Many years ago, all the way back in 2005, I had a corporate job.
It wasn’t a huge firm, but it was multi-national. I was a software developer, then a senior, then I became Technical Director.
As part of my work, I needed to simplify some code we were using, so I did some research. And I found this thing open source called “ActiveRecord”. It was written in a language I’d heard of, but never used, called “Ruby” – and it looked like exactly the sort of thing I needed. I thought I’ll study how it works, then copy it over into our system.
But as I delved deeper into how it worked, I discovered the rest; all the stuff that came with ActiveRecord. For those Rubyists out there, you’ll know that that means Ruby on Rails – a framework for developing web-based software that, a couple of years later, would take the world by storm – and still powers some of the biggest websites in the world.
More than Rails, though, I also discovered 37Signals and David Heinemeier Hansson. He had created Rails (and ActiveRecord) as part of their brand new “Basecamp” project management tool. And as I learnt more and more about Basecamp, DHH and 37Signals, I became entranced.
Because 37Signals wasn’t your ordinary web development agency.
They had principles. They took a stand.
Ruby on Rails was inefficient by most standards, because it prioritised “developer happiness” over code speed. Developer Happiness? When was the last time you heard of a technical tool that prioritises a person’s happiness?
Basecamp was simplistic by most standards, because it prioritised communicating with your clients over project management systems. Communication? In a project management tool.
And 37Signals took a stand against toxic work cultures, against Venture Capitalist culture and against long hours.
In those early years, I used to exchange regular emails with David (I doubt he’ll remember me now) and we met once, at RubyConf in Berlin (when I was working with Brightbox, another pioneering Ruby on Rails company and still the best place I’ve ever worked). He was always gracious, always friendly and always willing to help.
You might think that this is a nice tale and all, but you’ll never get real success that way. But you’d be wrong. 37Signals (now called Basecamp) is a multi-million dollar company – but they still fight to keep the company small so they can remain true to their values. DHH is a multi-millionaire himself, but he still speaks out against toxic work cultures. And Basecamp is still my favourite project management tool – because it’s still incredibly simple and just designed around getting out of your way.
What’s the point in all this?
Well, DHH is proof that, if you stand up for what you believe in, if you stick with it and you bring people with you, you can get there. Things don’t have to stay the same. You might not change the world, but you can change your world and the world of those around you.