Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ruby on Rails in Singapore (finally :-)

Around a year ago I posted a long article on my blog about no Ruby programmers in Singapore. Back then I didn't manage find any programmer leave alone any company using Ruby (with or without Rails) in production. I started playing with Ruby a little less than 2 years ago and by that time I had several applications in production, and RoR had become our obvious choice for pretty much all of our new projects.

Year on, there are still not many companies using RoR here but the situation seems to be rapidly changing. Last Thursday National Library hosted a meeting of 20+ Ruby and RoR developers. Sure, 20+ may seem pathetic, considering the hopelessly sold out RailsConf and huge popularity that Ruby has gained around the world, but for the local “environment” this is really an achievement and great success for organizers (namely Doug, Sausheong and Choon Keat). It was really great to see that there are like-minded people around.

Let's cut to the chase - there were a few questions/issues raised during the meeting that I'd like address:

1) relationship with library – this question was raised by “the Rambling Librarian” Ivan, thanks to whom we were able to meet in a proper environment rather then a coffee house. I must say that I would really love if we could find ways to not only cooperate with library but find ways beneficial to more general public. We claim that we use the most advanced and cutting edge technology today and how great it is and how much fun it is, but based on the number of participants it seems that Singapore really couldn't care less. Whether it's true or not I see this as the biggest opportunity for cooperation. Library is (and should be) a perfect venue (or avenue?) for spreading this latest know-how. It will be years before it reaches formal educational system – if ever as there's no strong vendor to support the “buy-in”. In fact, I cannot think of a better opportunity to contribute to the goal set in the motto I found in library's corporate brochure: “We aim to provide Knowledge that ignites Imagination and transforms Possibility into reality”. Isn't this exactly what RoR strives to stand for? Just look at the the highlighted words – isn't this exactly how the creators and early adopters (DHH, Dave Thomas, etc.) used to sell RoR? Now unlike many other libraries in countries I lived in, NLB is highly respected among Singaporeans – and I must say rightly so (it could sure use some update of IT section – but overall it's the best library I've been a member of). As such it is in a perfect position to spread this latest knowledge through informal communities that gather around it. It brings due credibility to the scene and of course, it's up to us to show and prove that we are really worth our salt and we are worth of being NLB's partner. After all, I started RoR course in Changi Prison and I believe there's something we could do with library as well :-)

I'd suggest to meet up and discuss the possibilities and ideas – possibly together with Ivan so that we can better understand library's views and goals.

2) What's the purpose of those meetings – this question was raised by me as well as by Ivan. We discussed it quite a bit with Doug but I don't think we managed to close it on anything. Doug's idea is to simply build and grow RoR community in Singapore. I would be interested in slightly more than that. I think this roughly follows the informal divide in RoR community around the world – a divide between the free hackers inclining more to DHH and more corporate (or enterprise) developers inclining towards Dave Thomas. Doing what I do, I think it's quite clear to which category I belong. This is really not to say that one or the other is better – definitely no – they just have slightly different needs and as such they look for slightly different things. Ever since I came to Singapore (actually ever since I came to Asia 7 years ago) I've been trying to find a professional community of actual developers, people who work with the technology (whatever the technology I was using at the time). This seems to be the only one worth mentioning (so far) – I am not picking on the “sales” communities around the biggest vendors – they just weren't my cup of coffee. Thursday's meeting was a very interesting mix of people with representation from actual developers, potential developers as well as potential customers and partners. Each and every of those groups has its place and purpose in the community but all of them need and expect very different things. As such I hope we will be able to structure the meetings so that everybody can benefit and that nobody will have to sit through 2 hours of something that sounds like total gibberish to them. Again, I think this is for a longer discussion and I am very open to meet up and discuss the possibilities.

Lastly, we are a high-tech community – aren't we? All of us create huge, complicated systems every day – don't we? And yet – let's look at our presentation – just count how many times Ivan uses a word “guy” as opposed to the number of names. I think we could do much better in profiling ourselves – even the most techless business / marketing communities have websites nowadays :-)

Yes – it's a PDI (to myself as well).

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