In my last blog post I asked the question “Why do so many developers love Ruby on Rails?”, looking at why so many start-ups use Ruby on Rails today and why it's believed to increase programmer happiness.

The current job market for Ruby on Rails developers makes it clear that this skill is increasingly in demand and still relatively rare, resulting in steady salary inflation. Looking at the dashboard, the cynic in me has to ask: 

Are experienced developers learning Ruby on Rails because they genuinely prefer the language or are they simply attracted to the bigger pay checks? And if start-ups are aware of the rarity and salary inflation of Ruby on Rails developers why aren’t they picking a different language to build their websites and mobile applications?

As I said in my last post, there are many reasons why developers will enjoy coding in Ruby on Rails. It’s elegant, clean and compact. There are tons of free online resources available to learn Ruby on Rails as well as a tight knit, passionate community with an “open doors” policy towards new learners. The language and syntax is also highly intuitive, allowing programmers to express their creativity because they can focus more on their ideas rather than rules and limitations.

There appear to be 5 main reasons why start-ups tend to choose Ruby on Rails to build their websites and mobile applications:

1. The development time is rapid

 2. There are less bugs as the script is so elegant and minimal

 3. The open-source framework makes it more dynamic and flexible. Developers can pass code on to their successors easily and reach out to the online community for help when building websites and/or applications.

 4. Allows a high level of interaction on the website

 5. It’s become a symbol of the start-up culture

Pete Forde, former Co-founder and CTO of BuzzData and Ruby enthusiast, offers another surprising reason why hiring Ruby developers may be preferable to start-up founders:

“From a hiring perspective, a startup can assume that if a developer is using Rails (or another modern web framework) that they are keeners who are interested in skills development and are likely involved in contributing to open source projects. This usually indicates a personality type that is a good cultural fit for many small development teams… Rails developers are often keenly aware of full-stack web development practices to build highly scalable web sites. Caching, worker queues, thread and process management, non-relational data storage, filesystem and kernel optimization, proxy configuration, redundancy and monitoring are all discussed in the same breath as Rails development on a regular basis.”

Ruby on Rails developers may be hungry to learn and highly capable, but they’re probably not going to be that loyal or emotionally invested in the projects they’re working on.

It seems that many Ruby Developers are quite happy to admit this. Ruby developers are willing and able to build websites and apps very quickly, but they are less interested in maintaining them: "Ruby developers don't tend to stick around for long. I know precious few people who have stayed in the same place developing Ruby apps for more than 2-3 years." The reason for leaving every few years may not only be because of the ennui of website and app maintenance, but because they will be more likely to demand a higher salary when moving on to their next gig.

So if we now define the Ruby mind-set as one that prioritizing earnings over loyalty to the start-up, passion for the mission behind the app or website, and progression within the organisation, we can see why the vast majority of Ruby developers would opt for contract over permanent work.

This presents huge problems for start-ups, who end up haemorrhaging money in order to compete for talented Ruby developers, as Victoria Bradford, technology recruiter and specialist in the Ruby on Rails market, explains:

“The major pain point of Ruby is hiring permanent talent. Although the language itself is free it becomes very expensive to get developers in. Of course there are some permanent guys out there, but they’re real diamonds. So if you have a project that needs to be done quickly you’ll need to hire contract developers or outsource the work to a Ruby agency. A contractor could come in and hit the ground running and have you website or mobile app or both up in 3 months, but then you would have to pay them a high day rate…. The Ruby market is almost like the London property market: the developers know they can charge what they want because they have a rare skills set and clients are desperate. When I started recruiting in this market two years ago a typical Ruby developer would take home £450/day but it has since increased to £600 or £650 per day. And like the property market, after this period of heavy inflation it’s probably going to burst.“

Given the state of the developer job market today – particularly in Ruby on Rails - it seems more critical than ever for tech start-up founders to know how to code. Not only will it allow them to be fully engaged throughout in the product development lifecycle and able to communicate easily with the development team, but they’ll be able to properly qualify applicants before making any job offers. 

It will also give you an edge over your competitors, as coders are usually drawn to founders with technical experience or who have at least taught themselves the basics of the programming language upon which they want to build their business.

It seems that the philosophy behind Ruby on Rails  - which celebrates collaboration, rapid development, developer creativity and an open doors policy to new learners - does not prevent professional Ruby developers from being as money-motivated as the rest of us.

If start-ups are truly being held to ransom by Ruby developers, why aren't they building with another programming language? It seems to boil down to whether the founders are thinking in the short- or long-term. The productivity and speed that Ruby on Rails enables developers is understandably alluring, but the longer-term costs may outweigh the short-term gains.

By Izzy 

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