Rubinius 3.0 - Part 1: The Rubinius Team

Today, I’m introducing some big changes for Rubinius. As the title says, this post is only part one. There are five parts and I’ll publish one each day this week. I’ll be covering these topics: the Rubinius Team, the development and release process, the Rubinius instruction set, the Rubinius system and tools, and one more thing.

Also, as the title says, this is Rubinius 3.0. The past year has been incredibly influential in helping me understand the many facets of Rubinius as a project and Ruby as a language and community. The other posts will dive into more detail, but I want to highlight that all of this is Rubinius 3.0.

Introducing the Rubinius Team

Sometimes we save the best for last, but this is not one of those times. I’m tremendously honored and excited to introduce you to the Rubinius Team. They’ve all volunteered to contribute their time, experience, and passion to improving Rubinius and its impact to make the world better.

Here we are, in no particular order:

Sophia Shao: As a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s Electrical & Computer Engineering department, Sophia is currently tackling a massive application migration from MRI to Rubinius. She’s also been improving Rubinius every day. Hit her up for tips about debugging machine code.

Jesse Cooke: As co-founder of Watsi, a venture to fund healthcare for people around the world, Jesse was part of YCombinator’s first ever non-profit. Jesse has been contributing in any way he can to Rubinius for a long time. If you visit Portland, OR, you may see him riding this weird bike with a belt instead of a chain.

Valerie Concepcion: If you’re interested in getting things like Raspberry PI’s, Legos, and Wii Remotes to play well together, Valerie can help. Drawn to the Maker movement and inspired by her friends who work in non-profits, she is interested in applying technology for social good.

Stacy Mullins: At one point, Stacy would have gladly chosen a typewriter over a computer. But at school for graphic design, she became fascinated by technologies like HTML and CSS and the ability to create something from scratch. Now she’s learning about crafting code and communicating well with other developers.

Yorick Peterse: When not breaking code, Yorick is fixing it and asking questions. Either way, there is a lot of code happening. He’s drawn to the deep technical details of systems like just-in-time compilers and concurrency. He may or may not be a Dr. Evil character hatching plans for world domination.

Brian Shirai: Having once passed over Ruby for being too much like Perl, Brian rediscovered Ruby over ten years ago and has been working on Rubinius for the past eight. Inadvertently, he’s also learned Perl.

Why?

After all these years, why do I want to form a Rubinius Team? And what is it? Is it like the “core team” we see in Rails or other projects?

I’m so glad you’re wondering about that!

Early in the Rubinius project, Evan Phoenix started a policy we called “the open commit bit”: if we accept your patch, you get permission to commit changes to the source code repository.

This contrasted with many open source projects that had a small number of people who could make changes to the code. Usually, this group was called a “core team”. Limiting permission to change the code was seen as an essential part of maintaining code quality. If anyone could commit, people would just make a big mess.

This conventional wisdom turned out to be false. We let anyone who made one good patch have access to commit any changes they wanted. In practice, almost everyone was extremely careful. We rarely had to revert changes, and when we did, it was not usually a question of quality. Hundreds of people committed changes and Rubinius benefited a great deal.

For this reason, whenever the topic of a “core team” for Rubinius came up, Evan opposed it. There was no real value in trying to be gate keepers. Giving people the opportunity to contribute and welcoming them to do so had a positive impact and showed appreciation for their efforts.

The Rubinius Team is not about creating a different class of contributor, exclusiveness, gate-keepers, or overseers.

Another characteristic of the typical open source project “core team” is that the members are usually the most technically skilled and have the greatest number of commits. This automatically creates an imbalance of emphasis on only technical issues and technical expertise, despite the fact that the vast majority of people using, contributing to, or impacted by a project will not be “top technical contributors”.

The Rubinius Team is not focused exclusively, or even primarily, on the technical aspects of the project.

A third characteristic of typical “core teams” is the implicit privilege of the members and the resulting economic, gender and diversity imbalance. Someone struggling with two jobs won’t have time to be a top committer, no matter how capable they are. Likewise for someone caring for kids at home, a responsibility that disproportionately rests with women. All of these problems stem from the dangerous fallacy that open source software is a “meritocracy”.

So, what is the Rubinius Team?

The Rubinius Team is a group of people who work together, influenced by our values, to accomplish things that fulfill the Rubinius vision and mission.

Our vision is a world where Ruby is the most useful programming language for building things that improve people’s well-being and quality of life.

“Most useful” means the most benefit for the least amount of effort for the greatest number of people. There will always be incredibly smart people who do very difficult things. For the rest of us, to steal a quote by Moshe Feldenkrais, we want to “make the impossible possible, the hard easy, and the easy elegant”.

Our mission is to build the best Ruby implementation and the best programming tools that benefit the greatest number of people, prioritizing our efforts to improve access for people who have been marginalized and excluded.

We value impact, quality, inclusiveness, diversity and balance, and we actively promote them. We celebrate our differences and appreciate them as a source of strength. We prioritize improving access and championing the needs of people who have traditionally been excluded. We get things done, lead by example and we constantly strive to improve. We realize that we enjoy a lot of privilege and we work hard to empower others rather than advancing our own interests.

We welcome anyone who shares our vision, mission and values to be a part of the Rubinius Team. And one of our objectives will be growing the team. There are many roles to play. From outreach to industry, academia, and communities like Women Who Code and Black Girls Code to marketing, budgeting, and planning. From documentation to organizing meetups. There are many ideas we don’t even know about yet, and are waiting for you to create.

It’s about quality

I want to talk more about the over-emphasis of technology in open source projects because I don’t hear this discussed often.

The source code written is a small part of a much bigger picture. The purpose of design is to create something that is useful for humans. Better understanding leads to better design. Better design leads to a more effective tool. A more effective tool leads to better engagement. Better engagement leads to greater understanding. There is no hierarchy here; there is no ranking. They form a circle of interaction. Each of these is important, and any one of them is only as good as all the others.

We strive to ensure that we are reaching the people we want to help, and that we are helping the people we want to reach. We do this by seeking global understanding of the problems our community needs to solve. Too narrow a focus on the local technology problems will mislead us.

Pondering these matters leads us to consider the Rubinius community.

The Rubinius Community

I have a very broad view of the Rubinius community. It includes developers and people learning to write Ruby. It also involves people who are not primarily involved in programming but may need to understand or even write some Ruby code. For example, a database developer working with a team of Ruby programmers on an application. The community also includes the people who use the software written in Ruby. And it includes the businesses who employ people to write in Ruby.

The Rubinius Team is also a part of the Rubinius community. The relationship between the Rubinius Team and the Rubinius community is important. The Team’s purpose is to help the community. And here, “help” means to serve.

In business the people we serve are our customers, but the concept of a customer is not common to open source projects. Since people do not usually pay for open source software, the idea of a customer does not seem to make sense. However, envisioning the user of Rubinius as a customer has many benefits. To develop an effective product, we must deeply understand the needs of a customer.

The customer relationship provides important benefits to both sides. On one hand it clarifies who we, the Team, are trying to help and to whom we are responsible. On the other, it makes clear the customer’s responsibility to engage and communicate clearly, and to provide feedback to help us improve. Both sides must be vested in the relationship.

This is where the analogy of a typical business relationship begins to break down when applied to open source. We provide a thing of value: Rubinius. What thing of value does the customer provide in return? One thing is the person’s time. Taking the time to try Rubinius, open an issue, or share their experience with someone else is a thing of value they are giving Rubinius. However, there is not yet a thing that has the same tangible value as money. When we are asked to pay money for something, it increases the stakes for us.

We want the Rubinius community to be healthy, inclusive, safe, and helpful. We want people to learn and grow and build awesome things. So we are adopting a Code of Conduct for the community based on the Citizen Code of Conduct by the excellent Stumptown Syndicate. We know this will be an important aspect of creating an environment of respect and support as we continue to explore how to improve the relationship between Rubinius as a product and project and those who use Rubinius.

I’m excited to share more about the path of Rubinius 3.0 in the other posts this week. We’d love to hear from you. Please send your comments to community@rubinius.com.

Acknowledgments

I want to thank the following people: Ashe Dryden and James Coglan, who have forced me to question many things about open source projects. Evan Phoenix for starting and leading Rubinius. Chad Slaughter for taking a risk and being a stellar mentor. The Rubinius Team, Sophia, Jesse, Valerie, Stacy, and Yorick, for their generosity and feedback on the post. Joe Mastey and Gerlando Piro for their review and many fruitful conversations. Enova, for giving me hard problems to solve. And thanks to you, the Rubinius community, for making it worthwhile.

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