“Start spreading the news”: the future of Jimmy and IronRuby

06 Aug 2010

Though Frank Sinatra says it best, “I’m leaving today” isn’t exactly accurate; my last day as a Microsoft employee was July 23rd, 2010. This post is almost two weeks delayed as Felicia and I have been on the road since the 26th, driving cross-country to the east coast; we also decided to leave Seattle in favor of New York, our home state.

Both decisions were extremely difficult to make, as I will miss all the brilliant people I worked with. Just being in their presence made me feel smarter, and we accomplished some amazing things together. Many were also my friends, making this a very heart-wrenching decision too. However, I joined Microsoft to bring Ruby and other open-source programming languages to the .NET framework, as well as to promote open-source practices in general, and I promised myself to ensure the truth of that statement throughout my Microsoft career. So, when my manager asked me, “what else would you want to work on other than Ruby,” I started looking for a new job outside Microsoft.

While Microsoft’s commitment to dynamic languages on .NET has been questioned many times, my tiny team has been excellent at suppressing those fears with quality implementations of Ruby and Python for .NET, compiler services and language embedding API called the Dynamic Language Runtime, and integration with .NET application frameworks like Silverlight and ASP.NET. And most recently the beginnings of IDE support for dynamic languages in Visual Studio. And all this released under an well-known open-source license, the Apache License (Version 2). This was only possible because my team had the freedom to do what we needed to do to counter those fears and run an effective open-source project

However, a year ago the team shrunk by half and our agility was severely limited. I’m omitting the internal reasons for this, as they are the typical big-company middle-management issues every software developer has. In short, the team is now very limited to do anything new, which is why the Visual Studio support for IronPython took so long. IronRuby’s IDE support in Visual Studio hasn’t been released yet for the same reasons. While this is just one example, many other roadblocks have cropped up that made my job not enjoyable anymore.

Overall, I see a serious lack of commitment to IronRuby, and dynamic language on .NET in general. At the time of my leaving Tomas and myself were the only Microsoft employees working on IronRuby. If this direction for dynamic languages on .NET is a path you do not want Microsoft to take, I strongly suggest you provide feedback to the team’s management directly. Also, Jason Zander runs the Visual Studio team, which IronRuby, IronPython, and the DLR happen to be a part of, and is a big proponent of these dynamic languages efforts, so provide him with your thoughts as well.

That being said, I am still interested in implementing dynamic languages on .NET, so I will remain a IronRuby core-team member, ironically making me the first non-Microsoft core contributor. The bad-news is I will no longer be working on IronRuby full-time, but in the near future I’m definitely staying active. Also, Tomas will definitely continue working on IronRuby when he can; we weren’t the last two people left for no reason. :-)

Given that Tomas and I will only be working part-time on IronRuby now, I invite the Ruby and .NET communities to come help us figure out how to continue the IronRuby project, assuming that Microsoft will eventually stop funding it. I’ll start a thread on the IronRuby Mailing List shortly, so keep an eye on that if you’d like to help. [Update: here’s the thread about the next steps for IronRuby. Join the list and discuss.]

While moving to New York is mainly a personal decision, as both my fiancée and I grew up there and our immediate families are still there, it was also for professional reasons; I’ve accepted a new position at Lab49, a financial technology consulting firm in New York City. I chose the financial industry not just because its dominance in New York, but because I see a lot of similarities between financial software and developer tools. Financial software serves a very technical user, much like programmers, but unlike programmers I know nothing these users, making it a challenging new space. It will be familiar as well, as Lab49 has done work with the new Technical Computing team, which many people who once worked on dynamic languages moved to. Lab49 was also very interested in my IronRuby and IronPython background, so it’s a great next step for me.

I’m grateful to have worked on compilers full-time, outside of academia, while still contributing to open-source, especially at a company that hardly showed up on the open-source radar just 4 years ago. And at least one dynamic language at Microsoft is getting love; IE9’s JavaScript engine, and Microsoft has awesome intentions with it. I’m totally a supporter of most things Microsoft is doing, and I look forward to working closely with them on financial problems. I’m just extremely disappointed with their decisions around dynamic languages on .NET. As one former-teammate’s email signature read, “If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.”

I’m looking forward to this new chapter in both my life and my career. Not only am I living in the city that never sleeps, but I hope to build upon my dynamic language work and use it in an area completely new to me. While I expect to still be Ruby and .NET oriented, my posts will be about solving new problems, and should make for some good reading. Stay tuned, and thanks for all the support thus far.

comments powered by Disqus