A meditation for the (aspiring) Rubyist

You’re new to programming. You’ve got an idea that you’re aching to make manifest. You’ve heard of this awesome Ruby on Rails thing. You’ve even bought Agile Web Development with Rails [AWDR]. Now what?

Yes, you can probably take AWDR and try to use Rails right away. However, if you want to do anything the least bit different from the examples in AWDR, you’re in for some trouble.

Hold your horses there, cowboy. You’re just starting to learn how to walk, someone gives you an airplane, and you’re going to fly it?

Bad idea.

So where to begin?

First learn some Ruby

Over the past couple of months, I’ve given several informal introduction to Ruby classes – sometimes on a one-on-one basis and other times for small groups of five to ten people. In that time, I’ve received the same good question a couple of times: can you point me at a few good books and or blogs to read that will help get me started?

Well, maybe. The Pragmatic Programmers offer a book called Learn to Program which, as it happens, uses Ruby as its language of choice. Lacking firsthand knowledge of the book, I’m a little hard-pressed to recommend it.

Most of the technical books that I consume are targeted at programmers with at least a modicum of programming experience in some language. Even the the “Pickaxe” or the O’Reilly Matz-Flannigan (sp?) Ruby books are really aimed at, at a minimum, the somewhat experienced programmer.

Besides, we learn by doing, not reading. This is why several small businesses offer Ruby training. However, training is expensive. It’s short. It’s chock full of knowledge. And if you don’t use that knowledge right away, you lose it before it can become experience.

Where’s an aspiring Rails/Ruby developer to turn?

Meditate on it

Jim Weirich created a wonderful teaching tool called the Ruby Koans. The Koans come complete with the simple instructions necessary to execute them. Learning comes from solving each tiny problem, one after another, that Jim presents along the path.

While I haven’t discussed the Koans with Jim (maybe at Scottish Ruby Conf next year), I believe that the Koans may have been initially aimed at rounding out experienced Rubyists. However, I’ve found that they are so simple yet so informative that I recommend them to nearly every Rubyist, beginner and otherwise.

A side-effect and bonus resulting from the Koans being hosted on Github: several people who have completed the Koans have posted their work on Github as well. If you get stuck, you’ve already rifled through your “Pickaxe” or O’Reilly Ruby book, and are pulling your hair out in frustration, you can look at how someone else solved the particular Koan.

Just be sure to meditate on those easily acquired answers.

Posted by evan on Saturday, November 07, 2009

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