Rails Envy

Many have asked what happened to Rails Envy so I thought it was time to tell the story. Fair warning: this gets a bit personal at times.

A Brief Bit About Me

I went to school for Psychology where I got a Bachelor of Science at the University of Central Florida. I took some programming classes but was always a "closet geek." I’ve been programming since I was 6 years old and Ruby and Rails just felt right when I found it. Even more so after coming from PHP, Perl, C, and (shudder) some MS Access coding. Right around when I was finishing college I started attending ORUG meetings and some hackfests. This is where I met Gregg Pollack. We got along great, especially with coding.

Where Rails Envy Came From

I think I attended all but the first Orlando Ruby Users Group and occasionally gave presentations. On the Tuesday, November 14th meeting I gave a presentation on using RJS in Rails. I actually thought it was a good idea to use the term "AJAXified" in a presentation description, but I digress. That night I was joking around with someone and we decided a local [insert other language here] developer had "Rails Envy." At the time, I thought it would make a pretty funny Rails focused blog name so I registered the domain. Then I sat on it for a while.

At some point in all this, Gregg, who has his Patched Software consultancy at the time, asked me to come work for him on a contract basis because he needed help on a project. This actually terrified me at the time. What would I do when the contract ran out? How would I find other work? I was pretty fresh out of college and hadn’t considered going contract. After talking it over with a lot of people, I quit my job.

Full Time to Contract

Me and Gregg
This picture has nothing to do with the paragraph, but it’s from that time period.

Coming from the full time employment world, working on a contract basis was a wonderful experience. I was working while wearing a t-shirt and shorts! Plus, the work was fascinating to me. I remember working with Gregg to solve some very interesting Ruby and Rails problems of the time. There were always people blogging but not as many as today and a lot of the time you had to dive deep in to Rails rather than googling solutions. It’s inspiring to see how far Rails has come.

After I working with Gregg for a little while I convinced him that we needed a blog. Gregg wasn’t convinced we were qualified enough to write a blog. I remember saying that we didn’t have to be because we had something to offer people based on our experience developing Rails full time. This was a different time — not many people were doing full time Rails work. We used railsenvy.com, set up Mephisto, and we were rolling.

We weren’t expecting the amount of feedback we got. It was great.

We Make Some Videos

I remember leaving ORUG one night and saying to Gregg "Wouldn’t it be funny if we parodied the Mac vs PC ads only using Ruby on Rails and other web development frameworks?" I was just joking but Gregg convinced me it would be a good idea to actually shoot these. I remember writing some script on a notepad during ORUG about a guy running in a track suit. I’m really glad that one didn’t make it in. Anyway, Gregg set up a writeboard (password: railsenvy), we bounced some ideas back and forth, got in touch with a friend of mine who did video work, and actually shot the videos.

Shooting the videos turned out to take a lot longer than I expected. It also was much more fun than I expected. I think the original set of four took nearly two full days including rehearsals. I still love the bear in a jar for hibernate. The videos went viral and that was awesome. I think I have a screenshot somewhere of 3 of the videos being in various spots on the front page of digg at the same time.

Gregg managed to get in contact with Chad Fowler and have the videos played at the first Railsconf. That was a truly exciting experience. I wasn’t expecting it at all and was flattered that they even considered playing them. After Railsconf we made some more. To this day I’m still embarrassed by the myspace one.

Hey, Let’s Start a Podcast!

Rails Envy

I wasn’t much of a podcast listener. Gregg turned me on to the amazing Radio Lab and This American Life podcasts. I had noticed at the time that there weren’t any Ruby or Rails news podcasts. I remember it took some convincing of Gregg to get one started. My original pitch was something like "Just a five minute thing where we read what’s new. We’re reading all of the RSS feeds anyway" "Why would people listen to us when they could just read RSS feeds?" "Some people like listening to podcasts. And we’re funny." After doing some research on how to set up a successful podcast (Thanks Miles and Ryan!) we were up and running.

I learned a ton about editing podcasts. Dan taught me why I should use compression rather than normalization under certain circumstances. For the longest time, I used Soundtrack Pro to edit the podcasts. I think I did the first 40 episodes in Soundtrack before learning Pro Tools. Gregg and I would record each story separately and assemble them later. It usually took three takes if we messed up. Which was often. Looking back, I can’t believe I edited over 90 of them. Every week. It was a lot of work but I loved doing it.

Rails Can’t Scale

Can Rails Scale?

I think a lot of people were wondering why a Rails developer would be saying that Rails can’t scale, very often at least once a week. When I started this meme there were a lot of blog posts and questions about the time about Rails and scalability. People were citing Twitter as an example of Rails not being able to scale during their fail whale days. Java people were saying Ruby is slow. TechCrunch was all over it.

My idea was to make the expression "Rails can’t scale" so tired out that people would get sick of hearing it. When people commented asking me to stop, I knew I was doing a good job. Sorry everyone. But it was for a good cause. There’s a lot less sentiment these days about Rails not being able to scale. I’d like to think I played a small part in that.

Working for The Man!

Halogen Guides

Gregg and I were approached by Dan Benjamin about working for a startup called Helium Report (now Halogen Guides). We accepted. I got the opportunity to work with a kick ass team. I have nothing but praise and respect for everyone I worked with. We had our challenges but I think we handled them well. I wrote some pretty good code, if I do say so myself. However, for reasons I’m about to outline, I wasn’t able to keep the job.

Tragedy Strikes

This part is difficult for me to write. Gregg mentioned in his post that I moved to Ft. Lauderdale for a year but didn’t say why. On May 1st, 2008, my mother woke up to find my father missing from the house. She was very worried and under a lot of stress at the time. My sister and I eventually found my dad, though my mother suffered her second heart attack while we were looking for him. She passed away a few days later.

Words can’t convey how deeply I miss her. I think about her every day. She was an amazing human being and I’m proud to be her son. I owe her a lot and I’m largely the person I am today because of her.

I’m not sure people ever really "get over" these kinds of things; rather, you find a new normal. I got a lot of supportive emails when Gregg announced this at the end of the podcast. I’m sorry if you emailed and I never got back to you.

I wasn’t able to keep a job while all of this was going on. However, everyone at Halogen Guides was ridiculously, above and beyond, supportive. For that I’m extremely grateful. I wish everyone nothing but the best.

Some Good Comes out of it

My girlfriend Candace and I moved to South Florida to help take care of my father. She selflessly changed jobs and moved in with my father and I. This sealed the deal in my mind and I proposed. She said yes. She’s a wonderful person and we’re getting married September 25th, this year. I couldn’t be happier, even though I’m a bit difficult at times. I probably wouldn’t have been able to get through everything without her support and the support from some very good friends. You know who you are. I thank you all deeply.

Wrapping Up

With me living in South Florida and Gregg in Orlando, each working on different projects, it started to become more difficult to do the podcast which was still going strong. We did our best but it started making more sense to split off in to our own companies. I started Twistedmind Inc. where, among other things, I offer consulting services scaling Rails. Dan Benjamin took over the reigns as co-host of the podcast, which we eventually moved over to 5by5. We also started The Dev Show to do a big longer discussion on general programming topics.

Moving On

Though we have mutually decided to take the Rails Envy web site down, I feel that Rails Envy, and what Gregg and I accomplished together, should be celebrated. I’m proud of the work we did and what we accomplished as a team. I’m proud of the videos, podcasts, talks, and client work we did. I’m grateful for the opportunities to have met and worked with so many people. It was a great experience. I hope to continue to set the bar high doing client work through my new company, Twistedmind (Hire me!), being a part of podcasts like The Ruby Show and The Dev Show, and launching projects like Genius Pool and Employee Scheduling software. I wish everyone the best. See you soon.