The first hour and fifteen of the day was Cyndi Mitchell of ThoughtWorks and me in keynote mode. The interesting part, though, was the hallways and lunch.

♂♀♂♂♂♂♂♂♂♂♂♂♂♀♂♂♂☹ · In the keynote, I griped about the all-male audience. I’m sorry, I’m not going to shut up about this: it is irritating, disturbing, and unacceptable that probably less than 100 of the 1600 attendees were women. It’s probably pretty lame of me to say “unacceptable” when I have exactly zero good ideas about how to fix it. I talked to a random selection of attendees; two women said “thank you for saying that” and a bunch of men said “yeah, it sucks, what can be done?”

Geeks, you know, they’re admittedly obsessive about computers, but once you get past that they’re on average a pretty eclectic, amusing, and warm-hearted bunch. And in recent years I haven’t met a single one who wasn’t upset about the missing gender. If a booming female Voice From On High spoke out, saying, “Do this and we’ll rejoin your profession”, well I bet a lot of us would do whatever it was. But failing that, in the meantime the problem isn’t getting better.

Keynote Notes · I loved speaking to that crowd, and they laughed at what I thought were the funny bits. I picked up some static on Twitter about my explanation of why Sun cares about Ruby and Rails: “Because you create computer programs, and you’re going to need hardware and software infrastructure to run them on, and that’s what we sell. D’oh.” The grouchiness happened when I did a little slide show of things we might want to sell, in which I whimsically included the mighty M9000 and suggested that its 64 processors and 2TB of RAM (starting at only $511,385!) might be just the thing to juice Twitter up. Lots of people laughed, though.

The technical meat of my keynote will be familiar to ongoing readers: the network is and will remain heterogeneous, and we have to make all the different infrastructures play nice together, and REST is our best bet for doing that, and, oh by the way, let’s do ETags better. I’m totally starting to sound like Sam Ruby.

Who Was There · I did a couple of straw polls from the stage. First choice: do you work for (a) a startup, (b) a non-startup company, (c) a consultant/service provider/integrator. The first two groups were the largest, and about equal in size: at a guess I’d say 40/40/20. Way more startups than I’d expected.

I asked if there were anyone there for whom Ruby/Rails was their first Web development framework, and a scattering of hands went up; not many, but more than I’d expected.

Then I asked the rest of the crowd where they’d come from on their way to Rails: (a) Java, (b) Microsoft-land, or (c) PHP. It was Java, then PHP, then Microsoft; at a guess something 45/20/35. The fact that PHP was ahead of Microsoft surprised me, but maybe it shouldn’t: I’ve been predicting for a while now that Rails will take a piece of PHP’s market share.

In the hallways and lunch tables, I was blunt, asking everyone I talked to where they came from and why they came and what they did. Ladies and gentlemen, here’s the news: Rails is getting awfully damn mainstream. To the extent that I observed basically no industry-sector or customer-size pattern to speak of; just all over the map.

The stories reflected three stages of Rails adoption: just here to check it out; tried a few projects, they went great and we’re figuring out what’s next; Rails is more or less all we do now.

Take-Aways · Thanks to Chad and the others for putting the show on, keep ’em coming.

First, they laugh at you...


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Mike Kozlowski (May 19 2007, at 23:55)

Not to start any kind of platform war here, but I'm not at all surprised that there are more PHP than Microsoft people. ASP.Net is a really excellent Web framework, far better than anything I worked with in Java; and with the upcoming DLR stuff, it looks to be getting better. It's only a tech preview right now, but writing ASP.Net pages with IronPython is very slick.


From: Cedric (May 20 2007, at 06:46)

Hi Tim,

A quick remark: observing that RoR is being used in a lot of different sectors is vastly different from saying that it's becoming mainstream... If anything, I'd say that the fact that it's being used in so many start-ups is an indication that RoR is still in its infancy in terms of mindshare.




From: Anonymous (May 20 2007, at 07:35)

I think a good start to getting more women involved at tech conferences would be addressing things like this post mentions:


From: anonymous woman (May 20 2007, at 09:23)

>>> it is irritating, disturbing, and unacceptable that probably less than 100 of the 1600 attendees were women.

The general sentiment I perceive among straight males in the computer industry is not, "Women feel alienated in this industry. We should work to fix that." It's more like, "I like women. There are no women around me. I want some women around me."

Maybe if people wanted to give women an equal chance instead of wanting women around them, more women would join. Your employer is not a dating service.


From: peter (May 20 2007, at 10:43)

Hi Tim,

I think the statement 'Rails is mainstream' appears to be true at RailsConf and in O'Reilly's booksale stats only, the job market certainly does not reflect that (at the moment anyway).


query string: php, "ruby on rails", python)


From: Tim (May 20 2007, at 11:13)

But Peter, everyone I know with Rails skills has more work than they can handle, there was tons of recruiting activity at the conference. Another factor is that if you've got an existing staff of Java developers, they can typically be productive in Rails in a matter of days. All the evidence I see points the same way: Ruby/Rails is a smallish niche technology, but on a steep and sustained growth curve.


From: Cedric (May 20 2007, at 13:24)


Again, I think you're looking at the wrong metrics. You don't measure if something is mainstream by looking if people can find jobs in this area, as a lot of COBOL and Fortran programmers can attest. Steep growth curve is also no indication and is actually pretty easy to achieve when you start from close to zero (ask Apple about that :-)).

Look at job web sites, or ask yourself if big software corporations like IBM or BEA are massively converting over to Ruby. Look at resumes of people you interview, or at courses that are taught in colleges. I think these will give you a better idea of whether Ruby is crossing the chasm or not.


From: Tim (May 20 2007, at 16:38)

OK, Steve and Cedric think there's less than meets the eye. I disagree; I think you're looking at an important part of tomorrow's mainstream. Enough people at Sun think so that we're making some substantial bets on ruby/rails. We'll see whose prediction pans out.


From: John Cowan (May 20 2007, at 19:45)

My attitude as a male in the software business is this: "All-male organizations are boys clubs. Boys clubs are bad for me, as long experience shows; they play by rules I don't care about and I'm not good at. As a matter of self-interest, I want mixed-gender workplaces. What can I do to help?"

( is a useful part of the answer.)


From: Audrey Eschright (May 20 2007, at 18:44)

I found this post via trackback for my post that was linked by the anonymous commenter above. You said, "If a booming female Voice From On High spoke out, saying, “Do this and we’ll rejoin your profession”, well I bet a lot of us would do whatever it was."

I don't know if I'm a voice from on high, but I wrote a follow-up post on where I believe we need to start:


From: Cedric (May 20 2007, at 21:24)

Fair enough, Tim, time will tell.

FYI, I just came across this post about the TIOBE index showing Ruby in decline:


From: Tony Fisk (May 20 2007, at 23:56)

You get ads with subtle messages like this, and you wonder where the women are?

In addition to a glass ceiling, I can see a glass wall developing here. The ads I've checked aren't showing it yet, but as Ruby goes mainstream, how long do think it will be before you require 'a minimum three years Rails experience' for a mainstream recruiter to even glance at you? (I got caught like this when Java became popular. C'est la vie!)


From: Pete Berry (May 21 2007, at 13:30)

Here in the UK we have the same under-representation of women. I worked as a teacher in IT/Computing for 16 years - teaching 16 yo and up - and I have to say the damage was done long before our students left school. Out of an intake of 20 or 30 for the 'core' courses that lead naturally to Computer Science at Uni or jobs as trainee programmers, we'd expect to see only 3 or 4 girls applying. The split was closer to 50:50 for office-type IT courses.

Our own kids are teens now - and I see exactly the same split there at 13yo. at their school - the girls are 'not interested'.

OTOH I'm working for a major financial now and my line-manager is a woman as is the overall head of IT Development - women seem to be equally represented as testers, thereabouts in Analysis but when it gets to geeky-level programming it's there again 90% male.

Nature - or nurture?



From: Michael Harper (May 21 2007, at 13:45)

Tim, were you the guy @ Rails Conf who talked about the 8 stages of moving to Ruby/Rails? If so, can you point to a summary of them, slide, or list them again? I have some folks I'd like to share them with.


From: Dominic Mitchell (May 22 2007, at 06:30)

The male/female ratio is one of the things that makes me proud to be a Brighton (UK) local. The Girl Geek Dinners just started up and appears to be doing hugely well at attracting a female audience.


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