RailsCamp - it is pretty close to what I actually said on the day, minus the heckling, discussions and answers…" />

So you're a kick-arse coder

This is the written version of a talk I did at RailsCamp - it is pretty close to what I actually said on the day, minus the heckling, discussions and answers to rhetorical questions.

So, you’re a kick-arse coder…

XKCD Regular Expressions Comic

Over this weekend, you’ve created awesome Rails apps - or perhaps you’re such a code ninja that you’re using merb, Camping, Sinatra or Hack. Well done. You rock. Honestly.

Perhaps you’ve been doing this for years - maybe you’ve fought off Java or .NET in a previous life. You’ve made sense of XML, and twisted Internet Explorer into looking somewhat decent without too many CSS hacks.

And that’s cool. Really.

But it’s only code, right?

Alright wise guy. What’s next?

XKCD My (Geek) Generation Comic

So where to from here, then? What’s next? What’s better than code?

To put it simply, although it may sound trite: Make a difference! Give something back!


And I could finish now - my message was blunt enough. You all got the point, right?

Ah, but examples would be nice. I don’t want to just lecture you with broad dreams and ideals - let me see if I can give you something to work with.

Let’s start with the basics. Release code! Let others learn from your mistakes. Let them save time using your plugins and gems. And this is also a subtle way of teaching about code.

There are less subtle ways to teach, though.

What, teaching? Like, in a classroom?

You can’t just type away on your blog and expect everyone to read it and become enlightened. You need to seek others, instead of waiting for them to seek out you.

Do people who use b, i and font tags make you sad? Well, go teach kids how to write semantic HTML. Get them while they’re young.

Contact your old Uni or TAFE and offer to do a guest lecture or two on unobtrusive javascript. Or some basic pointers on freelancing. Tell them how important it is to find a good accountant. Encourage them to be part of user groups and communities like our Oceania group. Give them some idea of what a reasonable hourly rate is - you know, the kind of things you needed to know back when you began freelancing.

Do the same at your old high school - drop in on the IT classes, and give the kids a lesson from someone who actually knows their shit. Run through the basics of firewalls. Regale them with your networking war stories (without the geek speak, though).

Be rewarded with glory, recognition, and warm fuzzy feelings.

“Well, that’s nice and all, Pat,” I hear you say. “But surely it’s still just tech. Even semantic HTML is important, sure, but it’s not really important now, is it?”

“That’s a good point,” is my reply.

So let’s think a little bigger

Mark Pesce at WDS07 with slide saying 'People are the network'

The world can always use some help. But it’s so big, and you’re so small, yeah?

Bullshit. Don’t give me any of those cop-out excuses. To paraphrase Mark Pesce: “We have been blessed with the biggest and best networking gear of all the hominids, and we all share the same capability.”

Did you know that all of Delicious Library’s Amazon referral income goes straight to charity?

Simple, yet effective. I think they’d be cool with you imitating that.

Perhaps you could donate that old hardware you’re not using to a school. Or, you could push 1% of your income to the NGO of your choice. It ain’t much, and it ain’t hard.

If you’re looking for a something a little different: Dean Kamen, who created the Segway, is providing electricity for villages in Bangladesh with boxes running off cow dung, and pure water for communities in Honduras. I’m sure he’d love some support.

It can be nice to get a feel for how you’re helping, though - random donations of money can seem like lip service. One suggestion of an alternative: Oxfam is an NGO that you can ‘buy’ specific items (cows, wells, mosquito nets and so on) for communities in third world countries.

So, take your slick Web 2.0 app, and build these donations into it. Perhaps as a small part of the account fees. And give your users the ability to donate more through your app if they wish. They’ll feel warm and fuzzy, and you will feel warm and fuzzy. And it’s all thanks to Rails! Or, well, something like that.

But wait! There’s more!

If you’ve got a bit of time up your sleeve (or are willing to make the time), you could donate a few months to organisations like Engineers Without Borders, or Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development if you’re under

  1. Sure, it may mean you have to put up with Windows, or poke around with PHP - but it’ll be while helping out people in countries like East Timor, or Nepal, or rural Australia.

Let’s blow this taco stand!

Now, what I’ve just gone through - it isn’t the answer. There is no silver bullet, no one approach that will always work. But they’re just a starting point, a few suggestions - and if we put our heads together, I’m sure we can come up with some better ones.

Gandhi said something like “be the change you want to see in the world”

  • and yes, it sounds clichéd, but it’s fucking true.

Don’t sit on your arse waiting for things to be better, or people to be smarter, or code to be DRYer.

Get out there!

XKCD Interesting Times Comic

(Photo above was taken by Rowen Atkinson at Web Directions South 2007. Comics from XKCD. Inspiration from Mark Pesce, John Allsopp, Mike Lee and Dean Kamen. Massive thanks to all who provided feedback.)

Jayne left a comment on 27 Nov, 2007:

I wish I was better at doing this. I agree everyone should give back to the community and it doesn’t take a massive sacrifice to do. There’s really interesting academic stuff along these lines on social capital which is quite intresting. There’s a book called Bowling Alone that talks about how Americans have stopped giving back to their communities and what this means. The title refers to how everyone used to go bowling together in the 50’s and now they don’t.

Maxine Sherrin left a comment on 27 Nov, 2007:

Nice post Pat! Sounds like it might have been even better “in real life” :)
One thing developers who want to “be the change they want to see” could check out is the Footprints Network:
a network of ecommerce busineses that uses an API to add on microdonations to online transactions. They’re particularly keen to get businesses with a large number of transactions on board, so if you’re involved in a project like this, think about advocating them.

Chris Coppin left a comment on 28 Nov, 2007:

Nice post mr Allan. And you managed to put my 2 favorite xkcd cartoons in as well :)

Lachlan Hardy left a comment on 29 Nov, 2007:

Your disclaimer at the start merely indicates that this is the version without beer…

Regardless, it’s a fantastic post, as it was a fantastic presentation. You, sir, are an inspiration!

pat left a comment on 30 Nov, 2007:

Jayne: Bowling Alone got mentioned quite a bit in the (single) sociology subject I did at uni - I’ve not read it though, but I should.

Maxine: That’s a very cool link - will have to keep them in mind - perhaps even for the next RailsCamp!

Chris: seems everyone loves the Interesting Times XKCD comic :)

Lachlan: My ego is getting beyond healthy thanks to your comments - that said, I’m pretty stoked that you and others enjoyed it.

Pickles left a comment on 30 Nov, 2007:

Blog Guide
5:00pm freelancing-gods.com
In this episode Pat takes acid and becomes Code Buddha.His Code-Love spreads through the world as the first ‘UUFLV’, Universal Unconditional Funkadelic Love Virus. George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic approve his entry to the Mothership.

Ben Schwarz left a comment on 1 Dec, 2007:

Well done Pat, I think your post / presentation is fantastic. I’m sure you understand how I feel about getting back to the community, teaching people and giving something back, its a fucking tough world out there.

Working the grind really makes people forget about the kid drinking out of the dirty cup or even the student who is only half interested in what they’re planning to do for the rest of their lives. Getting out there and talking to people is probably worth more weight than any project you’ll ever work. Mark Pesce got a lot of people thinking about the network at Web directions this year (myself included) and I’m glad you stoked the fire.

Steve left a comment on 17 Mar, 2008:

Hey Pat,

Loved it :) Can I suggest any of your hombre’s keen enough to put some money where their mouth is to check out the following…

1) World Visions Stir Child Rescue (www.stit.org.au) (disclaimer, I work there!)

2) Human Powered Cycles - I met this guy JUST tonight. Human Powered Cycles builds and rejuvinates pre-loved bikes and then provides them for free to asylum seekers in Melbourne. They have fixed up about 200 bikes in the last year, which now provide crucial transport to the people that need them most in our community. www.humanpowered.com.au

3) Ripple and iRipple (the facebook ap) - http://www.ripple.org/ Built by some guys in Melbourne…what can YOU guys do?