How Capitalism Saves Ruby From Corporatism

Posted on Jul 11, 2009

or Owning the Means of Production

My fellow Tarheel Nathaniel Talbott of Terralien kicked our conference with a talk on developer ideology. He believes that armchair quarterbacking on matters economic, fiscal, and ideological is important. He claims his goal is to start a revolution. It sounded to this listener that he meant only a revolution in the Ruby community in its attitude towards its employers.

As a way of describing the threats we face as a community, Nathaniel mentioned that when the first RubyConf came around, only 1 person in the room was getting paid to write Ruby. Those same folks didn’t see how popular Rails would be at the beginning, but now the popularity of Rails and Ruby is undeniable. Why is that a bad thing? Because corporations are ownership machines, and that is one possible future Nathaniel sees for our community.

Corporations cannot own Ruby, so they will marginalize it. Corporations cannot own Ruby, but it can own its practitioners. They can own their works, and they can arrange for our programming brethren to spend their lives in the rat race. Nathaniel asks the question: Why spend your time making profit for someone else?

But it’s not entirely from outside the community that our threat lies. As the community grows and occasionally becomes less friendly, we may fall prey to the same paralytic effects that corporations face.

In the end, Nathaniel urges us to do three things.

  • You should be creating an asset for yourself on your own time.
  • Change your perspective on employment.
  • Explore new models of ownership, to tie labor to the results.

In my opinion, this was the strongest portion of the talk. He talked briefly about how he structures his employees at Spreedly to grow them out of the job by using the tool they are building. They are expected to be spending time building an application that uses Spreedly to generate revenue that they own and control. It’s these sorts of innovative business structures that give credit to his claim that most programmers would be better business people than most MBA’s. While I don’t agree completely, it’s hard to argue with Nathaniel’s ability to find an alignment of interests that encourage all parties to work together to become a success.