Hot skills: Could Ruby be the jewel in the crown of scripting?


Hot skills: Could Ruby be the jewel in the crown of scripting?

Nick Langley

What is it?

Ruby is a relative latecomer among scripting languages but it has developed a distinct niche for itself. In an increasing number of job adverts it is part of an either/or pair with Python. Like Python, Perl, PHP and Tcl, it is downloadable, and there are plenty of free online resources to help you learn it.

Ruby is an interpreted scripting language for object oriented programming. Enthusiasts describe it as simple, extensible and portable. Together with the Rails open source framework for developing database-backed web applications it is said to be several times as productive as some more mainstream approaches.

Although it is a pure object oriented language, Ruby can masquerade as a procedural one. Its syntax and design philosophy are heavily influenced by Perl. The Ruby FAQ, says, “If you like Perl, you will like Ruby and be right at home with its syntax. If you like Smalltalk, you will like Ruby and be right at home with its semantics.”

Where did it originate?

The language was created in Japan by Yukihiro Matsumoto, and first released in 1995.

What is it for?

Ruby tries to reduce the slog of programming by pushing as much routine work as possible onto the machine. Like Python, it provides a transition from procedural to object oriented programming for people without object oriented experience. Ruby is written entirely in C, and writing C extensions in Ruby is easier than in Perl or Python.

What makes it special?

Ruby champions claim that so much Java work is directed at making corporate developments easier that simpler tasks are being made harder.

What systems does it run on?

Ruby was developed on Linux, and runs under Unix, Windows 95/98/NT/2000, Mac OS X and others.

How difficult is it to master?

Matsumoto says Ruby’s primary design consideration is “to make programmers happy” by reducing the menial work they must do.

Where is it used?

In last week’s appointments pages, Ruby skills were being sought by several web developers, a couple of merchant banks and an online booking specialist.

What’s coming up?

The latest stable version is 1.8.4. Ruby 1.9, which introduces some major changes is in development.


A good starting point is the Ruby and Ruby on Rails main sites. There is an introduction to Ruby programming in graphic novel style.

Rates of pay

Ruby is beginning to figure in the portfolios required from Java, C/C++ and web developers, often as an alternative to Perl and Python. Ruby developers typically earn between £35,000 and £40,000.

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