Why Rails Feels like a Developers Only Playground

sample rails code

sample rails code


I’m a designer and I work on Ruby on Rails projects or at least I’d like to. I actually competed in the Rails Rumble 09. The issue is continuing to find any work designing projects for Rails. This despite the fact that I’m told on a regular basis there is a shortage of designers working with Rails.

So here’s the question…why does the Ruby on Rails world still seem like a playground reserved for developers only?

Job Ads for Developers

Look around at the work advertised for Ruby on Rails. Do you see any job ads for designers that work with Ruby on Rails? Sure there are a few but it’s what like 2% of the total compared to the jobs looking for developers? When confronted with this fact it’s easy to dismiss the shortage of designers so often spoken of. Sure you say there’s work but no one knows where it is.

Documentation

Rails documentation always assumes a certain level of knowledge. Knowledge that is really the pervue of developers.

I know the lead developer of Datamapper we’re in the Fv.rb together. In response to questions on how to switch from Activerecord to Datamapper in a Rails project he created a commit by commit conversion which he referred me to when I decided to work on an app. Figured why not use Datamapper when the project lead is around for questions.

Unfortunately the commit by commit directions still leave some information out. Point one, where is the rails_datamapper plugin? Go head try to search for that text specifically. Yeah that’s right you find lots of info on Rails and Datamapper but the actual plugin?? Nope.

I know that Dan acknowledges that documentation is a weak point and that’s great. He wants to do something about the state of Datamapper documentation. Unfortunately it seems that all rails projects are in this state. I just happen to be picking on Datamapper right now because I know Dan. It seems like the Rails world been in this state for a long time and there doesn’t seem to be any change on the horizon.

‘Just a Designer’

Yeah the guys I work with at the Fv.rb are joking, but otherwise it seems to be a mentality that goes through dev’s heads. They can’t design but don’t want to take the bit of extra time to help someone get up to speed. Most designers are more than smart enough, and many are willing, to learn some new technologies if someone is willing to give them a helping hand.

Unfortunately most developers seem to think that you’re “just a designer.” Sure designers do arty things but most people are smart enough to learn web development if only they have the interest. A helping hand is all most people need.

Developers Interest Wasted

RTFM. Really RTFM. Yeah that’s what I was told when I was in the Spree IRC channel. Now I realize I’m not the best Rails Developer out there and I may have asked a simple question, but I had read the manual. I had spent a week going through the manual and I still wasn’t clear on a point but wanted to make sure I set my development environment the best way possible. So when I asked my question I was told to RTFM. I wasn’t even provided with other material to read as suggested in a recent article of Rails Magazine.

Lucky for me I attend a local Ruby Brigade so I had some other people to ask the same question. They were able to tell me the difference between running the Gem version and running from source in a few minutes and why I should do it one way or the other.

The reality is that I know that IRC channels are filled with people asking silly questions. I know I didn’t start off with an introduction and experience level or anything like that, but really is IRC a time for that? I use the same Nick everywhere. My name is on the Rails Rumble 09. I wasn’t asking a question that I hadn’t looked for, so why the response?

The Solution

So how can we help Rails be a bit more friendly to the designers among us? How about we make sure that documentation contains portions that don’t read like a cell phone contract. Let’s make sure that we have an extra measure of patience when questions get asked. As Yehuda mentioned:

The problem is that a new developer simply has no conceptual model for the problem at all.

How about helping the new developer develop their conceptual models so they can help themselves. Let’s teach a man to fish. How about provide a link to the reading material needed then if the question comes back give a helping hand.

Yeah those suggestions might be a bit simplistic but lets at least start somewhere.

6 Comments

  1. Robby Russell February 16, 2010 at 9:02 am #

    Curtis,

    Having been part of the Rails community for 5+ years now.. I agree (to an extent). We’ve always had designers on staff that work within the Ruby on Rails code base. In fact, this is a requirement for any designer that we hire/work with. I believe the problem is the big problem is that many developer-focused agencies see design as a nice-to-have and/or something you can use to polish an application, which is completely the opposite of how our team approaches it.

    Coincidently. we just posted a new episode (last night) on our podcast where we share how we went about hiring a designer. Perhaps it’ll be useful to you and/or others looking to find with within a Rails team.

    Beyond this, I wonder how the Rails community compares to other development environments. I’ve worked in .NET and PHP shops where design was even less discussed… but that’s based on my experience.

  2. Curtis McHale February 16, 2010 at 9:23 am #

    It’s funny many of the good ROR developers I know say they start with the UI and design before they start to code at all. In fact I continually hear that then when the rubber meets the road it seems that people are actually tacking on the ‘pretty’ after the code is almost done. As you said this is bass akwards.

    User interaction starts with the interface and the design. It’s not something that should be left to the end.

    I’ll check out your podcast for sure. Thanks.

    As for the other development communities I’m not sure how the interaction changes. I do a lot of work with WordPress right now and there is a strong emphasis on design and the users interaction with site content.

  3. Felix Jimenez February 16, 2010 at 9:30 am #

    This isn’t actually specific to Rails, but to every major web framework. The M and C in MVC both focus on the developer, so the designer is only left with lonely little V. I totally agree on Rails’ docs, though they use to be much worse and there’s still a huge amount of magic in Rails that really needs to be explained in plain English.

    As far as job ads? I’ve heard similar arguments where companies said things like “Why would we use [lesser known framework] when there’s only 10,000 developers for it instead of [better known framework] which has 100,000 developers?” You only need to hire a handful of developers, not 10,000, certainly not 100,000. In a similar vein, designers who would be working with major frameworks would probably be doing so as a full time employee, so they only need one job, not 60.

  4. Curtis McHale February 16, 2010 at 9:46 am #

    @Felix

    Good point on the MVC and what is left of designers but I do have to disagree with you on the designers working in house if they work on a major language. You could say that about developers too. All of the Rails devs I know work for themselves. Sure it’s not a huge sample but why does a designer have to work in house while a developer doesn’t. I have worked on Rails projects and never as the in house designer always on contract.

    All of these developers also acknowledge that they aren’t designers and need a designer to work with them. They’re not looking to hire someone into their one man company. As Robby said design often seems to be something that gets ‘tacked’ on at the end instead of something that is thoughtfully considered from the beginning. The reality is that designers and developers should be working together on the project right from the beginning. That is what will bring the best results for the user.

  5. Sean Schofield February 24, 2010 at 5:55 am #

    Unfortunately IRC is never the best way to ask a question. Its full of people asking their urgent questions and unfortunately also filled with jerks since its difficult to moderate. As creator of the Spree project I’m sorry if anyone told you to RFTM. That’s just rude. If someone is being lazy we generally just ignore them. If its a legit question (even if it’s in the FM) we usually link to the manual or try to be helpful.

    When it comes to spree, you might have better luck with the spree-user mailing list. Most of the core people hang out there and try to answer questions when can. Sometimes your question will go unanswered because we only have so much time in the day but we try to discourage rude behavior.

    • Curtis McHale February 24, 2010 at 8:46 am #

      @sean thanks for replying. I personally am totally not opposed to sending links to question askers with the answers. We should be asking people to learn more themselves instead of just relying on a quick fix they don’t totally understand. I also understand that in any community there will be rude people and nice people so I don’t hold it against the Spree community in general.

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