I remember one of the early talks at the Canada On Rails in 2006 had a slide showing how many books one needs to read to be able to write web applications in Rails, versus Java.
Of course Java side had about 10 books: Java SE, Java EE, Hibernate, Struts/Tiles/JSF, WebServices, Ant, Maven, Eclipse, JUnit, etc, etc.
The Rails slide proudly showed the now hopelessly outdated “Agile Web Development With Ruby on Rails”, 1st edition.
Those were the times. Back then, during my work for Blurb.com myself and three other engineers managed to learn ruby, rails and build a fully functional e-commerce site in about 3 months. I was blown away by the productivity gains compared to Java, where months could be spent laying out the project, and creating all necessary infrastructure for builds, deployment, automated testing with or without the database, etc.
Fast-forward to 2010. We are on a brink of Rails3 release, and oh boy, has the landscape changed since back then. I would argue that in some ways, you may be better off with Java than with Rails today for a couple of reasons:
- Rails moves very fast. Books published in 2009 are already outdated. That pretty much leaves blog posts and online documentation as the main source of information.
- Blog posts are not written as well as books are, they are not edited and are often heavily biased. They are also often outdated, and they are also often hard to find.
- Testing frameworks are now (I think) approaching on a dozen. Forget Test::Unit, now it’s all about RSpec, RSpec-Rails, Shoulda, Cucumber, WebRat, Selenium, TDD, BDD, ShmoDD. Hot Damn.
- Finally, to make the matters “worse”, it’s become very trendy to replace RDBMS with a document-based databases such as MongoDB, CouchDB, or even a step further — with distributed data stores like Cassandra or Riak. As with any trend, people are doing this regardless of whether or not they actually need it. Although this part clearly has nothing to do with Rails.
As someone who is trying to “quickly” catch up on all the recent changes that happened in the last 18 months during which I did not do any major rails development, it feels like I have to learn a lot of things from scratch, and unlearn a lot of things too. Even though I had three-four years of production Rails experience building Blurb.com and Infectious.com. That makes me wonder, how the newbies feel now joining the “new” Rails ecosystem. I am very curious to find out. I am guessing there is a lot of frustration and a steep learning curve required to master all the frameworks in isolation, and then bring them all together into the project. And that brings us back to where Java was exactly four years ago, and still is today.
I am not at all advocating for you all to go back to coding Java or COBOL :=) And I am absolutely not against Rails. But it’s about time we pull the curtain of naiveté and realize that RoR has become the complex multifaceted enterprise framework it was claiming to replace back in 2006, and to become proficient in it may take just as long, if not longer, then with Java EE.
Ironic? I’ll let you decide.