Tim Gittos

I'm an Australian currently living in Austin, TX in the USA.

I currently earn a living programming, though I wouldn't call myself a programmer. If I had to attach a label to myself, I'd use the term autodidact.

I love learning, and my favorite things to learn about are programming, computer graphics, AI & machine learning, robotics, painting and creativity.

A CMS in Ruby on Rails, and Why I Stopped

Last updated on 06 Apr 2009

For the last couple of months I have been writing a series of posts describing a personal Ruby on Rails based CMS. I have been writing tutorial style posts outlining what I was doing, and why I was doing it. Don’t bother trying to look for those posts, because I’ve archived them.

This decision was pretty easy after I slowed down and reviewed the situation objectively for a few minutes. That clarity, coupled with a few truths that hit home while reading the source of a few other Rails applications pretty much sealed the deal.

The next post in the series was going to be an overview of another Ruby CMS project, BrowserCMS. I saw a video from RailsConf about this project, and recognised a lot of their goals as coinciding with mine. So I was going to poke through their code, see how they’ve done things, compare it to how I did the same things, or was planning to do them.

While I was reading through their source, it occurred to me just how much I don’t get Rails. I have a bit of a poke around with scaffolding and get familiar enough with the generators and I decide that I’m ready to tell people how do create a CMS in Ruby, because I’ve nearly finished creating a CMS in ASP.NET.

It’s clear to me, now, how silly that was.

Rails isn’t just a framework for Ruby, it’s a whole change in paradigm. Intellectually, I know Rails is “opinionated software”, however I don’t think I understood what that really means. I tried to make my code as flexible and configurable as possible, and I was struggling with all but the most basic CRUD tasks.

So, first I realised I wasn’t ready to tell anyone how to do anything in Rails.

But I have a series of about 5 posts doing just that. What do I do with those? Do I continue on, plugging away at learning while trying to instruct? I decided the answer to that depended on what I had achieved with my posts. What was the value of them?

Then I realised that I had covered very little other than simple CRUD. Sure, I had some unusual object relations, like trees and self referential comments, and I implemented some business logic like compiling pages into templates, however the total sum of the non-CRUD related content could have fit into 1 post. So I spent 4 posts blathering away at how to achieve the same task as running script/scaffold.

What’s worse is that I realised I was back in the rut of creating a CMS. How on earth did I do that again, after stating loudly and proudly that I don’t even like programming websites.? Well, I told myself, you are planning on using this on your own sites, your many, many online business ideas. Sometimes you have to do the same old thing to earn money. Which is true, if I had done anything of worth, but I hadn’t, I was a long winded scaffold script. I got carried away in the joy of learning a new language/framework (which isn’t a bad thing), and fell into the familiar territory of doing what I always do (which is a bad thing).

So, now I realise that I’m not only trying to teach people something I don’t understand, I’m trying to teach them how to do something I don’t even like doing.

That’s stupid.

I’ve archived the posts. I may revisit, as I still have grand ideas of what a CMS should be, but for now I’m shelving the whole thing. Luckily I have such a small readership (read: none) at this stage, nobody will be affected. For that I’m grateful.

And yet, through all this stupidity, I have learnt a few things of value.

I’ve learnt that Ruby on Rails is more complex than I thought, and will hit the books again to pick up some more advanced techniques.

I’ve learnt that I’m scared to push myself in programming. This revelation is a pointy one. I love programming, it’s my job, it’s my hobby and it’s my passion. The fact that I’m scared to push myself to innovate, hiding behind the excuse that I’m not smart enough or I’m not creative enough is double edged. On one hand, it’s sad that I’m not as ambitious as I thought. On the other, it’s great that I know now, so that I can get stuck into remedying that.

I’ve also learnt a lot about blogging. Those posts of mine weren’t really providing much value. I don’t have many readers because I’m not saying anything new, and I’m not showing anybody cool things they can’t find in a hundred other blogs. I also didn’t have much of a personal voice, and was writing them like I would a textbook, which is missing the point of a blog. It’s supposed to be informal, and I’m supposed to show my personality. So, I’ve found my voice, while realising that I’m not providing value. Another pointy idea, but ultimately good, because that too is something I can work on.

So, inevitably, I have to question the value of this post. What could this post provide to someone who stumbles across this website? Well, a few things.

Firstly, self awareness is a great thing to possess as a programmer. If you know where your weaknesses are, you can train in them, and get better. But that’s not enough, you also need to know what you’re afraid of, so you can recognise that you don’t even know that it’s a weakness. That fear hides the existence of the things you’re not good of, and that’s a major roadblock to improving.

And lastly, if you don’t have anything to add to the conversation, don’t say anything. The whole internet is a conversation, and I’ve just been babbling to myself in a corner the whole time. If you want to contribute, add your own thoughts, your own interpretation on subjects that are well known. Go into new levels of detail on old ideas and technologies. Introduce new ideas or technology, or modify existing ones. Contribute, don’t just talk for the sake of talking.