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LatAm Takes Advantage of Ruby on Rails, But How Long Will it Last?

LatAm Takes Advantage of Ruby on Rails, But How Long Will it Last?

Look around and you’ll see lots of articles about Ruby on Rails (RoR) growth and opportunities in Latin America, yet such reports are often filled with generalizations and anecdotal speculation.  Although there are not hard statistics about Ruby and RoR growth in Latin America, there are a few individuals deeply involved in the community that understand where the language is creating opportunity, and how it will continue to impact digital product development. We tracked down several of these insiders who all appear to agree that Ruby has longevity – especially when applied in the Nearshore delivery model. 

Fabio Akita, Brazil’s Ruby Evangelist and six-time organizer of RubyConf Brazil, is that person, and if building digital products (especially with development resources in Latam) is in your future, then this is a must read for you .

Fabio Akita, founder of Codeminer42.com has been on the forefront of Ruby growth in Latin America not only as the organizer of RubyConf, but also watching his own company grow from 2 to 40 employees in a-year-and-a-half.

“Because of startup events here in Brazil and because Rails is so well known in Silicon Valley we have seen an increase in adoption…there are a number of Brazilian startups like boo-box.com [Brazil’s ‘Web 2.0 ad network’ according to TechCrunch] and baby.com.br [co-founded by US entrepreneurs] that are based on Ruby,” said Akita.

Ruby’s potency for building startups is known as it is a product development focused language, however, Editora Abril a huge Brazilian publisher and one of the biggest media holdings in Latin America is an example of an enterprise Ruby deployment.  “The entire system of Abril Publishing is built over Ruby, every piece of content they have, every magazine, and every editorial function, are all being managed over Ruby based systems; the entire ecosystem of applications, websites, and content management is all in Ruby,” confirmed Akita.

Abril Publishing was the one of the first big Latin American publishers to use MongoDB and the REST architectural style according to Akita, which is a potent combination for a large publisher needing to recreate with their digital assets and have strong command of multichannel publishing.  Locaweb, the Brazilian equivalent of Rackspace, is using Rails to develop all their products.  Ruby is a preeminent language for building SaaS and PaaS companies, for example, PaaS technologies based in Ruby include Openshift by Red Hat, VMware’s Cloud Foundry, and Heroku to name a few.

Will it Last Long?

Even before the peak of its height in 2008 Ruby and Ruby on Rails had its detractors, but the language and community has seemed to cross a critical maturity threshold.  “I am convinced it has longevity,” reckoned Arin Sime of Agility Feat.

“We settled on Ruby on Rails because it is in quite high demand in the US right now, especially by those small and younger companies that we like to work with,” described Sime.

Sime explained further that Ruby is not taught at the university level in the US or Latin America and there are not big developer communities to support it.  Despite that, because it is such a great language to code (designed with hallmark best practices in mind) developers and companies alike are attracted to its efficiency and ever-increasing quality.  Sime reiterated that Ruby’s growth despite there being no mega company like Sun, Microsoft, or Oracle (that would ultimately profit from the language’s growth) pushing the technology, proves the community support behind it and its trendiness in the startup and young company space.

Kenneth Lopez of Tekton Labs admitted that in Latin America you have two countries that are very strong – Argentina and Brazil.  “After those big two where it is more common, then maybe Costa Rica, perhaps Colombia, and then Peru,” Lopez said when referring the prevalence of Ruby Development in Latin America.  “If we have two years experience here in Peru, they probably have 10 years experience in Argentina, but despite that there are not a lot of places to outsource Ruby development in Latin America.  I have a lot of requests for Ruby projects and sometimes not enough man power to accept them all.”

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Ruby Myths, History, and Direction

It is not entirely wrong to believe that Rails speeds development because of scaffolding; a technique by which the programmer writes a specification and the complier automatically generates the corresponding base code upon which the developer builds the application.  Akita acknowledges that some developers were attracted to Rails at the beginning because of said functionality, but now it is not even a factor when extolling the benefits of Rails.

“The idea of adopting Ruby and Ruby on Rails is not given weight because of technicalities like the generator or migration, but instead because it is an ecosystem developed for startups.  The main difference between Ruby and Java or .NET, for example, is that with Java (originally controlled by Sun and now Oracle) and .NET (controlled by Microsoft) it doesn’t matter if you build a new open source framework that people love unless Microsoft itself adopts it.  It is not a great place to be if you are a developer on the cutting edge.  It takes more time for corporations to adopt stuff like MongoDB, Cassandra, and Hadoop than it takes the open source world,” explained Akita.

Because Java already had strong usage and entrenched practices in the late 1990s across the corporate world it was hard for those interests to accommodate the Agile movement, which began in 2001.  Akita described the separation between the traditional corporations and new startups regarding methodologies and best practices that the Ruby movement escaped because the community didn’t really gain traction until 2004, when the Rails framework was developed.  According to Akita, Rails started a new community that Agilists adopted because they could convince the new Rails community to integrate Agile much easier than convincing older communities set in their ways.

“Because of all the Agilists hyping Rails and some big name users like Twitter, Groupon, and Hulu using it, but realizing its limitations, that sparked the building out of components and services like Heroku, New Relic, and Github that allowed Rails to scale.  The best of breed of all the Software as a Service (SaaS) systems were all developed by Rails developers using that agile foundation,” Akita emphasized.  He went on to say that Java and .NET have emulated the progression of the Ruby and Ruby on Rails community with platforms like Node .js and ASP.net MVC, but they are “a bit late to the party.”

Akita also was quick to mention that it is not an “either or” approach.  Java has great search (ex. Solaris) and it is implemented in Rails applications, not recreated in Ruby just for the sake of being native.

About Jon Tonti

Jon has extensive experience living and working in Nicaragua, Brazil, and Colombia. A Master in Technology Management candidate and founder of Eduallí, a technology focused NGO based in Colombia, Jon is also a professional writer and technologist.
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