RailsConf: Obie Fernandez - Thoughtworks on Rails

Posted by Nick Sieger Sat, 24 Jun 2006 15:15:00 GMT

Is anyone doing “real” projects in Rails? Obie’s talk is the answer to this frequently received question.

Twix, the first Rails project at Thoughtworks was an internal tool that functioned as an introduction to the technology and began the evangelization process for Rails within Thoughtworks.

Apparently DHH and Roy (the owner of Thoughtworks) hit it off when DHH said to Roy in a meeting, “I want to change the world.”

The Deere project started as a supply-chain application built on Java that took 6 weeks to get up and running. Rails was sneaked in as a tool to help business owners generate sample data for the main application. The interface was simple, and made it fun for the users. It generated quite a stir, with one of the customers exclaiming that it was better than the app they already had!

This led to Deere COA (Certificate of Analysis). There was a sticky-note, user-centered design, task analysis session that helped to drive what form the application would take. The resulting implementation took about two calendar weeks, eight person weeks. Obie’s comment at this point was that the amount of time was on the order how long it usually took the client just to decide that they wanted to do something.

Later, as maintenance of the tool was being handed off to some internal developers, Obie gave a brief presentation on Rails to some of the client stakeholders. When he returned to finish training on the technology three months later, he found that a product manager (somewhat non-techie) had built a time tracking application during his two-week family leave that subsequently received a lot of attention at the office. A project manager was asking him to help fix a bug with the application that had already been deployed and in use for three months, and the company wanted to roll it out for use to several thousand people at the company.

The story about the Kiosk project highlighted that agile and XP methods fit so well with Rails. Obie described one case where they brought their usability expert in for a review and Rails allowed them to make changes to the UIs as fast as the usability person could point them out.

Note: Q & A is paraphrased.

  • How can you transform a client’s thinking about technology and acceptance of Ruby and Rails so that when you leave, they own it? Find a common thread of command-line, text-based development, or experience with similar languages. Most skilled programmers can pick up Rails in days or weeks. Your miles may vary but it goes with the amount of talent you’re working with.
  • Comment on RadRails. Code completion is overrated, it keeps you from solving the problems in your head because the editor is feeding alternatives to you.
  • Comment on deployment. The reason you can’t do Ruby on Rails is that it’s not a supported technology in our data center. Politics, status quo, not important, blah, blah. We ended up doing the app anyway, and the data center people said, “sure you can do it, we’ll give you a VPS”.

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