Learning from 37Signals
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I’ve been following the unique style of 37 signals for several years now and I believe they have come up with some very sound business practices, both in their direction as a company in developing web products and in how they promote a creative and motivational environment for their employees. In the interview I linked to below, Jason discusses many of these principles from trying to let each other work without distraction (avoiding meetings and working in the same room), to improving team collaboration using web tools (like Campfire), shortening work weeks, and streamlining development cycles.

Jason discusses his views of not needing Venture Capital, at least at the beginning. He discusses simple design, not watching your competition, not planning too far in advance, and not spending a lot of time up front designing and planning but instead doing and learning from the outcomes.

If you’ve listened to or read Jason or 37 signals in the past there isn’t much new here, but their thinking is so far outside the stuffy and constraining boxes of the Enterprise and corporate America, that you really can’t hear this enough. I hope it catches on, and I continue to try and preach the same principles and put them in practice in my own projects. I think many people instinctively recoil away from some of these ideas, but I urge you to resist the comfort of, “we’ve always done it this way…it must be working”, and instead consider the principles behind these ideas and the desired outcome of some of this new way of thinking and doing business. I’ve experienced first hand the flip side of these practices in the IT corporate world for the last 15 years. It never ceases to amaze me how every corporation does the same thing with the same results over and over again, including wasting employees time, working on large projects with huge complicated processes that burn time and money and burn out their employees, needless bloated meetings, emphasizing quantity of communication over quality, treating employees like worker bees or worse yet children by requiring them to be in a certain location at a certain time clearly showing them you have no trust in them, and by discouraging their individual thoughts and creative inputs.

I’ve worked with many employees with great potential who were figuratively bound and gagged, stripped of participation and thereby emotional involvement in the project, which demoralizes and prematurely burns out the employee. 37signals does exactly the opposite and you can see it by following the employees of the company, seeing the quality of their projects, and the passion the leaders of the team speak and write with.

IT and Rails Employment still strong
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Despite unemployment rates increasing across the country to the highest point in five years, IT unemployment is unchanged and is as low as it was in 2000/2001, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics as referenced here (and shown on a nice graph.)

In the past IT was seen as a supplemental skill set. When income was high, business would invest in IT by hiring more IT employees, giving raises and bonuses, and spending money on more training, software and hardware. When low, the opposite occurs. However, many more companies today rely on IT for the entire business as compared with the past when IT was there to assist and create internal reports and other “nice-to-haves”. Now more corporations than ever actually make money from the work of their IT professionals and because of this they cannot cut them as easily as in the past.

As for Rails developers specifically, some feel the hurting economy will help Rails developers. As companies need more IT work, but have less operating income and less venture capital, they may look for shorter development cycles and outsourcing as opposed to funding large internal Enterprise applications often based on more time consuming and less agile coding frameworks.

Recently the FiveRuns blog shared their opinion:

Rails shops are built to do more with less. It’s part of our DNA to be more agile, more nimble, and more productive than developers using “legacy” tools.

They provide other reasons for Rails opportunities being on the rise, including the lower cost to deploy and host Rails applications.

eWeek.com reported David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of the Ruby on Rails, as saying:

I think Rails developers are much better positioned to weather the storm as they generally stand for delivering more with less faster. It’s the traditional mainstream environments that are going to see much more pressure to deliver.

Lance Walley, CEO of Engine Yard, added:

A slowing economy will likely lead to constrained IT budgets. There’s a good chance this will have a positive impact on the uptake of open-source options, such as Linux, Ruby and Rails.

Read the linked to articles from above for more opinions on why Rails developers should continue to see lots of opportunities. At the recent Tampa Brigade Ruby meetup it certainly sounded as though there was more opportunity than there were developers, and I’ve heard the same thing from several Tampa Bay recruiters now. Let’s hope it stays that way.

What has your experience been so far?

RubyConf 2008
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RubyConf 2008.png
I will be attending RubyConf in Orlando in November. I’m looking forward to it. I won’t be able to stay for the third day, but below are the classes I currently plan to attend on Thursday and Friday. Contact me if you are planning to go too!

Thursday

9:00 – 10:15
Keynote
10:25 – 11:05
Scaling Ruby by Gregg Pollack
11:15 – 12:00
No class for me. Take a break. Probably tired from driving in early. Explore the grounds.
Lunch
1:15 – 2:00
JRuby: What, Why, How…Try It Now
2:10 – 2:55
Recovering from Enterprise: how to embrace Ruby’s idioms and say goodbye to bad habits, by Jamis Buck
3:05 – 3:50
Unfactoring From Patterns: Job Security Through Code Obscurity, by Rein Henrichs
Break
4:20 – 5:05
Better Hacking With Training Wheels, by Joe Martinez
5:15 – 6:00
NeverBlock, trivial non-blocking IO for Ruby, by Mohammad A. Ali
Break
Lightning Talks?

Friday

9:30 – 10:15
Ruby 1.9: What to Expect, by Sam Ruby
10:25 – 11:05
All I Really Need to Know* I Learned by Writing My Own Web Framework, by Ben Scofield
11:15 – 12:00
Coding for Failure: All you need to know for building rock solid applications in 45 minutes, by Tammer Saleh
Lunch
1:15 – 2:00
What Every Rubyist Should Know About Threads, by Jim Weirich
2:10 – 2:55
Using Metrics to Take a Hard Look at Your Code, by Jake Scruggs
3:05 – 3:50
Ruby Heavy-Lifting: Lazy load it, Event it, Defer it, and then Optimize it, by Ilya Grigorik
Break
4:20 – 5:05
Components are not a dirty word: modeling your Rails interface with stateful objects, by Mike Pence
5:15 – 6:00
Ruby Kata and Sparring, by Micah Martin
My Zappos Experience
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I recently purchased the Teva sandals pictured here, via Zappos (which, as a side note are fantastic…I’m a bare foot guy but some times you need shoes and these are the perfect solution). The browsing and purchasing experience was pleasant and easy, but it was the post purchase that really shined. I ordered around 4pm EST. They told me the shoes would arrive in 4 to 5 business days, but at midnight I received an email saying I had been upgraded to priority shipping and they would ship much sooner; no specific time was given. The next day my shoes were on the front door., and all without any shipping fees at all. Incredible. But it gets better.

After trying them on I realized they did not fit. They felt fine most everywhere but the poor little pinky toe was taking some serious, blister inducing punishment. So I visited the Zappos site to find out what my options were. I clicked on my order and it gave a phone number to call to setup a return. It was about 11pm EST and when I called someone picked up immediately. I only had to press one number; no long series of phone menus. The woman on the other end spoke perfect English and was patient and friendly. She set me up with a new pair of shoes, the next size up, to ship the next day, with no restocking fee, no shipping fees, and no return shipping fees. And, they shipped them to me without waiting for me to ship the old ones. She walked me through printing out the return shipping label (which I didn’t need, but welcomed simply because she was so patient and helpful) and told me to ship back the other ones in the original box with the new label. My new shoes arrived 36 hrs later and fit perfectly this time. I had 14 days to return the originals.

In every aspect of customer service and product quality Zappos got it right. It’s a lesson to all of us. They just sell shoes. No great online features. No creative products or services. No amazing innovation. They have a huge line of quality shoes, at normal prices (no discounts that I could see), but with free immediate shipping and triple A customer service, they stand out of the crowd. I know where I’ll be buying my next pair of shoes from.

Hulu.com is a success
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I love hulu.com. Try if if you haven’t. My entire family uses it to watch TV. In fact with it, and some other video sources (Blockbuster.com, torrent and other net sites) our family is considering dropping cable all together.

Apparently hulu, written in Rails by the way, is on target to make $90 million in its first year. Way to go Hulu and congrats.

Full article here.

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