Ruby in South East Asia 21 January 2015

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Rubyists are a welcoming community everywhere

Some great things are going on in the Ruby communities in SE Asia. As we were traveling I decided I would like to meet some Ruby communities along the way in other parts of the world.

I reached out to Rails Girls, and their organizers were amazing, , specifically Linda Liukas. Linda was extremely helpful putting me in touch with local organizers around the world. Rails Girls was by far the most helpful group to help get me in touch with a bunch of other great Rubyists. It was amazing to me that shooting a single email to Rails Girls, resulted in at least 5 organizers responding to me and putting me in touch with other contacts to help me meet up with Rubyists while traveling. Huge thanks to from Rails Girls that helped ping pong my email request around the world.

I also met some organizers by searching for local Ruby user groups, and finding Cape Town Ruby Brigade. Specifically, wanted to thank Steve Barnett the organizer of Cape Town Ruby Brigade. Steve helped try to setup a meetup with me while I was in South Africa, even though it didn’t end up working out with my schedule.

Everyone was extremely accommodating and happy to try to get together, when I sent out a few emails with my travel schedule. Our community is amazing that way. I talked with other developers and startups as well, but my initial connection was always through the Ruby community. It is amazing to show up in a city where you don’t know anyone, and have Rubyist welcome you to their work, apartments, cars, and favorite restaurants. #Rubyfriends who share a love for a programming language, and trust the community enough to know we are instantly with friends.

My interest in international developer communities

As I told friends I met up with while traveling. I see developer teams shrinking while expanding their reach. I think in the future startups will increasingly want some international talent on their team. Making it easier to provide continuous support and improvement to their products across time-zones. Making it easier to build support for different languages, currencies, and communities which have different expectations in each country. As remote development gets easier and tools continue to improve, being able to launch sites and applications quickly across the globe will increasingly be a huge advantage. While this is something American developers aren’t as experienced with, my conversations with people and companies in other SE Asia show this global from start is already common in the way they work. For example the Malaysian startup, Watch Over Me, co-founded by Chin Xin-Ci, has their primary user base in the US, UK, and Australia (not in Malaysia). Startups that can work internationally and utilize the growing talent around the world will be ahead of the curve. I think it is how small teams will operate in the future to compete against ever growing multinational corporations, which can employ much larger teams across the globe. Seeing communities which are growing from a handful of developers to communities that are attracting interest and investment from VC firms, is pretty cool. Developers can be a great global community which helps build a middle class across borders and unlock opportunities in countries which might not have as strong of an economy. I think that is one of the reasons software can be an amazing career.

Similarity between Cambodia and Malaysia communities

While I want to talk a bit about each country specifically, it was interesting to see some of the similarities between the two communities. The size of the Ruby community is fairly small in both countries. The community is centralized around the major city of the country (Phnom Phen and Kaula Lumpur). Both communities are struggling with online payment as the government hasn’t fully supported online payment options in the country. While both countries official language isn’t English the majority of apps and sites are built in English. In both countries Android was more common, but mostly because of cheaper units, the developers I met seemed more into iPhones. In part I am guessing because the English language apps often weren’t targeting local populations (Android), instead international tech consumers (iPhone). In both countries, programming seemed to be introduced mostly at the college level, with no computer programming classes earlier in the educational system. The developers I met relied on a lot of self learning on the internet, and in the local community to continue to improve their skills. The local communities being fairly small seemed well connected both to the local community and to the international community at large. The groups I talked with all seemed much more comfortable with working across borders, languages, time zones, and currencies than most US devs. Which isn’t surprising, I just think this will give international developers a good edge in the future. Everyone I talked with seemed to love what they did and were really happy that developing software was such a international career.

Cambodia

First I want to thank Katherine Pe, who through Rails Girls, connected me with Samnang Chhun. Samnang organizes the Cambodia Ruby users group and is a core member of a web development meetup group called Share Vision Team. Samnang organized a lunch, for me to meet some of the developers from the area. It was great to meet freelancers, organizers, and some developers from InSTEDD iLabs SE Asia. Thanks for spending time chatting with me @ungsophy, @channaly, and @ksokmesa.

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While out at lunch, I learned a lot about pieces of the current development community in Cambodia. I didn’t know much going in, so learning basic info like most of the community being in Phnom Penh, was interesting to me. Below is a short list of thoughts I had after visiting.

  • Khmer is the official language of Cambodia, Google play doesn’t support Khmer language.
    • This means most sites and apps are in English
    • Hard to target older Khmer / French speaking locals
    • Focus is on younger people (who mostly know English) and other English speaking countries
  • small tight knit community, developers from various companies often get together
  • InSTEDD headquarters, employees many local devs. Seems to be a central role in the community.
  • Payment systems aren’t in place so many local online companies have to deal with cash (or target other countries)
  • a large of the community seems to be working for companies based in other countries, small number of local focused startups
  • There seemed to be a noticeable mobile focus in some of our conversations
  • Software development was regarded as a good and growing career
  • The developer community seems most active on twitter

Malaysia

The community in Malaysia was amazing, it was clearly growing fast and had great government support. I first want to thank Winston Teo, who organizes the Singapore Ruby User Group and Red Dot Ruby Conf. I was put in touch with Winston through Rails Girls, who put me in touch with Josh Teng, who became my guide into Malaysia’s developer community. Josh is co-founder of televate.io and teaches a beginner web development class using Ruby called Code Division. The class is being run in collaboration with the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC). It was great to get to meet the Code Division class and many people involved in MaGIC. Magic seems to be the center of the Malaysian tech startup scene. I actually just missed the MaGIC startup career fair, which had 70+ startups involved and sounds like it was a great event. I got to spend a little more time with the community in Kuala Lumpur (KL), so I learned a bit more about the community there.

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  • MaGIC operations and former board member, Khailee Ng, is the 500 startups SE Asia managing partner
    • I know @davemcclure from his talks with techstars back in the day. Also, from http://500.co/, investing in a few friends startups.
    • I find the 500 startups interest in SE Asia especially encouraging for the startup and developer community there.
    • Prior to starting a fund specifically aimed at SE Asia, 500 startups had already invested in a number of COs from the area
  • It was great to meet some people working at MaGIC like Imran Sulaiman, Dr Lau Cher Han to help support the developer community.
  • Thanks for chatting with me Dhendy Ferdian, who was working too much ;), on various projects
  • Amazing government support, much of which is funneled through MaGIC
    • Developers could get re-imbursed for iphones, github, code climate, and other developer tools
    • Government has helped build many developer training programs through MaGIC Academy
    • Government is funding scholarships making MaGIC academy affordable to nearly everyone.
  • Small set of Ruby developers around 50 devs in KL
    • The Web Development Bootcamp is aiming to double the number of Ruby developers in the city
    • Malay and SE Asia startups have a big demand for more Ruby developers in this area
    • advanced schools aimed at leveling up junior developers and exposing them to more complicated systems.
    • programs to place Jr. developers in apprenticeships at companies with established developers
  • local population mostly have androids, but tech community is into iPhones
  • Google play does support the official language (Malay), but most sites and app still focus on English.
  • A growing startup scene, GrabTaxi, ShopperApp, iMoney with support from government, investors, and mentors.
  • small startups like GoGet, a task-rabbit like service. I met the CTO, Fun Wei Tan Tai, at MaGIC.
  • The government is into some protectionist policies seemingly cracking down on Uber, while helping push the local GrabTaxi. It was fun to get to try the home grown, GrabTaxi service while around KL.
  • a fun loving community, into the techie lingo, memes, and seemingly SV culture.
  • Online payment systems aren’t fully supported. Many companies have to deal with cash or focus on countries with established online payments
  • many developers work for companies out of the country (often in Singapore)
    • although compared to Cambodia, a larger percentage seems to be working for home grown companies
  • The developer community seems most active on FB

Thanks one more time to Chin Xin-Ci co-founder of Watch Over Me, for taking the time to chat with me about her company’s growth and struggles as a startup. It was awesome to get such good insight into a Malaysian startup.

I really enjoyed helping with Ruby code reviews for the Code Division bootcamp class, as well as chatting with the teacher and students over dinner. A really big thank you goes out to Josh Teng, who showed me a great time around KL and introduced me to many amazing people. It was a blast to see where you work, your apartment, and get driven around town by a local Rubyist showing off an awesome startup city. Thanks!

Final thoughts

I heard a lot about Singapore, when reaching out to the Ruby community in SE Asia and in person. I wish my travels had taken me through Singapore as it seems like the programming and startup hub of SE Asia from what I heard. Hopefully I can make a trip to visit the community in Singapore in the future.

It was interesting to get to see some of the amazing growth happening in Cambodia and Malaysia. Overall I was impressed and the visit left me feeling energized and excited about the Ruby community. Happy with how close and supportive the global Ruby community can be. I am not sure if this post will be very useful to anyone else, but it was nice to reflect on my thoughts and remember some of the people and conversations. If nothing else, it is good to be able to once again thank everyone who helped connect me to various developers, organize meetups, and take the time to talk with me. It was really a pleasure to get to know the communities and people. I think it will be very exciting to watch as SE Asia continues to grow on the tech scene and to see partnerships between SE Asian and US companies. I hope I can help some of the folks I met along the way in the future, and I hope to get a chance to visit again. In fact, I hope I can work with some of the people I met sometime in the future.

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I am Dan Mayer and this is my development blog. Currently it focuses mostly on Ruby development, a side of dev process, and best practices. It also has archives of my old development posts dating back to when I was first learning programming. I contribute to a few OSS projects and often work on my own projects, You can find my code on github.

@DanMayer on Twitter

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