RR 316 Learning Rails 5 with Mark Locklear

Episode 322 · June 27th, 2017 · 1 hr 10 mins

About this Episode

RR 316 Learning Rails 5 with Mark Locklear

On today’s episode, we have Learning Rails 5 with Mark Locklear. Mark works for Extension.org. The discussion ranges from the introduction of Learning Rails 5 to the strategies that most successful students have for learning Rails. Stay tuned!

[00:01:30] – Introduction to Mark Locklear

Mark Locklear works for Extension.org, a USDA-funded or government-funded organization. He serves the Cooperative Extension Service but a lot of people know about 4-H Youth Group. They got a handful of websites that they maintain that are mostly Ruby on Rails-based.

He has been with Extension.org for about 3 years. He is also a staff at a community college mostly doing Rails and IT things. He is also an adjunct instructor at the same community college. He was mostly doing quality assurance and testing work but moved into development work in the last 7-8 years.

Questions for Mark Locklear

[00:03:00] – You authored Learning Rails 5?

It was an actually an update on an existing book – Learning Rails 3. Mark is an adjunct instructor and used that book. He contacted the developers or the original authors in O’Reilly so he can update the book. He updated a lot of the syntax and rewrote a couple of chapters. He also wrote the authentication chapter from scratch.

[00:04:15] – What’s unique about your book?

For Mark, there are all kinds of learners out there. There’s nothing necessarily unique about this book. It approaches Rails from a standpoint of having really no development skill at all. The only assumption would be that reader knows some HTML and basic things like for loops and conditional statements.

[00:05:30] – Has Rails gotten more complicated?

That was one of the challenges with this book. The original version of the book didn’t have any API stuff, any Action Cables, or anything like that. But now, we’re looking on adding chapters on those things. Mark doesn’t think Rails is hard to learn now. It’s been pretty backward compatible over the years. It looks very much like it did 5 or 10 years ago.

Dave thinks Rails started to standardize a lot of things and with Convention over Configuration, a lot of it is taking care of it for you. The also added a lot of new features like Active Job (Rails 4), Action Cable (Rails 5), Webpack (Rails 5.1). He think that when someone gets accustomed to it, it’s almost second nature. Thanks to Convention over Configuration and the support for the community.

According to DHH, Rails is not for beginners. It is a toolkit for professional web developers to get stuff done. But Brian disagrees that it’s not for beginners. It’s not so much that it’s harder to learn but it’s just a little harder to get started with. There’s just lots of different ways you can do in a Rails application by using RSpec, Cucumber, etc.

[00:12:20] - What are the core fundamental things to know in order to write Rails apps?

Mark spends a week on testing in his class. He focuses more on the Model View Controller paradigm. He also used RSpec and the basics of CRUD. Those things are transferable across whatever framework that they choose to work in. He also want to hit testing, sessions in cookies and user authentication.

[00:18:30] - Is there an approach for people to enhance their experience as they learn Rails?

Jerome believes in the “just keep it simple” methodology. When it comes to Rails, just learn Rails. Just focus on CRUD apps. Focus on the entirety of the framework, and not only on Rails, focus more on Ruby.

Another suggestion from Brian is to start cracking open the Ruby source code, Rails source code and see how things work under the hood. Look at things and see if you can reproduce them or write your own implementations as you learn.

[00:24:30] – What are the strategies of your most successful students that you’ve had for learning Rails?

In Mark’s class, they have final projects with very strict requirements, basically going back and incorporating everything that they’ve learned. The app has to have a user authentication. It has to have sessions and cookies. And students who are most successful want to solve some problems and have the passion.

One of the things that Brian have always seen that separates people who are high performers from the rest is that they’re doing a lot of practice. Spend a lot of time practicing and building apps.

Dave encourages the listeners to work on some personal projects that they are passionate about. Deal with someone else and get some experience with some peer programming. Try to see what it’s like working with other developers on the same application, you’ll find that your codes much cleaner because you have to take into account multiple users working around the same code set.

Jerome suggests to find a mentor, someone who’s willing to spend time to help with your programs. The students who are talking to their mentors every week usually come to be the strongest. And mentoring is a rewarding two-way street.

[00:40:05] – Are there any other aspects of learning or teaching Rails that we should dive into?

Mark says you should be uncomfortable every once in a while in implementing new technology. It puts you in the same mindset as your students becomes sometimes it’s becoming incredible overwhelming. And when teaching, Brian does not start with complex examples.  He starts with simple ones.

A faculty mentor has to observe Brian in his teaching. The mentor will say, “Just a reminder. You are the guide on the side, not the sage of the stage. You’re not there to tell them everything. You’re not there to make everyone think that you’re the coolest person up there. It’s your job to guide someone to the solution.”

[00:49:25] – If I’m a Rails 3 developer, how do I learn Rails 5?           

Mark thinks that the approach is probably the same if you’re doing Rails 3 to Rails 4. The questions you will start asking yourself is, “Okay, what areas do you want to dig deeper? Do I have to use Active Job or something like that? What are my mailers? Are there additions to the framework?”

Whenever Rails releases a new version, Dave reads the blog which highlights the new features that were added in. Pinpoint those features, do a little bit of independent research and think how you could incorporate them into your application. Use them as guiding tools to upgrade your older Rails application to a more current version.

[00:52:15] – Two Writing Assignments for New Programmers

Mark wrote a Medium article entitled “Two Writing Assignments for New Programmers.” In his class, they have two writing assignments. One of it is on diversity and technology. They also use Moodle as the learning management system where they can post questions.

He got some push back from students but his explanation was that, part of being a developer is to be an effective communicator. Brian agreed and said, “Your job as a software developer is 20% coding, 80% dealing with people, their problems and their requests.” You have emails to read. You have emails to write. Brian always asks, “What are the most important skills you want our students to have?” The top 3 are always soft skills like communication, work ethics, etc.

Mark adds that if you can’t do writing, if you can’t show up to work on time and communicate with your colleagues, then, none of your technical skills matter. However, if you can’t past the technical hurdle, you’ll never get a chance to use your soft skills. Dave also adds that if he can’t get out of these people what they’re envisioning, then, they’re going nto develop the wrong things.


Dave Kimura

Brian Hogan

Jerome Hardaway

Charles Max Wood

  • Castle Clash
  • railsmentors.org

Mark Locklear

  • Grammarly
  • History of Pi by Petr Beckmann
  • Sierra Nevada’s West Coast Stout
  • Github @marklocklear
  • Site locklear.me