I recently read ‘Getting Real‘, a book (only available as pdf) by 37 signals. 37 signals are the people behind the much hyped Ruby on Rails and a bunch of webapps based on this RoR (=Ruby on Rails) framework.
Why I wanted to read this book
I use RoR with success for an ongoing project at my daytime job and also used it for an ‘after-hours’ sideproject of which at least the development was a success thanks to Rails. I’ve also used Ruby (it works without Rails too) for more little projects and ‘glue’ than I can count.
Seeing that Getting Real is almost as hyped as RoR itself I figured I’d shell out the $19 and check what Getting Real is all about. After all, Rails has turned out to be a very productive and really quite fun web development framework. (but then, after years of doing VC++/MFC development even a lobotomy would seem ‘fun’… or even cobol… nah… just kidding about the cobol)
B*ring business stuff
To be honest… during the first 80-90 pages I wasn’t really reading anything new or insightful to me. But they also say this in advance. Still, I started feeling like I had fallen for some clever marketing ploy, because admit it: these guys are very good at marketing themselves (which is not a bad thing). Looking back now at the index it seems the first 80-90 pages are mainly about running your business; the latter pages are more focused on the product itself. Being a developer, this probably explains why those ‘business pages’ seemed more bedtime story-like to me (without Madonna).
I totally skipped e.g. a part about staffing and some other that had 0 interest to me as a developer.
And again ‘Alone Time‘ gets mentioned by a successful development team (This often gets called ‘The Zone’, but then I get the eerie feeling they’ll start talking about ‘The Force’ next which triggers some kind of acute running instinct). Every time I read about this I hope that some manager type somewhere gets the idea to try and give his developers some uninterrupted time.
Unfortunately only the independent, work@home developers I know can truly reap the rewards of being able to work without distraction… This o so simple but major productivity booster remains largely ignored by the corporate world. (time to kick some corporate ass me thinks, which is surely something the 37 signals guys are doing if you ask me)
Aha! Interface design!
After that things started getting more interesting (starting at p91, ‘Interface design’). I’m very fond of this since we as developers see the interface as a small part of the application. But for the customer, the interface is the program.
I was actually picking up things here and there I hadn’t thought about before and enjoyed (not always agreed) on some new and alternative views on old cake. I was generally enjoying reading these parts so much more compared to the first 80-90 pages that I wonder if they were written by someone else.
However, a lot of their ideas are a rehash of things I heard/read before or things I already knew. And I’m past the stage that I find it reassuring that someone out there has the same ideas as me… and way past the stage I want to pay for it. (and almost entering the stage I find it frightening… or maybe that’s what ‘they’ call paranoia ?)
Opinionated framework, opinionated book?
Getting Real also tends to be quite opinionated, just as the Rails framework. This is generally good, when it’s backed by experience (which they have without doubt in their niche). I don’t think however it’s good to generalize their situation and way of working to your own without giving it some decent thought. This is what worked for them. Some of it might work for you, most of it will not. Developing a product and building a business around it is a far more complicated affair compared to a web application framework.
You can never be 100% sure wether something will work (again) the way you expect it. You can however plan for things not going as planned… not doing this is… hmm… stupid really (by lack of a more correct word). But this is something everyone seems to forget all the time.
But, to be honest: they say in their introduction (or should I say disclaimer?) that they’re opinionated, that not all of their ideas will work everywhere, that they don’t claim to have invented their ideas and so on.
What could this book be?
You shouldn’t forget that this book is about what worked for them, with their team developing their products. While it does contain a lot of good ideas, I’m pretty sure their own ideas and methodology will keep on changing and adapting for their own needs as fit. This is good… Dinosaurism has always been a thing of the past and at the same time always been around. The same people who run around saying the internet and internet related business moves 5 times as fast compared to traditional business are still holding on to at least 5 year old development techniques. In traditional business this would mean your production techniques would have remained the same for at least the last 25 years. This isn’t realistic, unless you’re a mom&pop company with mom&pop customers.
Don’t take Getting Real as a ‘web 2.0’ bible. Bibles (no matter what religion) have never been the source of any kind of positive evolution.
Think about it.
Forget about it….
the useful ideas will pop into your mind when you need them.
KLF – The Manual
While reading Getting Real, I often had to think about klf’s ‘The Manual’ (google it), which is a book on how to get a #1 hit ‘the easy way’. A must read if you happen to be into music (and available 4free!), even only for the entertainment value.
Is it worth $19?
Hell yeah! $19 is around these parts the price of a nice homecooked meal. And even if you get only 1 good idea, new insight or alternative view you hadn’t thought about before while reading this book, I figure it would be worth it. Even though I was disappointed at first (probably expecting too much after all those positive reviews/comments), I’m pretty sure that if they release a ‘Getting Real 2.0’ in a couple of years I’ll be happy to read it again!