Interview with David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rails

What the man himself has to say about all that...


Q: How long have you been involved in the programming scene, and how did you first get involved?

A: I’ve tried to learn how to program since I was 6 years old, sorta on/off. But it wasn’t until the late 1990s that I finally succeeded. So I’d say I’ve been programming “for real” for about 15 years or so. I got started because I wanted to create gaming review websites. Having a concrete mission made it much easier for me to summon the motivation to learn.

Q: Has programming changed a lot since you first became involved, and if so in what ways?

A: I actually don’t really think so. The fundamentals are the same as they’ve ever been. We seem to be moving through cycles like client-heavy or server-heavy and functional vs. object-oriented programming. Plenty of new shiny things, but less fundamental change. I’m still trying to perfect lessons of the past decades.

Q: How would you compare a programming bootcamp to a college education?

A: I haven’t actually done a programming bootcamp myself, but I’ve heard plenty of success stories from others. It all depends on what you want. If you just want to learn how to program and get a job in the industry, then a college education is overkill. But if you want to learn more about the world in general, be a more well-rounded individual, then I think college, or rather, a broad education has much to offer. Whether that offer is currently worth the onerous financial commitments necessary in the US is a different matter.

Q: How do you think online programming bootcamps compare with in-person programming bootcamps?

A: I personally learn best on my own tasked with a project that I really want to see to completion. So for me, it would be online all the way. But different people learn differently, so for others the in-person approach may be exactly what they need to finally make it click. It took me almost 15 years from first seeing programming to finally getting it. Not everyone has that kind of time.

Q: How long do you think that the job market will hold this many programming positions with the currently high pay levels?

A: The billion dollar question, eh? I think it would be foolish to think that the current golden age of the programmer is going to last forever. Eventually the market is going to catch up and better match demand for programmers with supply. Whether that’s in 5 or 20 years is more of an open question.

Q: Why is software eating the world?

A: Because, when it works, it makes things faster, cheaper, scalable, repeatable, and all the other siren calls of efficiency and effectiveness. That’s incredible value. If you can now do with 2 people what used to take 20, you’re freeing up a lot of resources, lowering a lot of costs, and everyone wants that.

Q: Have you seen any changes in the ease of creating a tech startup in recent years?

A: Cost keeps dropping. It’s never been cheaper to get started. The main expense is time of the skilled participants doing the work.

Q: Can you comment on the “Internet of Things” and how you foresee it affecting the future world of programming?

A: It’s part of the Software Eating the World idea. You can make so many things so much more convenient when they can be programmed.