Rails at 10: DHH Digested

Posted by Hywel Carver on July 26, 2014

The enormously popular web framework Ruby on Rails turned 10 this week. These are some quotes from its creator David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH), taken from a VIP VoIP talk he gave at Google Campus, London on Rails’s 10th Birthday (Thursday 24th July 2014).

This post is based on my notes from the event. I’ve tried to correctly transcribe what he said, but can’t guarantee I did it perfectly. Sorry for any errors.

On management:

With 40 people there's already too much management overhead... If you want to expand, you have to focus... The [decision to focus solely on Basecamp] was not hard - we didn't have to fire anyone. Management is a fine spice [but] too much of it is inedible.

On shuttered SaaS sites:

It's not OK to to tell your customers to pack their shit and get out in 30 days... Why would they trust you with your next product? ... [With Backpack,] we're keeping the lights on until the last customer moves away voluntarily.

On startup investment:

I didn't want to have a boss, but when you take VC you've straight away gone and installed a boss... which is a shitty way to start... [We] have freedom from VCs, investors... Most entrepreneurs are way too willing to sell out way too early. Sometimes you have to [take investment]. Like if you're [competing with Intel]... [But in] all areas that don't require massive capital upfront... just invest your own spare time. I'd rather fail under my own volition and being my own boss, rather than fail on someone else's money. [Money doesn't make it easier to build something successful] - constraints are wonderful! [You have to] focus on the core of the idea. You won't [waste your time focusing] on the stuff you can only focus on when you have tons of money. Don't think that VC is the only way... [You don't need it] if you are willing to confront reality early... Most people want to shield their idea from the harsh light of reality.

On serial entrepreneurs:

[When people call themselves a "serial entrepreneur"], they're saying "I didn't do it once because I'm lucky, I did it more than once because I'm fucking bad-ass"... I'm OK with [being successful because I was lucky].

On productivity:

Remote working is a hack to improve your productivity. When you have 10 people, you're being effective - there's lots to do. With 150 - no way are all those people being effective. More hours means more widgets is an idea from the industrial mindset... Better ideas come from the fertile ground of well-rested, creative people. 4.5 hours of real work is a good day.

On spending all your time working:

[There's this idea in startups] that you have to spend 24-7 thinking about the business or something is gonna come and eat you. Stress [makes you] die early and live a miserable life. We built Basecamp with me billing 10 hours a week... How the hell am I going to bill 40 hours a week [for another project] when we built Basecamp with 10‽

On the success of Rails:

I'm proud to see Rails used in all sorts of ways by all sorts of people. Rails has been used to power businesses I think are silly and sometimes downright atrocious.

On flame wars (particularly around the debate about TDD)

Your circle of friends, your circle of influence is going to be very small if you require everyone to think the same thing as you, all the time. There's a happy medium between a rock and a stick, and nuclear weapons.

On whether he’d ever move from Rails to something new:

Ruby is fun. If something better [comes along]... I'll go where the fun is.

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