A couple of us went to the MiniBar Internet Professionals’ meetup in London on Friday evening. I’ve been wanting to do a bit more networking with other developers in recent months — more on a social basis than anything else — so I quite relished the idea of getting out from behind the computer and actually spending some time speaking to people face to face, perhaps picking up some new ideas and inspiration. Most of my interaction with other developers has been online up to now, and my offline socialising has been largely restricted to people whose technical expertise tends to average out at the level of the bare minimum of Microsoft Word needed to do their job. Start talking to them about open source, Creative Commons, WordPress, Ruby on Rails or Linux and their eyes glaze over and they wonder if you are a Klingon in disguise.
I must admit I was a bit daunted by the prospect of the venue — Truman Brewery in Corbet Place — since I’m not a great fan of places like pubs, nightclubs, bars and breweries, mainly because I don’t drink and I can’t stand cigarette smoke. Nevertheless, I decided not to let it put me off. The loud music was a bit overwhelming and it made conversation somewhat harder, but cigarettes were mercifully thin on the ground, and all in all it wasn’t too bad. There were about a hundred and fifty or so of us there — a melting pot of geeks, entrepreneurs, investors and other hangers-on looking for ideas for the Next Big Thing™, and it was a surprisingly easy environment to get chatting to new people. It was also nice to see an even distribution of ages from early twenties to late fifties — sometimes you get the impression that this kind of business is dominated by young entrepreneurs in their early twenties with brand new computer science degrees, and once you reach the big three-oh you’re past it.
One thing that struck me was that out of the dozen or so laptops that people had brought along with them, every single one without exception was a MacBook. It made me feel like something out of Noah’s Ark owning a three year old brick from Dell. I think going down the Intel route was a pretty smart move on Apple’s part. The fact that you can run Mac OS X and Windows and Linux on the same machine, all at the same time through Parallels Desktop, makes sticking with a PC seem almost inexcusable.
One of the first people I got talking to was a Ruby on Rails evangelist. I think “evangelist” is probably something of an understatement here: this guy’s passion and zeal for Rails would make Reinhard Bonnke look like a hermit. Personally, I’d love to get into Rails properly — a platform that has active records, Model-View-Controllers, and test-driven development right at its foundation has to have a lot going for it. However, I do wonder sometimes if it’s a bit over-hyped.
“So, do you find there are many job opportunities knocking around for Rails?” I asked him.
He hummed and ha-ed a bit. “Well, actually, not really, no,” he said, before going on to confess that in Rails isn’t that good in terms of performance and scalability.
That’s the problem. At the moment the business case for learning Rails seems a tad exaggerated to me: it is more or less restricted to youthful startups (some of which have, admittedly, become pretty successful) and hobbyists, who have never read Fred Brooks’s classic paper No Silver Bullet. We have clients to convince that it’s the latest and greatest thing — and they are generally rather sceptical. Enterprise development is still very much a battle between .net and Java these days, and Web 2.0 development is dominated by PHP, simply because all the most popular and stable open source apps are written in PHP, such as WordPress, or MediaWiki, or Drupal. Having said that, give it a year or two and I think Rails is going to do pretty well.
There were five short presentations by various people: the Drupal users’ group had joined in with the day, and one of their guys gave a short presentation on what’s new in Drupal 5; a Polish developer/entrepreneur who has started a promising looking hosted wiki service, WikiDot.com, which combines the concepts of wikis and MySpace; an investor giving advice for startups; someone from Tioti.com (Tape It Off The Internet) — TV with the social networking elements added; and another startup talking about video mashups, where people combine bits of different films to produce something completely new.
Mashups. It seems that’s the emerging buzzword of 2007, in the same way that Web 2.0 was the buzzword of 2006, blogging hit the headlines in 2005 and RSS in 2004.
The rest of the evening went fairly well. I had a good chat with one of the guys from the London Drupal users’ group — a Java developer primarily, but he works with Drupal on the side. Much in the same way as I work largely with .net but do some stuff with WordPress plugins in my spare time. He seemed quite interested to hear what I had to say about WordPress and compare notes with his own Drupal experience. We also chatted a bit to the WikiDot developer and swapped ideas, and to a couple of guys who were very enthusiastic about whatever they were doing, though I found it a little bit hard to figure out exactly what that whatever actually was. Perhaps I was just getting tired, but it didn’t seem entirely clear from their business cards or their website either. I think they must be designers or something.
We left to come home at about half past eight. It took us an hour to get from Aldgate East station to Victoria, partly because we caught the wrong train at first, but mainly because we were held up on the Underground by maintenance, a security alert and leaves on the line. The train to Horsham left Victoria at about ten o’clock and arrived back home in Horsham at ten past eleven. All in all, it was a good evening, and I enjoyed getting out, meeting up with other people in the industry, and seeing en masse what kind of characters get involved in the whole Web 2.0 business.