Wanna build a startup from scratch? Why not learn Ruby on Rails

Rails tracks train

Daniel Kehoe is the author of Learn Ruby on Rails — a book that comprehensively covers the programming language from Git to Gems. We recently caught up with the San Francisco native to chat about what it is about Ruby on Rails that makes it so appealing for startups and learn about his reflections on the local tech scene.

For those not familiar with Rails, it’s a open source web application framework written in Ruby which is an alternative to other languages like PHP, Python or Java. Unlike those languages, Rails requires less code for basic structures and is therefore easier to test different programs on.

As the title of his books suggests, Kehoe will help both experienced developers and laymen learn about the value about Rails and how to use it. Asked about why he believes Ruby on Rails is the language of startups, Kehoe points out that it’s easy to build a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and also rather easy to grasp.

“Developers see an increasing demand for their skills at the same time they realize they can take the risk of entrepreneurship themselves,” Kehoe who is also the founder of RailsApps explains. “Consequently, non-technical entrepreneurs are realising they need to learn to code if they want to pursue ambitions of releasing web or mobile products.”

Read more: Ideas to reality: 5 free tools to build your own prototype (and potential startup)

He explains that Rails relies on a set of conventions that are uniform and familiar to all Rails developers, so developers get up to speed quickly, when newcomers join a project, when team members are replaced, or when contractors make a contribution.

For a startup, that means all the common code you might need for a web application has already been written, and can be dropped in as components, reducing the time it takes to build an MVP. Thus, Kehoe argues, Rails as well as other programming languages is something that would fit well in a place like Cape Town — a city that’s more and more making a name for itself abroad.

Where does Rails fit into Cape Town?

“Relative to most of the world, South Africa is poised for a boom in its digital economy,” Kehoe says. He points out five crucial points to back this bold claim.

First, the cost of living is a lot lower than in most places in Europe or the US. “Local startups have told me that the barrier to entry is low for startups and there is a solid community to provide support, with angel and VC money available.”

Add to that the fact that people speak English and you’ve got yourself the basics for outsourcing; not just skills but markets as well. A local developer can find himself building an app at the Woodstock Exchange or a co-working space like TwentyThirty only to launch it in the States for much less than he would in San Francisco or Berlin.

Kehoe also notes that the Mother City has a fitting culture for a thriving startup ecosystem. Apart from the fact that the city secured the prestigious award for World Design Capital last year, there is a strong community that stretches from the Silicon Cape initiative to the Bandwidth Barn and all the co-working hubs scattered across the region.

“I’ve met world-class software developers working remotely for clients in the US and Europe, and I’ve been told that given the demand locally and internationally, South Africa has a shortage of developers,” he points out. “Given the lack of education programs that teach the practical aspects of software development, it’s not surprising that most developers are self-taught.”

Read more: CodeX aims to nurture Africa’s growing tech demands

Kehoe tells Ventureburn that to stimulate this growing economy, basic infrastructure such as faster broadband and reliable electricity should be a given.

“Cape Town greatly needs a municipal fibre loop with fibre drops to all the vacant commercial real estate in the city,” he says. “These are third-world infrastructure problems dragging down a country that is already part of the first-world digital economy.”

Interestingly, Kehoe points out the many co-working spaces in the city. The Silicon Cape alone lists about twenty co-working spots around the Cape Town area. “It’s amazing to me that there are more co-working spaces in the Cape Town than one finds in New York or San Francisco, and I attribute that to the need for people to band together to share the costs of internet access.”

Daniel Kehoe is having a Ruby on Rails accelerator course this coming weekend (from 9 January). To find out more click here.

Image by Alpha du centaure via Flickr

Jacques Coetzee: Staff Reporter


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