Why Rails Feels like a Developers Only Playground

[caption id="attachment_1111" align="alignright" width="250" caption="sample rails code"]sample rails code[/caption]
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.


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.