream, "and you lose your surplus because everybody else is working on it, too."

Essentially, Hansson said Rails' days at the top of the Web development productivity and efficiency heap are numbered. But instead of exhorting developers to continue to put in exorbitant amounts of hours, work 110 percent and try to become superhuman programmers, Hansson said just the opposite: Overworking yourself can only lead to "fatigued, disinterested and passionless" developers.

Instead, Hansson said Rails' developers should be "doing a Dubai" and investing in something that can outlast Rails.

"Invest in yourself and in becoming a better 'mensch,'" he said. "With this surplus, you should have that extra time to be able to invest."

Some programmers are 10 times better than the average developer, he said. Yet people are not born rock stars. "You learn everything; the thing is you have to learn to do that," Hansson said.