Coding with Jesse

Switching from PHP to Ruby on Rails

November 30th, 2006

Normally, I try to avoid server-side programming topics. But this time, I thought I'd share my story to perhaps inspire some of you to try something new.

I switched to working in Ruby on Rails this month. Lots of people have done the switch, and even more have written about how Ruby on Rails makes coding web sites a lot more fun and easy (it's true!). But that's not what this story is about.

Until I switched, I was a PHP programmer. It's not just that I did a lot of work in PHP, it's that this is what clients expected of me, or so I thought.

Unfortunately, I was getting really bored of doing PHP programming. I've never been passionate about PHP, it's just something I know that I use to get the job done. Code Igniter had gotten me excited about coding in PHP again, but it just wasn't enough.

I've had a lustful eye on Ruby on Rails since I first heard about it a year or two ago. Yet it stayed on my long-term To Do List, never quite becoming a reality. "When I have more time, I'll figure it out and start using it," I thought. "One of these days I'll do a small project for myself in Rails so I can learn it," I told myself for months.

I felt like I was stuck. PHP was what I knew, what I had used for years, and what I was best at. I had never used Rails, so I certainly didn't feel qualified enough to sell myself as a Rails developer. On top of this, I had three major projects coming up that were all supposed to be done in PHP.

Then one day, I asked myself why I was so willing and excited to work in JavaScript but not PHP. Why is one fun and the other painful? I had always thought of the difference as just client versus server, but then I figured out it might just be the language itself. So I decided the only way to keep my sanity was to switch. There was no way I would keep doing this PHP thing.

So, I got in touch with my clients and asked if they'd be willing to build the projects with Ruby on Rails instead of PHP. They couldn't care less. All they wanted was the finished project, and it didn't matter to them how it was done. One client even said the only reason she had mentioned PHP was because it seemed like the most common, but really didn't care. They didn't even mind that I was just starting to learn, because they knew it would make the project more fun for me, and they trusted me.

So I did it. I've been coding in Rails since the start of the month, and it's been a great time. Sure, there was a learning curve. It took me some time to figure out how to do the simplest of things. But I read through the book, I experimented, I searched the web for answers, and now I'm cruising. I'm about 80% as good in Rails as I am in PHP, except with Rails everything takes half the time so in the end it's actually faster.

So what's the moral of the story? If there's something new you want to start doing, or if you're getting bored, just go change things. Today. Create your own opportunities. And stop finding excuses in those around you for your inability to change, because there's a good chance they will totally support you.