By Adam Fitzgerald

Why Our Business Runs on Ruby on Rails

By Adam Fitzgerald

At The Frontier Group in 2006, we were faced with a choice. To continue building our customers web applications in PHP, or to make a shift to an up-and-coming language and framework: Ruby on Rails.

We were a small team of 5 and every new project could be evaluated on its own merits. Our CIO had been following and researching Rails for a few months and this looked like an opportunity worth exploring.

In 2007 we began developing solely in Rails and haven’t looked back. Our ability to deliver small prototypes and large enterprise applications has flourished and the business grew 400% in 18 months.

But after developing solely in PHP for 4 years, just what were those reasons at a business level to make a shift to a completely new (and immature) language, effectively changing our whole business dynamic.

The Open Source Community

For years we had leveraged open source technologies, languages and code. The Rails community was opinionated, it was growing and it matched our value set. We saw a way that we could continue to “take” but also begin to “give back”.

Since switching to Rails we have made real friendships with hundreds of other developers, spoken and met with many of our programming “idols”, helped other developers with their projects, released patches, bug fixes and new plugins back into the open source Rails community.

There’s a constant buzz in the Rails community and this was one of the biggest factors in aligning ourselves with a particular language. It wasn’t all about the bottom line.

Agile Methodology

We’re an Agile company and our development processes just mesh with Rails and the Rails way so much better. Switching to Rails meant we could run projects the way we wanted (and needed) to. Moving away from the traditional waterfall model was a snap.

Rails makes it easy to get an application prototype up and running, showing a real business value for the project in the early stages. Perfect for startups, but this was also key for finding and keeping larger enterprise clients. Who can argue with the choice of framework, when your application is useable in the opening months of development?

Productivity vs Cost

Here’s where the bottom line does come into it. At the end of the day, most clients have a limited budget. Or they have someone overseeing development funds. If you can’t deliver as good or better than the next company, you’re not going to win work. With PHP we were a dime a dozen. Using a niche framework, we had a selling point. A talking point.

There were plenty of articles on the web about productivity and project timelines in Rails. Lower development costs, shorter delivery timeframes. All the buzzwords. Rails was still new and we had to prove it was true, but seeing it in action meant we were sure we could be more effective with this framework.

Talent Pool

PHP programmers are everywhere. Hiring PHP developers is a no brainer exercise. Rails developers on the whole, were a different breed. Incredibly passionate & opinionated. People who loved development were choosing this framework. We saw potential to build our business around people who loved what they do. In the past few years that talent pool has grown and so has the community aspect around Rails.

Some say, The Rails community can be likened to an exclusive fan club. Ken Loh, web director at Oakley said:

Rails developers are a passionate bunch. It’s almost like a religion to them. Gartner says there are a million Ruby programmers today, but analyst Mark Driver reckons that by 2013 there will be four million. A June survey by software development research company Evans Data found that Ruby use in North America alone has jumped 40% in the past year, with 14% of developers now using it at least part of the time. In emerging economies, it’s even bigger.

The talent pool is growing, and its growing out of enthusiasm and interest, not out of necessity. That really helps when it comes to the hiring process.

Those four areas were the key business decisions to move the company ahead with Rails development. It’s been a great ride!

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  • I am PHP developer and am involved in the hiring process of PHP developers; we’re also a passionate bunch as well :) Hiring the right candidates, regardless of the language, is far from a no-brainier.

  • I believe you’ll find passionate developers regardless of the language.

    Ruby on Rails has momentum, just like Django because they are relatively new to the scene and because they are open source.

    Sure Ruby or Python are the more advanced programming languages of the bunch overall allowing some nifty tricks and compact coding style. And if I had to make a choice for a development platform today I would certainly consider one of those.

    But you can develop just as good with Coldfusion, PHP, Java or .Net, the quality of the work largely depends on the programmers and in lesser extend to the language or framework as all of these languages have nowadays frameworks and capabilities equal to Ruby on Rails.

    For example when people think of Coldfusion they see it as an almost extinct dinosaur for doing webdevelopment, while in reality Coldfusion makes doing stuff which takes lots of work in PHP or any other language dead-easy even today.

    Railo (application server, is extremely fast & ColdFusion pages are on first run compiled and stored as binary objects, they don’t need be interpreted like many other languages for the web. Another example: Railo allows mapping Amazon S3 locations to local paths for easier development. There are hundreds these things that make development so much easier and productive.

    It can be also be extended with java as much as you like and there are opensource solutions like Railo ( around and frameworks like CFWheels ( which is very Rails like.

    The idea that because something is new and hyped means it’s better is simply not true.

    But I can imagine that marketing-departments of your clients just glow when they hear words like agile and Ruby on Rails.

  • Thanks for the feedback. Considering we were solely a PHP agency for as many years as we have now been Rails (5 and 5), this post is more about our personal experiences, rather than comparisons of what language is better.

    Finding top quality PHP developers *has* been a no-brainer for us. There’s a much, much larger pool to work from, especially when hiring several at once. With Ruby, especially where we are based in Perth, Australia, it was a much, much harder task.

    What our clients (or prospective clients) say about Ruby and Agile has really nothing to do with my post. I was talking about our experiences with our switch from PHP to Rails as an organisation, mainly internally. It worked for us, it opened up other opportunities and communities that we were aligned to. At no point did I say because it was new and hyped, that it was better. I said it was a great switch for us, after 150 PHP projects, the switch to Rails has been a tremendous success for our organisation due to the factors above.

    Thanks for taking the time to read :)

  • I am seeing a growing interest in Rails development in Chicago. The enthusiasm of Rails developers is pretty infectious with the only problem being a shortage of talent! Groupon has brought a lot of attention to the Rails community in Chicago and I believe it will continue to grow.

  • I once was a pure C#.Net developer untill I’ve meet Ruby and Rails.

    I still working on a company that uses .net the most, but on my personal projects I rather using Ruby and Rails.

    I love the way Ruby allows me to do what I want to. You can really express yourself on it… just see this on github

    I am developing a service with a friend in Rails and we can see how fast we can get some value of our work. The use of gems and plugins gave to us all we could need: documentation generation, diagrams, code coverage, code analysis and so on.

    Ruby and Rails let me express myself the way I want!

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