In conversation with founder of Ruby

Yukihiro Matsumoto (“Matz”)might not be a household name, but his invention lay foundation to the software world we see today. Matz’s fascination for computers started at a very young age when his father got a box computer system. He taught himself programming by reading books in Pascal, and hoped that one day he might write his own programming language.

Why a programming language? “Programming languages are much easier to learn and master that human languages. I learnt English for 40 years and still can’t master it” (He is being humble!)

So how did you create your own language? “By the age of 18, I realized that creating a programming language is not so easy. I created a “dream” programming language in hypothetical terms. After graduating with a degree in computer science, I worked as a professional programmer for a few years. One of those years, my project got cancelled, and luckily the firm did not fire me. So I had plenty of time in my hands that I started chasing my dream again and invented Ruby!”.

How did it feel as a creator to see the open source community grow around Ruby? “I learnt programming through free software applications so wanted to create an open source community for Ruby. Since Ruby was owned solely by me, I could make the rules! When I first developed Ruby, my only customer was myself. I did not really expect anyone to use the language and so, developed Ruby for my Sony computer system. Surprisingly, many programmers started using Ruby and sent me patches to fix so they could run Ruby on their systems. These programmers later formed the community! Had I been a perfect programmer and developed a multi-platform language at the first place, the community may not even exist!”.

Why does Ruby community have such a unique culture? “I created Ruby because I believe in the Joy of programming! Joy is the center of my philosophy — I created all the tools and libraries in-house. I created Ruby only for myself, so I was surprised to find people across the world using Ruby. I think the people who prefer Ruby also believe in the Joy of programming. I believe all Ruby programmers are friendly and perhaps have a “shared soul”. That’s why they are all so empathetic and supportive”.

What does the future of programming look like? “In the distant future, normal people won’t need to program at all. Back in the day, people had to write code even to retrieve basic data from a source. Now we use voice commands to retrieve data across the internet. In the future, there will be much more interaction that coding will be much friendlier, and not as challenging as it used to be”.

What about future of Ruby? “We have to evolve with time so that Ruby won’t get extinct. Our challenges are to ensure compatibility, while improving performance and productivity. For performance, as super computers come in, we need programming language to adapt and efficiently utilize the resources. For productivity, we think about sophisticated tools so we can make things like debugging very easy for the programmer”.

For the young Chicago Booth MBA students, what advice do you have? “I created Ruby at the age of 27. But I am not good at giving presentations. I believe we all have some natural talents, but we evolve over time. When I was young, I never thought I would be who I am today. Over time, I behave as a language leader and community developer. The ability of humans to adapt and morph to situations is very fascinating to me!”.

Matz is one of the nicest people ever! He is very humble and honest — I felt interacting with him was very refreshing! I finally understand the concept of MINASWAN — Matz is nice and so we are nice! MINASWAN is Ruby community’s motto.

Disclaimer: Interview with Matz was part of a course at Chicago Booth.

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