David Heinemeier Hansson

November 10, 2023

The origin of Ruby on Rails

I can't thank Honeypot and Carolina Cabral enough for the producing The Rails Documentary that was just released today. Looking back on those early, formative years of Ruby on Rails with Tobi, Jamis, Jeremy, and Jason was actually kind of profound. I usually don't spend much time looking back, so for once to stop and marvel at how we got started twenty years ago was really special. A fitting tribute to two decades of working with Ruby on the web.

Together with 37signals, Rails has been my life's work. I've had the pleasure to collaborate with literally thousands of people on evolving the framework, and I've been humbled to see well over a million applications be built with it. Everything from tiny internal apps to $77 billion behemoths like Shopify.

Now one of the reasons I don't spend too much time looking back is because how easily you might end up stewing in your own nostalgia and self-satisfaction. Not to talk about grandiose words like "legacy". But I'm willing to make an exception here, and actually use that word, "legacy", because it's been on my mind lately.

Perhaps it's because I recently turned 44. That's past the halfway point for the average human in every society around the world. Which by cliche is when a fair number of people really start to consider their mortality (and freak out about it!).

I feel like Stoicism has given me a good head start on contemplating mortality, though. I've had Memento Mori (latin for "remember death") on my phone background many times over the years. So it's less about mortality per se, and more, like Clayton Christensen would ask, How Will You Measure Your Life?

That's the kind of legacy I care about. Being able to say "life was long enough" to myself on the last day, and mean it. To believe that I spent my time well, in service of pursuits worth the effort, in concert with people worth the relation, in honor of virtues worth upholding.

Looking back at Ruby on Rails, I can easily and emphatically say "totally worth it". Worth the effort, worth the pushback, worth the dramas, worth the impact. That's a pretty cool feeling.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.