RailsInstaller: An Unexpected Journey

In the course of every man's life, there comes a time when he must rise up and own the moment. He must buckle down and become the leader he was meant to be. He must bear a great burden and push through to become a stronger person. This is not that journey…or is it?

hobbit (1)

The past defines us

A long time ago (2008) I was a lowly college student. I had started a course that would change the way I look at the programming world. This course introduced me to Ruby on Rails, though on a Windows machine it was anything but pleasant.

At that time, setting up an environment for building Rails applications was not a simple task. There were many different components that may or may not be easy to find and installing them was not trivial. While I was able to get things figured out, I dreamt of the day when somebody would make something to ease my installation woes.

Enter the wizard

It is now 2011 and Wayne E. Seguin has been conjuring up something that would shock the Rails community. This “magic” would be the saving grace of so many a developer on Windows. One package that would finally put an end to the madness and make installation easy. And like that, RailsInstaller was born.

Along with the installer, a website was created as a place to download RailsInstaller and get more information about Ruby on Rails development. This also included a tutorial screencast, done by Wayne, that deployed a simple application to Engine Yard Cloud

My journey begins

In June 2011, I was hired by Engine Yard to be what is known as a PANDA. Among my other many duties, I pretty much took on the role of helping Windows users who were trying to deploy applications on our platform. It was at this time that I really became familiar with RailsInstaller as well as the people using it. I helped a few users and also worked on a couple of the updated releases but did not really get too much into it until about a year later.

Into darkness

After working as a PANDA for about six months, I transitioned into the role of Application Support Engineer. Although I didn't typically work with Windows users since most of our customers are using Mac or Linux, I did keep RailsInstaller in the back of my mind. I released an updated version of the video for Windows and also did the one for the brand new OSX version of the installer, built by Michal Papis.

One of the other things I did was submit a talk proposal to Aloha Ruby Conf, titled “Rails Development on Windows. Seriously” which focused on using RailsInstaller to get started. The talk was accepted and at this point, I knew that I'd need to spend much more time living in the Windows world as a Rails developer.

I spent the next six months before the conference, trying to immerse myself in the Windows world. At this time, I was also following the RailsInstaller Google Group and the questions/issues/discussions happening there. I came to the realization that while RailsInstaller will get a development environment set up quickly, there are many issues that can crop up afterwards. I also saw the same questions popping up repeatedly, even though they had just been answered in a previous thread.

All of this time spent working in an operating system that seemed counter-productive, working my daily support duties, and answering questions on the Google Group had me pretty burnt out. After the conference was over, I disappeared from the RailsInstaller world.

An interesting proposition

At the beginning of 2013, all of the Support Engineers went over employee development plans with their respective managers. One of the things in the plan is a week-long sabbatical to work on something outside of support tickets. I talked with my manager for a while and he brought up the idea of doing something with RailsInstaller. At this time, there wasn't really anybody guiding the project and there hadn't been an update to the Windows version in months. We picked a week in April for me to take over as the project maintainer and re-focus the vision.

The return

During the week of April 15th, I stepped into my new role. I focused on learning how both versions worked and the different parts that are needed to build each one. One of the other things I wanted to accomplish was to change the focus of the project.

Originally, RailsInstaller had been pegged as a way for new developers to get started with building Ruby on Rails applications. While it is good to bring in new people and teach them development skills, there are also many things to learn outside of just Ruby on Rails. I really wanted it to be more focused on getting from a fresh, new computer to a full-blown development environment as fast as possible.

So today, we're re-launching RailsInstaller and we're focused on building applications and making money instead of messing with setting up everything manually. Please check out the updated site at railsinstaller.org as well as the organization on Github. If you need help with the installer or want to contribute, feel free to reach out in the Google Group, IRC, or hit me up on Twitter.

I really appreciate everyone who has contributed to the project as well as everyone who has used the installer. Looking forward to what comes next and the evolution of RailsInstaller. Thanks!