The overall economy still sucks — I read that this is not just the US, but a global problem. Meanwhile, in my little corner of the world, I run into people everyday who are frustrated that they can’t find good Rails engineers to hire. I’ve written that companies need to hire people who are good engineers and don’t (yet) know Rails. I also talk to a lot of unemployed engineers — people laid off from .NET, java or management and young people who are struggling to find their first (good) job. This blog post is for those folks. There are some key skills that are different and that you can (and need to) start to acquire before you can easily find a job.

I find that most engineers can learn the tech, but think they need a job to demonstrate that they know it. Therein lies the issue. It appears to be a chicken-and-egg problem, but it is in fact a gap in skillset. It is common for me to run into engineers who say they have been learning Ruby and Rails for months or years, but I google their name and don’t see anything they have published –no blog post, no tutorials, answers on mailing lists, bug reports, or patches. If you have tried to learn something, then you must have run into an issue with it. If you have built an app, used a gem — if you live in this world and write any kind of software, you have run into missing documentation, you have worked around an issue or solved a configuration problem. Working in open source, experienced engineers publish or patch issues that they find. If you haven’t documented or fixed issues, a hiring manager has to wonder: did you really build something? did you just follow someone else’s tutorial? are you someone who will push themselves? would you even notice if something wasn’t right? If you don’t participate it undermines your credibility.

The good news is this is easy to remedy. Don’t feel you have to start with a big project. It is better if you start with something small. Just continue to do your own development and whenever you run into an issue, really dig into it. Then publish what you discover. Whether it is a bug or a feature someone else will need the answer you just discovered. If it is a bug, report it. If you think you can fix it, submit a patch or github pull request.

More suggestions

  • start hanging out in a Ruby or Rails forum or stack overflow and answer questions that you know or can find the answer to. Provide links to resources, not just answers. Do it in a friendly tone with humility or just give a simple answer. This is will sharpen your skills and start to build a little credibility.
  • start a blog, write a short synopsis with a code snippet or reference to github repo with an example whenever you learn something, anything that you can imagine someone else might run into or you want to remember
  • add your profile to
  • show up at your local meetups, introduce yourself to a few people who look like they don’t know anyone
  • start a study group
  • volunteer for railsbridge (seriously, you could just show up on the mailing list and ask what needs doing, say what your skills are and what you would like to do)

While you are looking for paid work, plan to spend a significant amount of time honing your skills by solving some real problems.  In looking for a Rails job, that activity will serve you better than more hours polishing your resume.  Focus on being very good at whatever you do know and enjoy doing.  Understand the results that you can achieve.  Develop your own sense about what is great Ruby code, but be open to not having all the answers.  Once you get fairly good at something and have written code for it, consider publishing it as a gem.  There are plenty of bugs to be fixed and problems to be solved.

6 thoughts on “how to get a Rails job

  1. Sarah, great advice! I went to a Diaspora meetup recently, as you encouraged me to do. I still don’t feel ready to contribute, but I’ve been playing around with their source code & will hopefully be up to speed soon. I’m also helping a friend go through an existing Rails app & modify it for some experiments he’s running at Berkeley. I definitely think that working on open source projects & meeting more people from the community are good next steps.

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  3. Hi Sarah,

    great advice ! need some of your pearls of wisdom. I have a yearning to learn Ruby on Rails , but have no web development experience. Just wondering, if you could share your experience & suggest te best way to move forward….(books, tutorials , up first born ….
    I am based in bay area..)

    Thanks so much,

  4. Bits,

    I wanted to put in my 2 cents because I’ve been in the same position in regard to Ruby on Rails. I’m still a newbie and have a ways to go but here’s how my journey began. Took a Web Development class which covered front/back end technologies, tools & servers (HTML, CSS, Javascript, J2EE, JDBC, MySQL, Eclipse, Dreamweaver, Apache, Tomcat). Obtained a basic knowlege but no work experience. Started to join meetups and came across SF Ruby Meetup where they held a RoR Workshop for Women. Men can attend if a women invites you as a guest. They have volunteer teachers to assist in installing the required software and then a workshop where you learn some commands to produce an app. At this point, RoR was still foreign to me and most RoR meetups had topics or classes that were too advanced. I found one meetup that was geared towards the newbie and I received assistance in installing a VM(virtual machine using Ubuntu) on my Windows Vista OS since Windows OS is known to be problematic. Next, taking a RoR class at Blazing Cloud where Sarah is the head and teaches. There are tons of books, tutorials on RoR so I can’t advise which is the best. Sarah is writing a technical RoR book which she’s been using in class. Not sure when it will be published but it’s worth getting.

    A little more on the Blazing Cloud class, for me it’s fast paced but packed with alot of good RoR stuff. They are now recording the class so that has been my crunch in learning. After the class, I basically take it over via the recording except I can pause it and take notes to figure things out. Once the class is over, I’ll have a better foundation and will go over everything by coding only until I’m fluent in what I’ve learned.

    My approach is painstaking but it’s the only way I can upgrade my skillset.

    Hope this helps!

  5. Afternoon all,
    First I would like to say that working with developers in the area I felt the article Sarah put together was accurate and a stigma that follows new scripting languages. I currently have multiple clients looking for strong developers in Javascript and Rails who are motivated and looking to join there thriving environments. My problem is I can not seem to locate the developers. I know you are all out there but there seems to be a loss connection between myself and all of you. Lots of my emails about positions whether contract, contract to hire, or FTE go on silent ears. Sarah do you have any suggestions as to how I can effectively reach these developers who are looking to break into the world and get real industry experience?

    Kyle Barry

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