Friday, August 10, 2007

Putting the Money Where the Mouth Is

About a year ago, I was talking with the founders of an under-the-radar startup whose name and identifying details need not be mentioned here. At that time the technical founder was quite jazzed on a web application platform and development language called Ruby on Rails. I checked back in with them recently to discover that they had changed their tune and were now looking for both Ruby and Java developers. As business application software development is my field, I was quite curious to discover what had happened in that year's time. The technical founder explained that they needed Java for some interoperability reasons that he did not go into detail about. The most significant reason, however, was that they were having a lot of trouble finding Ruby developers for hire.

I should mention that they are located in the Bay Area of California which is, IMHO, ground zero for cutting edge, innovative, software development. I was shocked to hear that they were having trouble finding Ruby developers there since I hear a lot of enthusiasm for Ruby, especially coming from the Bay Area. What happened?

The other day, I was having lunch with a peer who works as a software architect in a different ISV (not a competitor). He is a very vocal and strong proponent for Ruby. I told him the story and asked him if he would take a Ruby job. He thought about it for a moment and then declined. It turns out that when career, professional software developers choose to learn about and endorse a new development platform, they make that choice based on technical merit. When those same developers make a career choice, however, technology doesn't figure very prominently in the decision making process.

There is some irony here as a common complaint amongst software developers is that management doesn't make good decisions because they don't sufficiently evaluate the technical merit or impact of their decisions.

I find it strangely curious that career professionals would spend time learning and endorse a technology that they had no intention of pursuing professionally. It takes both time and mind, limited resources, to learn a new application stack. When a software developer choses to learn a new application stack, then he or she is making an investment. Doesn't it make sense to expect a return on your investment? Of course, learning itself, is also a valuable thing; therefore you do get some return on your investment. Wouldn't it be better if you maximized your return on investment by learning technology that was cool and marketable?

I, personally, am not saying that Ruby is unmarketable. I, personally, don't need a deep pockets, high profile software infrastructure company to spend bazillions of marketing dollars before I judge a technology as marketable (although it doesn't hurt). What I am saying is that, apparently, there is a non-trivial number of developers who endorse technology that they believe to lack sufficient market share for them to add it to their resume.

Why would that be risky? The more irrelevant technology is on your resume, the less marketable you are. Time and mind aren't the only limited resources for a professional software developer. Resume column inches is another.

Maybe they endorse Ruby hoping that enough people will endorse it so that it becomes marketable but that the watershed moment just hasn't happened yet. Maybe that early enthusiasm was based more on potential and promise than on actual delivery. There has been some performance issues with RoR, enough to prompt MSFT to weigh in with their own version.

A marketplace is a place where buyers and sellers come together to exchange different forms of capital. If something isn't perceived as worthy of buying or selling, then it doesn't have a place in the marketplace. The more perceived worth by buyers and sellers, the more buyers and sellers who perceive worth, the bigger the place it takes up in the marketplace.

Software developers, if you like Ruby enough for it to be marketable, then you are going to have to be willing to do Ruby work for pay and to put it on your resume. You may have to take on the extra risk of being an early adopter because followers aren't going to anywhere without leaders.

I'd like to get more feedback from other developers. What's your take on this? Is Ruby marketable today? Would you take a Ruby job now? Why or why not?


Brian said...

There are two issues here:

Technology is important but it's only one of many factors when you're looking for a job, especially at a startup. Others include location, whether you believe in the startup's vision, whether you like the people, and so on. The current job market in the bay area is pretty tight, from what I hear, so people can pick and choose.

Also, it may just be that the supply of Ruby developers isn't keeping up with demand.

Plone Glenn said...

I noticed that you didn't answer the question. Are you a developer? If so, then do you know ruby? If so, then would you take a ruby job?