The (understandable) arrogance of the Rails team

Back in March, I had the pleasure of attending a No Fluff Just Stuff conference in Danvers, MA. I really enjoyed it and learned a ton about the hot technologies these days.

One of the people I went to see was Dave Thomas. His list of accomplishments is extraordinary. In addition to being the author of the pickaxe ("Programming Ruby") and the main co-author on the definitive Rails book ("Agile Web Development with Rails"), he also wrote "The Pragmatic Programmer" with Andy Hunt and then built a publishing company to sell it. See The Pragmatic Programmers web site for details.

In person he's a great speaker. He's witty and clever, with lots of amusing anecdotes to tell. He also is not afraid to take on the dysfunctional development practices in the industry. He gave the keynote speech at the conference, talking about cargo cults and other stupid practices in software development.

As a not-unrelated aside, if you watch the Rails introductory video, you get to see David Heinemeier Hansson (the creator of the framework) build an app in twenty minutes. During the presentation, he continually makes comments that I find but startling and wonderful. I love it when that happens. I really enjoy finding out that everything I knew was either wrong or a vast oversimplification of the truth. His arguments in favor of dynamic typing, and convention over configuration, and allowing Ruby code right in the view pages are really fun.

IHMO, a lot of his comments have a similar flavor. They feel like, if giving you this freedom means you might shoot yourself in the foot, then the answer isn't to take away the freedom. Then answer is not to shoot yourself in the foot! It's a very liberating attitude, especially when you see how productive it can be.

There's a problem, however, and this comes up with both DHH and with Dave Thomas.  They obviously feel they know better than everyone else.  They're obviously tired of defending their correctness.  They also are beseiged by stupid questions on a regular basis.  The result, unfortunately, is that they start to get dismissive of outside opinions.

More than once during his presentations, Dave Thomas said, "is anyone using <insert technology here>?  God forbid," or words to that effect.  Sometimes he trashed a technology that was being discussed at the same conference, with the creator of that technology in the building.  DHH recently at the Canada for Rails conference put up a slide that told all people who didn't like the Rails approach to f-off (I'm deliberately not linking to that).

This isn't good.  I've been around some of the most brilliant people in the world, and there's never a good enough reason for that sort of dismissive arrogance.  It always, always, always comes back to bite you.

I believe that Rails is already bigger than any one individual, and maybe bigger than any one team.  But this isn't a pretty sight.  A little humility goes a long way.  I'm glad they're shaking up the established wisdom and I'm very glad they've been so successful with their innovations.  But a smack-down is coming, and I'm sad about it. 

About Ken Kousen
I teach software development training courses. I specialize in all areas of Java and XML, from EJB3 to web services to open source projects like Spring, Hibernate, Groovy, and Grails. Find me on Google+ I am the author of "Making Java Groovy", a Java / Groovy integration book published by Manning in the Fall of 2013, and "Gradle Recipes for Android", published by O'Reilly in 2015.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: