RubyConf 2014 with

As we continue to grow our company, OpenGov, we look for ways to enrich the lives of our software engineers as well as invest in the communities who build software we use. This year we had our first taste of tech event sponsoring with EmberConf and it felt good. An opportunity presented itself to sponsor a bigger conference, RubyConf, and we decided to go all-in.

Nov 16-19 we spent in sunny San Diego, CA. As our first major conference sponsorship and we had no idea what to expect with close to a thousand developers showing up. That and the fact that we had a sponsor booth made this a very different experience (for me). One of my co-workers and I manned our booth all day every day instead of going to talks. Fortunately, we had some rotating help from the four engineers who came with us. Sponsoring this size conference was no small task and I now have an even greater respect for the amazing folks who stand by their booths and relentlessly smile while telling their story to hundreds of onlookers.


OpenGov Engineering @ RubyConf

Here are some of the reasons why I like to sponsor these events, as I wrote in an email to our company:

Identifying the latest tech trends isn’t as easy as it used to be. In the past, you could pick one programming language and one database and build your entire business with those two tools. Today, however, we have so many tools at our fingertips that we’d be hurting ourselves to rely on just a few. Our competitors aren’t limiting themselves. And we’re in the midst of one of the largest explosions of tech that I have ever seen. Being at these conferences is like being in a melting pot of ideas, technology and passion. The topics of conversation span all kinds of technology that is and is not related to Ruby.

Attending, sponsoring, and supporting a tech conference is a key way to see how that tech will evolve. It gives us a better idea of where that tech is going and that, in turn, gives us an advantage in predicting what tech is worth investing in. Great technologies typically have great communities who are pushing innovation and progress… The only way to get to know the community is to be active in it — whether that means we contribute to the tech itself and/or we get involved with their ecosystem and events. I hope to do both as we grow.

EmberJS & EmberConf

The first official ember.js conference was held on March 25-26 in Portland, OR and my company was a sponsor. I was excited to be a sponsor because I think ember.js is a step in the right direction for web development and I’d say it has the potential to be the first viral JavaScript web framework. I’m pretty impressed with the framework and the people behind it. And at the end of the day, it aligns with my belief that the web browser will be the focal point of many forthcoming innovations; anything that moves it and its development platform forward will be a priority for me.

As someone who has built many web applications, I’ve seen the benefits that great frameworks can have on communities, ecosystems, and technology. To speculate on the impact ember.js could have on web development, I wanted to write about Ruby on Rails. I believe there are parallels to the two frameworks.

I like to study products and why some win and some fail so I thought it would be fun to apply some thought to why Rails has had success. Great products are often viral in some nature and the key to virality is an experience that gets better as the number of users interacting increases. I think Rails may have been the very first viral web application framework. (I think ember.js could be the next one)

Over the last decade, web frameworks started popping up at higher frequencies and one of them was Ruby on Rails. Ruby was a relatively unknown programming language. Modern web frameworks were in bad shape. Building web applications was not as easy as Rails would soon make it. First, Rails popularized Ruby. Then Rails promised, and delivered, the reduction of massive boilerplate web application code. Ultimately, Rails had this powerful combination: building web applications were curiously simple & instantly gratifying. Since its release, Rails has become one of the most widely used web application frameworks.

The act of building a web application has become… fun. New ideas can be built in minutes and days rather than months. Rails made building web sites more approachable (and it sped things up heavily). Beyond the build, though, Rails was open source so you could add more features to it, which made the experience of building even better for others. When you combine a great experience around building a web application with a framework that is constantly expanding, enabling you to do more with less, you ultimately have an community that was constantly improving. I call this improvement pattern the cyclical improvement vortex. While Rails started to evolve rapidly, the greater ecosystem was getting pulled into the storm and all of these other frameworks were being rapidly improved (and many new ones created). The end result was far superior options for developers and better tooling across the board. We had more choices. We started to have more fun.

Here are a few examples that highlight how this cyclical improvement vortex attracts innovation inside and outside of the frameworks and around the community. A popular framework can become an opportunity for a new business to launch, a technology to become popular, and a generation of people to learn to code. is a hosting platform that launched to support seamless deployment of Ruby on Rails applications to the cloud. Developers could build their Rails applications and then easily put that code up on to the Internet in seconds. Previously, you’d typically have to purchase a web hosting server and customize that server and then upload your code and do all of these manual steps. Heroku made everything simple and developer-friendly. Fast forward: they now support almost every popular framework and programming language and thousands (and thousands) of companies rely upon them for deployment.

Asynchronous JavaScript (Ajax) is a programming technique for web applications to communicate with the server behind the scenes. Microsoft created the components that would make Ajax possible around 1998 but it went relatively unused for years. Rails baked Ajax into the framework and really encouraged (and pushed) many web applications towards taking advantage of the somewhat neglected technology. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find a web site not using Ajax; Rails didn’t create Ajax but it helped put it on the map.

Ruby, the programing language, has continued to benefit from the popularity of Ruby on Rails. It’s gotten faster, scales more efficiently, and is easier to work with. Thousands of companies have realized Ruby as a language of choice for building software. It will live on with or without Rails. I’m glad about that.

Beyond the infrastructure and technology, though, Ruby on Rails also had an impact on education in web programming. Folks felt it was so easy to get started with that Rails became the center focus of curriculum in many high schools, colleges, and developer boot camp programs (2-6 month learning engagements) . It is an approachable framework with a fair amount of educational literature on. A vibrant community of software engineers, designers, and educators can build ideas using Rails and that’s pretty awesome.

So to tie this back to ember.js…

ember.js is one of the newer frameworks on the block and is similar to Ruby on Rails. The difference is that it is built on top of JavaScript instead of Ruby. JavaScript very well may be the language of the future given every web browser understands it and we’re building more and more of our web applications to run in the web browser. Like Ruby long ago, JavaScript needs a popular framework that is going to drive innovation. I think ember.js is JavaScript’s Rails and I believe it is part of the next wave of forward-thinking technology and will make web development better. Some of the folks involved with ember.js were also involved with Ruby on Rails. Yehuda Katz, for example, is a core contributor to both frameworks and is all about building great communities. I think ember.js has the technical and social ingredients to be a popular, widely adopted framework. It very well may be the next viral web framework.

Thanks to Loren A, Tian D , Andrew L, Ethan K for taking peeks at this piece as it evolved.