Thunderstorm in Ruby-on-Rails paradise: Basecamp employees run away

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At the end of April, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the founders and managing directors of Basecamp and the e-mail service Hey, set new guidelines for internal company communication: From now on, conversations that “even remotely have to do with politics or social issues have “, be taboo while working at Basecamp, said Fried in a blog entry. Employees who did not agree to this were advised to resign and a severance payment was offered. Long-term employees should receive a severance payment of six monthly salaries, newer employees three monthly salaries.

As a result, about a third of the Basecamp workforce (the former 37signals) quit work within 48 hours, including veteran management staff: at least 20 of the 57 employees announced on Twitter and other channels that they had submitted their resignation.

This is relevant for developers insofar as that Basecamp not only has the software of the same name for remote work and publishes the HEY e-mail service, but is also in charge of the Ruby on Rails framework. David Heinemeier Hansson (alias DHH) is not only one of the two company founders, but is also considered the inventor of the widespread framework for creating web applications with the Ruby programming language. Some of the people who have left Basecamp or have already left Basecamp include members of the Rails core team. Since then, the Rails community has been unsettled in the social networks.

At the beginning of the last stormy week there was a list of names that has apparently been kept in the company since 2009 under the name “Best Names Ever”. It lists “particularly funny” customer names – funny in the sense of Bart Simpson, who calls Moe and asks for a “Mr. Schnellsch”. However, the consensus on what is considered “funny” has shifted since then: What the predominantly white and male workforce at the time found funny is now in many cases clearly racist. Since Basecamp has also become more diverse over the years, an internal discussion about the list had developed. Since Basecamp is a company that works 100 percent remotely from home, the discussions took place in writing – not publicly, but on the Basecamp platform. The content of the list is not publicly known, but the company founders are said to have known of its existence and the contents for years.

The realignment of the company, which was pronounced in the middle of last week, goes beyond the ban on political and social topics of conversation during work and lists a total of six points in which Fried and Hansson are making a management change. Points 4 and 6 call on the workforce to say goodbye to the past and to let past decisions rest and not to mix solving social problems with work. According to Fried’s blog entry, the ban on political discussions only affects the official work channels. Private engagement and exchange on messenger services as well as privately used Basecamp accounts, on the other hand, are the right place, according to the CEO. The announcement contains further radical changes in the company’s policy towards employees. In the future, all “paternalistic perks” and grants for education, sport, leisure, among other things, are to be dropped, professional opinion-forming in committees and working groups is apparently no longer desired, and decision-making is again centralized with the original managers of the individual departments (mainly at Fried and Hansson himself).

Basecamp is not the first US IT company to introduce such a rule. In September 2020, Coinbase, a start-up for buying and selling cryptocurrencies, banned political discussions during working hours and offered employees who did not agree to a termination agreement and replacement. At Coinbase, around 5 percent of the workforce quit at the time. The magnitude of the current wave of layoffs at Basecamp with a third of employees goes well beyond that.

With around 60 employees until a week ago, Basecamp has been a role model for many software companies around the world. The Chicago offices switched to remote and home office early on. The salaries were standardized and it did not matter whether developers lived cheaply in the country or expensive in the big city: in any case, they were paid a little more than the average salary for urban developers. Fried and Hansson have published books about their employee-friendly strategy, some of which have become bestsellers. They also wrote in blog posts on the subject of employee-friendly leadership.

Apart from the exemplary character that Basecamp had so far, these processes are relevant in Germany because of the strong interlinking with the Ruby-on-Rails community. The framework is based on David Heinemeier Hansson and Basecamp. There are a large number of external developers, but ultimately the essential decisions are made at Basecamp, where numerous core team developers from Rails also work. Some of them announced their displeasure on Twitter, which is already making waves. So the first calls for a fork of the project have been loud. On the one hand, the naming rights are owned by Hansson, on the other hand, a fork would not be a problem in terms of licensing law, since Ruby on Rails (RoR) is subject to the MIT license.

It wouldn’t be the first attempt at a Rails alternative either: in 2007, the RoR developer had Yehuda Katz offered an alternative that was quite popular at the time with Merb (After three years the paths of the fork led back to the Rails project, which took over the most useful Merb features as merges). Yehuda Katz then turned to the JavaScript framework Ember.js. Other attempts at Rails alternatives written in Ruby have so far failed to gain significant market share.

That could change now, and the Phoenix framework from former RoR developer Chris McCord could emerge from the tense situation as a possible winner. A number of RoR developers have already joined Phoenix in the past few years, which is written in the functional programming language Elixir, which is believed to be faster and more stable than Ruby. On the other hand, Basecamp could also find new developers in a short time through its charismatic founder David Heinemeier Hansson who would have no problems with the new communication line, and in a few months the thing would have grown over the top. Alternatively, the management duo Fried / Hansson, known as PR and marketing experts, could conjure up a communication rabbit out of their hat “and everything will be fine”. At Coinbase, at least, the internal change of direction had made the company successful after the initial uproar.

In a recent blog post on the RoR website the core team has meanwhile made it clear that no single individual (probably David Heinemeier Hansson) exercises sole control over the framework, not even a subgroup of individuals, but that the community is in the foreground for the open source project. In addition to the core team, there is also the committer team for merges in the code base and the issues team for sorting out problems and merging changes to the documentation. According to the blog entry, the core team currently consists of eleven members, two of whom are Basecamp. The remaining nine work at GitHub, Shopify, and other smaller companies.

The Announcements from Jason Fried and by David Heinemeier Hansson on the organizational changes within Basecamp can be read in two blog entries. To the new company etiquette Hansson expressed himself in more detail in his own blog area at hey.com. The current one offers additional sources and further information Reporting the New York Times.

The web software company Basecamp was founded in 1999 by Jason Fried and two other web developers. Today’s key people in the company are Fried and his long-term business partner David Heinemeier Hansson. The company’s focus shifted from web development to web applications. One of Basecamp’s investors among others the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The two company founders are known not only for software, but also for their software New York Times-Best-selling authors (among other things with the title “Rework”), and Hansson as a racing driver has already stood on the podium once after the 24-hour race at Le Mans. In the past few years, the management duo have competed publicly and in part successfully with Apple a number of times.


(sih)

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