Choosing the right language: Ruby, a track to employment?

22 Jan 2015

Programming language Ruby can lay out a pretty achievable career path for students ready to enter the world of IT.

Given the ever-evolving nature of the digital scene, it is often unclear to college goers, graduates and the like just what route to take to employment.

What software should you engage in? What language should you learn? Are mobile apps the way to go? Start-ups or multinationals?

The questions are endless but the help available to make these choices is out there. Groups of like-minded individuals have reached their zenith in this online age, with anything from simple message boards to tangible meet-ups now the norm.

As communication has no doubt improved, so has the ability to adapt to the tools needed to make your way as a software engineer today.

Personal preference or professional planning

So when wondering what language to entertain – C++, Perl, Ruby, Python, Scala, Haskell and more – it can be as easy as looking through job listings, browsing online groups and simply reaching out. You never know what you’ll learn.

“I’ve used Ruby since around 2006. I use it a lot,” said Declan McGrath, a software engineer at Clavis Insight. He also runs Ruby Ireland, a network of Ruby enthusiasts that meet up regularly to attend talks on the topic and discuss ideas.

As a brief catch up, Ruby is a language, Rails is the framework on which Ruby is written, thus Ruby on Rails. It particularly grew in popularity after its second generation was created and Apple subsequently packaged it with the Mac OS X 10.5 ‘Leopard’ software.

One of numerous modern languages to come on track in recent years, Ruby’s high productivity rate – from the viewpoint of developer labour and speed of creation – has seen it firmly establish itself in the new world order of ‘higher languages’.

You’ve got Rails

“(The second generation) came out about the time that I was working with .Net stuff,” said Limerick native McGrath, who took up the language himself when he saw its use. He learned it over a couple of months.

“It seemed a lot easier than the alternatives at the time. Everything else at that time, a lot of the focus in web technology was on things like SOAP (…) That was quite complex. There was also a big focus on adding lots and lots and lots of different configuration options into web frameworks.”

What made it catch the eye was that Rails framework did away with large amounts of complexities, creating conventions and defaults to help engineers become more productive.

This means you don’t spend an age configuring files in order to get set up. It also means you can jump between different Rails projects, as each project will follow the same structure.

“That’s one of the first things that differentiated it,” said McGrath. “Ruby is essentially slower at running than Java, C or C++. In return, the developer is programming at a higher level, which makes it much more productive to work with – achieving more in a shorter time with less lines of code.”

Ruby on Rails

Hays lists web developers using Ruby as earning anything from €30,000-€80,000 in Ireland in 2015. Image via Shutterstock

But are there jobs?

Primed for back-end use, Ruby is one of the more expressive programming languages. As it has matured, more companies have picked it up as a more productive way to develop their product or service.

That’s reflected in the jobs environment in Ireland at the moment. Hays’ salary guide for 2015 released last month highlighted Ruby as one of the four key programming languages employers are looking for in Ireland’s booming tech scene.

And although it’s not necessarily what every college teaches its undergraduates, the ability to pick up Ruby commonly comes from two strands.

Firstly, if you learn the lower-language king C, you can pick up derivatives in a similar way to knowing Latin and learning any of the romance languages. McGrath, as he said, didn’t take too long to pick it up.

Secondly, if you are a keen programmer, it’s in your interest to learn what’s being used outside your four walls, as that’s the surest way to get you on the employment ladder.

Thus enthusiastic engineers adapt and evolve accordingly. Considering the coding industry is by its very nature more of a meritocracy than, say, the marketing industry, enthusiasm for, and enjoyment of, embracing new skills and languages is a certain way to stay relevant in the jobs market.

Programming image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt
By Gordon Hunt

Gordon Hunt joined Silicon Republic in October 2014 as a journalist. He spends most of his time avoiding conversations about music, appreciating even the least creative pun and rueing the day he panicked when meeting Paul McGrath. His favourite thing on the internet is the ‘Random Article’ link on Wikipedia.

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