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Roadmap for Learning Rails (techiferous.com)
107 points by desigooner on July 24, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments



I don't know how anyone can learn Rails without knowing how to program. I know designers that call themselves web "developers." But I wouldn't call someone a developer if their development involves installing thirty gems and copy and pasting snippets.


I used ruby for years, and it still took some time for me getting used to rails.

For me, it feel like I am learning somebody's workflow. However, the workflow is rather efficient. It just take me a long time get through all the subtle details.


You can learn rails and learn to program at the same time. I knew how to hack PHP, but I learned Ruby on Rails as my first programming language/framework. I admit I copied and pasted snippets of code probably a dozen or so times, but you learn from that. I learned from those examples, until I didn't need them.

Just because you learn Rails first doesn't make you not a developer, though I would agree that if you're still dependent on copy and pasting then you're really not a developer.


I agree that you can dive into Rails and end up learning it well. And I also realize that people learn in different ways: some really like the methodical step-by-step approach and some prefer the dive-in-and-refine-later approach. You have to do what works for you.

That said, the point of my post is to accelerate the learning process. If you have a handle on Ruby first then when you are learning Rails you'll spend more time creating and less time debugging.

But your point is well-taken and no one should look at this roadmap as the best or only way to learn Rails.


The map is overrated. Instead spend time reading chapter one of http://railstutorial.org/ and you'll have already covered many of the concepts noted {Heroku, git+github, basic Rails stuff} and just keep going at it. Hartl's (Insoshi YC approach is very much suitable for even beginners but doesn't disappoint for more advanced developers as well.

Of course, do tryruby.org first.


It's funny to read this, 'cause in many ways I started programming (flailingly) with Ruby/Rails, and then worked backwards from there. I read Peter Cooper's Ruby for Beginners book, which ended with a little Rails, and then I read some HTML. I didn't know a lick about JavaScript for a while, and so there were all these Rails helpers and shortcuts, and they were a complete mystery! Rails has so much "magic" to it that I often found myself confronted by problems that I could not understand, because I was at a level too abstracted to really know what was happening. In an odd way, though, it was really helpful – it was like walking around in a giant robot suit, being able to make greater strides than I really should have been able to on my own strength, and then having it break down from time to time and forced to understand pieces of the nitty gritty. Eventually it broke down so much that I had to do a lot of the background reading I should have done from the start; but what's nice is that I could never imagine coding a project of any sort without some sort of strict organizational system like Rails'.


If I was to start over again I would go like this: C, Python, HTML/CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, SQL, Django. For me it's imporant to understand how something is put together on at least some basic level. E.g. I more or less know how Django's ORM translates into SQL, or how a Python inerpreter translates Python code into bytecode (at least very theoretically). I hate the idea of using something as a magical black box.


I would be tempted to agree; I've wanted at times to go and learn C, so I can know what my Ruby is really written in; but there's always more complexity underneath; I could and should learn how computers themselves work, but there will come a time when I will need to, and for now there's only so much time. Put quickly, I'm using a magical black box to type to you right now, and if I started from the beginning, I'd never have the time to use it.


I taught a high school Java course for three years. One year I decided to give the students an overview the whole stack of what was happening, from the transistors to logic gates to the ALU to machine code to the Java byte code. It was a thoroughly rewarding experience for both me and the students.


And then we would not have this conversation :(. My advice is to at least learn about pointers and virtual memory. It will make a lot of sense out of a lot of things and it can serve as a nice foundation to actually jump into C one day.


This seems like a good first step, and I've been looking for a way to get into C. I'll check it out...


I learned Ruby on Rails as my first programming language/framework. Looking back on my own reservations, hang-ups and attempts to teach other non-programmers rails, I don't think this learning approach will be successful for most non-programmers.

The first question I think is: Who wants to master Ruby/Rails and related technologies? Very few who aren't already developers - at least not at first. We're all cognitive misers. Most people want to learn the minimum to get the job done. Also, for a complete newbie, learning is usually optional. People need to be encouraged to learn a little and then keep building.

For example, when I've taught others CSS/HTML, I used to start with big overviews and then moved forward. Now, I found it's much more successful to give people the tiniest bits of information they need to do something and then building from there. People learn better when they are eager to learn.

Once they start investing some time learning or trying to build their own application, they'll do what they need to do to keep up. Figuring out how to deploy to Heroku is a minor step once you're already on the path, but as yet another whole additional thing to learn, it's intimidating to non-programmers. In my case, it wasn't until I was knee deep that I started pushing myself toward any level of mastery. When I got going, I learned Rails as I needed it when I needed it.

Ruby/Rails can be learned concurrently. While I knew CSS/HTML and basic JS, I started with the framework not understanding the difference between ruby and rails. At first, I struggled with some ruby syntax, but after I spent a day focused on Ruby basics, I stopped having that problem. I built my knowledge incrementally. This approach may not be for everyone, but I believe it is more likely to encourage continued learning.

It wasn't until after I learned Ruby/Rails, that I needed and started using GIT, picked up JS and over the past three-four years grew to be a decent all around rails developer. My best learning has come from working with other developers on larger projects. As I've learned these things, it's made picking up related technologies nearly trivial. Sinatra and mongoDB were a sneeze to pick up.

If you really want to encourage total newbies to learn Ruby on Rails or any language, you need to provide them with as many tangible benefits along the way. If they take baby steps and can see their success, they will constantly be motivated to continue and (hopefully) to improve.


Rails is not a programming language ...


He gets that, which is why he says 'programming language / framework'.


He went back and changed it. It originally just said "my first programming language."


Sorry, thought I acknowledged your point in a follow up comments to you. Just looking back on this now.


I can't stand it when people do that. Sorry.


I think the easiest way to get to Rails or Django or other similar framework is to start by learning HTML, then CSS, then Javascript, then PHP + MySQL, then Rails/Django/etc.

HTML will teach you basic web markup. CSS will teach you basic design. Javascript, basic interactive functions in the browser. PHP, server-side knowledge and how to create dynamic pages. MySQL, for how databases work and how to use them in CRUD situations, or more elaborate ones.


I actually recommend that people spend only about an hour or two on Ruby before getting into Rails. Ruby is very intuitive and the few things that aren't can be temporarily memorized until they make sense.

My roadmap would be:

1) sinatra hello world

2) sinatra hello world w/ erb template

3) deploy it to heroku

4) do something with a form (without form helpers)

5) do something with sessions

6) do something with datamapper

7) who needs rails?


"This seems too complicated."

It will to a developer. This is aimed at newbies. When you've been a developer for a while, so many skills become automatic to the point that they are invisible to you and you forget that newbies have to learn them.

Beginning programmers still struggle with proper indentation, for example. That's something they have to learn.


How is indentation relevant in any of the items I listed?

I think the key is to quickly get to something that does something interesting and can be changed in minor ways.


Let's say you're not really a developer and you have 6 months to write a functioning Rails app or you're homeless. Now what's the best roadmap for learning Rails?


Well, we run RailsMentors (http://www.railsmentors.org) for that reason, stop by, sign up, and see if you can find someone to mentor you. It's all volunteer, there to help newcomers get excited about Rails. Doesn't cost you a think, except for your time. Of course, the mentors will expect you to put some effort in, and they won't do your work for you, but the idea is to help people like you get up and running.


I think you're better off focusing on the views (HTML/CSS/JS parts) for now and outsourcing the backend stuff to someone else. Perhaps you can take over the development after you have a good handle over programming (and/or writing rails apps).


Does it need to just function or does it need to be an easy to maintain, versioned, self-documenting effecient debugged, QA'ed, UX designed, accessible web app? If the former then you are in luck. If the latter, you are better off paying someone to do it for you an working a different job for six months.


When I first started with Rails the biggest problem for me was that I didn't know Ruby.

Taking the time to learn Ruby before diving into Rails will make a huge difference. And if Rails doesn't turn out to be your thing, you still have your knowledge of Ruby for Sinatra or scripting.


I learned Ruby while learning Rails, and I don't think it was necessarily a bad thing. I mostly just needed help over a few humps ("What are these symbol things? How do blocks work? Wait, you mean everything is an object?"), and then it started to come together pretty nicely.

The biggest hurdle in learning Rails, IMO, is that it is such opinionated software. It does so much for you if you follow convention, and the newbie follows conventions because the tutorial says to, and has this holy pogo-sticking africanized honey bees, what the dong just happened? experience. Rails is fantastic because it does so much of the groundwork for you, but it also means that there are a lot of conventions to learn, and a lot of magic that happens that can be exceptionally confusing to the beginner.


I'm learning Ruby while learning Rails also. I didn't find the Ruby syntax very confusing, but the humps for me are "How do I make sure I'm doing this the right way even though I'm a n00b? How do I get over being a database control freak and give in to db management using ActiveRecord?"

I came from using CodeIgniter, which is a Rails-esque framework for PHP. Fortunately, the "opinonated" structure etc. made a whole lot of sense to me, and in retrospect makes me wonder why I didn't jump into Rails sooner.


As far as DB management, I don't buy the whole Rails kool-aid as far as DB constraints go. I still develop constraints, set up foreign keys, and hack around AR when it's expedient to do so. AR is marvelous at solving 90% of the standard boring CRUD without any headache, but it isn't a silver bullet, and you can still shoot yourself in the face performance-wise with it. Don't be afraid to overstep its bounds when necessary, but don't prematurely optimize, either.

I've worked in CakePHP since learning Rails, and I have to say that more than anything, it makes me really dislike PHP as a language. The framework is pretty decent, but Ruby is so flexible and malleable that it really makes working in PHP painful.


If you've already done this backwards, there is a book called Ruby for Rails that teaches advanced Ruby from the point of view that you already use Rails but haven't been able to get very far into the source. A bit outdated, but still pretty good stuff. (http://www.manning.com/black/)


The book has been updated but with a different title that I currently forget. :)


Good post, i've been teaching RoR at university of texas over the summer and the videos/slides are all online.

http://www.thinkbohemian.com/

Any feedback is appreciated, as this is a beta class, and i'm writing the material as I go.


This roadmap looks pretty nice! I actually jumped right into Rails without knowing any Ruby, but I didn't have too many problems. That's probably because I'd been programming in other languages for years, and I had a good book. Still, some of the stops on this roadmap look interesting and I'll probably run over it myself. Nanoc and Sinatra look interesting, and I never did give Heroku a try.

By the way, has anyone else noticed that "nanoc" is "Conan" backwards?


Thanks!

I think that if you have prior web development experience, you can just jump right into Rails. If you have prior programming experience but not web experience, I would visit the HTML/CSS/DNS/JavaScript section of the roadmap. If you have no programming experience, then I would recommend the full roadmap.


[deleted]


You've got the wrong post. Move your comment over here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1544351


Duh. Thanks :)


wonder if there's a similar to-do list for learning up Django for newbies.


For django, you're better off learning python first, because Django feels less DSL-like than Rails and it's purely python.

If I were to make a workflow, it'd be this for Django: 1) Learn python with these two resources: a.This is for absolute beginners http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/electrical-engineering-and-comput...

b.Do these exercises - http://code.google.com/edu/languages/google-python-class/exe... there are some video lectures if required

2) Understand HTTP:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypertext_Transfer_Protocol#Req...

3) Now onto django, follow this book along: http://www.djangobook.com/en/2.0/ keep at it and finish the book regardless of your comfort level

4) Build an easy search app from scratch to get a better idea of API's and python's awesomeness: http://lethain.com/entry/2008/jul/10/yahoo-s-build-your-own-...

5) Just make your own app


I'm having problems understanding how to put my applications written in Django on the web(wsgi, apache, nginx...). Any recommended links?

So I'd add 2b)some sysadmin knowledge: apache, config files, ssh, ...


I'd suggest anyone in this situation try slicehost / ubuntu / nginx / fcgi as a starting point. Reasonably fast, low memory, slicehost is awesome and has awesome tutorials. I find nginx much easier to configure than apache. These articles should cover everything. You should pretty much be able to paste the code in, but consider what you are doing first.

http://articles.slicehost.com/2008/11/28/ubuntu-intrepid-set...

http://articles.slicehost.com/2009/3/5/ubuntu-intrepid-nginx...

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/605173/how-to-nginx-virtu... OR http://code.djangoproject.com/wiki/DjangoAndNginx

http://docs.djangoproject.com/en/dev/howto/deployment/fastcg...


I don't know the scope of your app, but if you're just starting out with Django, try Google App Engine. It's super scalable and it's easy to deploy. Also, take a look at this sample search app that runs on Google App Engine - the source code for it is on github and this link the guy goes into how he did it: http://lethain.com/entry/2009/mar/05/deploying-django-spring...

As about other hosting issues, I usually find django's official site to be pretty thorough: 1) http://docs.djangoproject.com/en/dev/howto/deployment/modwsg... 2) some hosts - http://code.djangoproject.com/wiki/DjangoFriendlyWebHosts 3) Amazon EC2 Django - http://blog.awarelabs.com/2008/amazon-ec2-basics-for-the-cur...


I suggest to learn old fashion way - read book (http://www.djangobook.com/) and when found something unknown just dig into it. But it's hard to know when to stop digging :)


"It will be months or even years before you are a productive Rails programmer."

Doesn't that fly in the face of the definition of Rails?


Kinda, but no. You can do simple things quickly with Rails. That means you get to the harder things faster. You very quickly discover that you have to learn Ruby if you want to do anything beyond scaffolding. I think that's what he means by being a "productive" Rails programmer.

But a person who has done Rails development for 6-9 months, ad has used Git, and knows how to deploy an application to Heroku... they will really be able to do a lot of cool things very quickly. Just watch what happens in October during the Rails Rumble.


No. Rails is only quick to learn if you are already a web developer who happens to be using another language or framework.




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