Rails in the Enterprise

I've recently been teaching Java programming at a large, enterprise-y software company. Its an ongoing series of Intro Java, Advanced Java and Struts in rotation. The students have been uniformly wonderfuly; engaged, interested in learning, excited about the possibilities of Java.

This company also offers a series of, essentially, lunch-n-learn symposia whereby speakers from inside the company and out are invited to present on a topic for an hour. The presentations are filmed and distributed internally as webcasts for those who couldn't make the presentation. In the past, I'd done a few of these (focusing on unit testing and exploration testing). Each time I did, the turnout was roughly 10-12 students.

This week, during my Intro Java course, I gave a new presentation: Ruby on Rails. I told my Intro Java students that I'd be spending the lunch hour one floor up, presenting on a new, dynamic web app framework written in Ruby, and that they were welcome to come upstairs and have a look. Only one of them took me up on my offer. However, that wasn't too bad, as ~40-50 others came. The room was packed to the gills, with folks sitting on the floor against the walls at the edges of the room. The person who handles the series later told me that it was the best attended session in the (multi-year) history of the program; I've since talked to a lot of folks who watched the webcast as well.

After the presentation, a group of attendees gathered around, and their comments all were of a single theme. I'll quote one of them: "Thanks for bringing Rails here; its a dose of fresh air just to see some alternatives to what we normally do around here." I was, to be honest, trepedatious leading up to the presentation. I didn't know if anybody would show up at all. I'm stunned, really, at the turnout and the reception the topic received. It wasn't due to the presenter, that's for sure; it was the framework the brought them and the framework that hooked them.

Does this mean that Rails is suddenly going to replace this company's product line? Not in a million years. The primary software solutions they sell aren't really suited for Rails or even Ruby. But as a large company who themselves have to build and support a software infrastructure, they have tons of need for a framework that allows them to quickly build robust web apps to serve internal, and even external, customers. And Rails is a great tool for that job. Judging by the response it got at this one session, and the conversations I had with the attendees there, it will be quickly and widely adopted at at least one major software company this year. I bet it isn't the only one.