Olivier Lacan

Software bricoleur, word wrangler, scientific skeptic, and logic lumberjack.

Ruby Heroes Farewell

Written on March 15, 2017 in Paris, France

I'm sad to announce that there won't be a Ruby Heroes ceremony at RailsConf 2017 and going forward.

Ruby Facets Banner with a chunky red heart full of chunky bacon

The responsibility of organizing the voting, judging, travel accomodations, and ceremony has rested largely on my shoulders (with much needed assistance from Ruby Central and Code School) for the past two years after I was handed the reins of the event. I've also been maintaining the Rails codebase for many years now.

I'm at a point in my life where I can't spare the time to dedicate to this project every year, but I'd be lying if I said this was my sole reason for pulling the plug.

It's possible that someone in the community will want to keep Ruby Heroes going on in some form as several copycat events (which have no association to Ruby Heroes) have been sprouting at diverse Ruby conferences around the world in recent years. I've considered that myself.

But truthfully, I don't think an award ceremony — however friendly and informal — is an appropriate solution to try and foster a culture of appreciation in the Ruby community anymore.

I worry that despite the initial focus of Ruby Heroes having been to shine a light on underappreciated members of the community, it has invariably become a place to annoint respected members of the community who — despite being quite worthy of accolades — don't really need them. I say this knowing full well that some well-known recipients have been deeply touched by receiving a Ruby Hero Award in the past.

Then there's the contentious issue of praise and rewards. Even a cursory reading of Alfie Kohn's seminal book Punished by Rewards can shake the conviction that good intentions excuse all unintended side-effects of handing people awards. To summarize Kohn's argument, it's very likely that rewards motivate people for the wrong reasons, demotivate those who didn't need awards to be motivated in the first place, and generally tend to turn something enjoyable into a chore because only chores must prompt compensation with a reward.

While I believe that Ruby Heroes has benefited some of its recipients personally and professionally over the years, I can't shake the feeling that it's also had a much less visible negative impact on their and other people's long term motivation in the long run. I could be wrong.

Although they have a different focus, initiatives like Ruby Friends and SayThanks.io are giving Rubyists a way to appreciate each other and the community members they look up to. I welcome all initiatives from the open source and Ruby communities to spread thankfulness, appreciation, and gratitude.

One of the best perks of the job has been to read the amazingly kind comments people sent throughout the years about their Ruby Heroes nominees. I don't know if these kind words are best kept private or public. But I know how something so simple as a grateful tweet or email can have a similar deep lasting impact on the recipients.

There are many ways to appreciate the people who inspire you and make your community better. You can thank them, hug themm or you can help them by supporting the efforts they hold dear. RubyGems.org recently made it possible to find reverse dependencies for gems. Think about the human depdendency graph of our community. Who depends on whom and vice versa?

Libraries.io offers a fantastic tool called "Improve the Bus Factor" which lists the most highly dependended upon libraries with the fewest maintainers and contributors. If that's not a call to action, I don't know what is.

PS: Thanks to everyone who has supported the mission of Ruby Heroes throughout the years in spite of its failings. I've never been more proud of the Ruby community now that it's out of the brightest limelight, and I can't wait to see all the amazing people and projects that will make it up in the years to come.