Up and Running with Ruby

Ruby has always kind of intimidated me. Largely I think because I cut my teeth on Java, C++, C#, which are static-ish and Ruby’s decidedly dynamic. And by the time I started writing Objective-C, even it had started evolving to be less dynamic. Ruby – and frameworks written in Ruby – involve so much magic that’s always kind of scared me away.

Working at Artsy has exposed me to Ruby in a lot of ways: a lot of the Artsy backend projects I’m interested in use Ruby; I’ve helped out with CocoaPods and other developer tools that happen to be written in Ruby; and now when I go to write a new tool, Ruby is the language I use because I have so many colleagues to help me.

I’ve gotten a tonne more competent in Ruby since I complained about my lack of literacy in 2011. Since starting at Artsy, I’ve published six Ruby gems and I’ve contributed to lots of other projects.

After a recent crunch writing Swift, I needed a change of pace. I found some great projects to dig into with Ruby and I’ve learnt so much. It was kind of intense – packed over a long weekend – but I made sure to take lots of breaks and do non-programming things. Oh, and to reflect on what I’ve learnt. Which brings us to this blog post.

Danger is a tool from Orta Therox and Felix Krause. I remember talking to Orta about ways to codify and automate team culture, and the next thing I knew the two of them had made something really awesome. Basically, Danger is a tool that runs as part of continuous integration which comments on pull requests if it notices any problems. You should definitely check out this post detailing Danger’s development.

Using Danger has a number of advantages, here are my favourites:

  • It saves the project maintainer time.
  • It prevents overlooked problems from being accidentally merged.
  • It softens the emotional impact of criticism (since it’s automated and not from a person).

Super cool! Orta’s been integrating Danger into as many repositories as he can – open source projects and Artsy ones. So I kind of got pulled into it too, and now use Danger on a lot of my own projects. Open source ones like Moya but also personal projects like this blog. For example, Danger now runs my new blog posts through proselint and lets me know about spelling/grammar mistakes, awkward wording, mixed metaphors, unintentional sexism – all kinds of stuff.

I decided that if prose was worth linting with Danger, Swift code probably was too. Danger was designed with plugins as first-class citizens, and with the example danger-proselint plugin by Dave Grandinetti, I wrote danger-swiftlint. Copying Dave’s repo was a great way to start because I had a blueprint of what to build, and just had to add the finer details. I really got into unit testing with Rspec, too.

So I had built a Danger plugin in Ruby and felt pretty good about myself. Later, when I added Danger to Moya, Orta suggested that I have Danger point out when new contributors should be invited to our organization (inviting new members after their first PR is a cornerstone of Moya’s community guidelines). That’s a great idea, but since I was having so much fun with Ruby, I thought: what if I just automated the whole invitation process?

A quick DuckDuckGo search later, and I found that GitHub has some awesome documentation on their WebHooks API, including a sample server written in Sinatra, a lightweight web framework for Ruby. From there, and a few tutorials, I experimented and slowly built Aeryn. Building a new Ruby project from scratch was the next step up from copying an existing codebase and modifying it, like I did with danger-swiftlint.

Aeryn is really cool: new contributors get invited to join our organization and are sent a friendly message with details. This happens whenever someone has their first pull request merged. The project is fully unit tested, has been built so other organizations can use it out-of-the-box, and is easily deployable to free Heroku accounts.

And Aeryn uses Danger, including Rubocop, a Ruby static analyzer. This led to another Danger plugin called danger-rubocop.

So three new Ruby projects completed in as many days. Like I said, intense!

I struggled. A lot. When I couldn’t figure something out on my own, I asked for help. Orta offered a lot of proactive advice and used metaphors from Objective-C development to help explain concepts. Automated tools like Rubocop were really helpful at showing me how to write idiomatic Ruby.

It’s been really fun diving into a different community, where I’m inexperienced. I’ve felt angry when things don’t work the way I expect them to, and I’ve felt gleeful when some things work on the first try. It’s all part of the learning process.

I am glad to have been knocked back on my ass: more experienced developers tend to forget what it’s like to be a beginner, and this was a nice, small reminder. Having empathy for beginners is crucial to writing learning resources, and now that I have more free time, that’s something I definitely want to start doing again.


Posted on July 10, 2016