Why Ruby on Rails is Still a Strong Choice for Startups in 2020
We interviewed Becca Moran, Senior Product Director at Procurated, and learned how diversity, community, and technical relevance led them to choose Ruby on Rails as the primary programming language for their online procurement platform.
The conversation below has been edited for length and content.
After 20+ years of working in public procurement, David Yarkin had grown increasingly frustrated by a serious problem he saw in the way governments were selecting suppliers.
There were no reliable, independent reviews of the businesses providing these critical goods and services. Looking for a new restaurant? Use Yelp. Looking for a great plumber? Try Angie’s List. But if you’re looking to spend millions of taxpayer dollars? Good luck! Procurement professionals were stuck using cherry-picked references from the suppliers they were considering. This meant they were left without any helpful information about past performance to inform their decisions.
David decided to do something about that problem. He founded Procurated – currently the only online ratings and review platform for procurement professionals. One of the first choices his technical founding team faced was how to build the product.
They chose to build in Ruby. Of course, RoR isn’t perfect for every scenario. But they recognized that there are good reasons it still dominates web development and backend APIs. Ultimately, they chose Ruby, the language of predecessors like Airbnb, GitHub, and Shopify, because it’s a mature ecosystem with a robust collection of libraries that allows them to build quickly.
Ruby helps the Procurated team learn, iterate, test critical assumptions, and ultimately get their product in front of users faster. This decision allowed the Procurated team to launch the beta product in June of 2019, just a few months after development began.
RoR helps bring (much needed) diversity to tech
Software companies and tech startups are often accused of being too homogeneous. They can seem like a sea of young, white men in hoodies with CS degrees.
Recent data shows there’s some truth to that assumption. Stack Overflow’s massive 2019 survey found that just 11 percent of respondents were women. It also found that minority respondents in particular struggled with toxic work environments. While white Americans make up over 60 percent of the US population, they make up about 70 percent of developers.
That’s a problem for a lot of reasons, but one in particular gets overlooked. Diversity makes code stronger.
We spoke with Rebecca Moran, Senior Director of Product Management at Procurated about this matter. She shared, “We talk a lot at Procurated about diversity of thought and what it means to have a seat at the table, two of our core values.”
“To me, it means that you get to be a part of the conversation when we discuss key questions about our product and our business – and diverse points of view are truly valued in those conversations. Sure, we each have our own distinct set of responsibilities, but we make better decisions when we leverage the collective ideas and experiences of the whole group.”
So how does Ruby help?
Ruby on Rails is useful and easy to learn (compared to some other languages). It’s a popular starting point for many self-taught developers and coding bootcamps. In DC, you can learn RoR at top bootcamps like General Assembly, Thinkful, and Flatiron School. You can get on track (no pun intended) even if you weren’t a CS major, or if you’ve spent years in a different career.
“I really respect anyone who makes a pivot like that and invests the time to learn how to code” says Rebecca. “Plus, those candidates have typically had diverse experiences (in their careers and life in general) and I think that makes them better engineers. When you bring diverse perspectives into those conversations you think about problems differently and you are more likely to come up with an innovative solution.”
“Plus, we’re building a product for a diverse group of government users. So, our engineering team should reflect that same level of diversity. I think that helps encourage the kind of user empathy you need to build great products,” says Rebecca.
RoR has an active developer community in DC
Besides its other many benefits, Ruby also allows the Procurated team to pull in some of the top talent in the area.
If you watch shows like Silicon Valley, you might believe that software engineers are lone geniuses, producing code and solving problems all on their own. The truth is usually the opposite. No single developer knows everything. The best code is often built by teams that know how to work together. Developers rely on communities and shared resources. They learn from each other and borrow from each other.
Ruby in particular lends itself to community. It has a massive base of ruby libraries, or “gems.” And the community is especially active. In DC, there are several active meetup groups, bootcamps, and organizations dedicated to Ruby.
“When our first full-time engineer, Jacqueline Chenault, joined our team at the beginning of the year, it was further confirmation that we’ve made the right choice.” Rebecca adds. “Jacqueline’s approach is inherently collaborative –whether that’s working through a new feature with product and design or engaging with other engineers to confirm the best approach to a technical challenge. That passion for technology and the desire to keep learning is exactly what we’re looking for as we continue to grow our team.”
Learn more about Procurated
If we’re speaking your language (pun intended this time), check out open engineering positions at procurated.com/careers.