Interview: Karmen Blake


(This interview appeared before on 23rd Sept. 2006 on the PuneRuby blog).

Today we talk to Karmen Blake, a Ruby/Rails teacher at Spokane Community College.

Satish Talim>> Hello Karmen and welcome. Could you tell us something about yourself – your background; where you are based…?

Karmen Blake>> I teach in Spokane, WA at Spokane Community College. I went to Eastern Washington University right out of high school. I have a bachelors in Computer Science and Education (quite a combination, eh) and a masters in Technology Education with an emphasis in distance learning. After graduation I worked for a school district as a technology coordinator doing everything under the sun: training, web development, networking, and tech support. I was there for two years before moving on to the community college. Since being at the community college I have had the privilege to teach many exciting things such as XHTML, JavaScript, Cascading Style Sheets, PHP, Java, JEE Web Tier, XML, MySQL, Ruby and Rails. For the last six years I have worked with many wonderful companies in town on short term contracts over summer break. I take that experience back to the classrooms. It is a win-win for the students and I.

Satish Talim>> Given the choices out there, why did you select Ruby?

Karmen Blake>> It is not that I sat down and did an ‘eeny, meeny, miny, mow’ and was stuck with Ruby. After years of priding myself on using PHP/MySQL and JSP/Servlets, I thought what else would I need for web development. Even though PHP and JSPs have their quirks, I worked through them and was proud of the things I could do with what I had in those platforms. The day I started reading the ‘pickaxe’ everything changed.

Satish Talim>> How did you learn Ruby and when?

Karmen Blake>> I was headed to a conference March of ‘04 in a plane ride from Seattle, WA to Orlando, Fl and just a few days before this, I received my copy of the ‘pickaxe’. Great timing for me to crack open this book and dive into Ruby on this plane trip. I started reading and was immediately impressed. I was so impressed I could not put the book down. I had read most of it by the time I got to Orlando. On the way back from the conference I re-read a majority of the book and skimmed parts I missed earlier.

Satish Talim>> Which features of Ruby do you like the most?

Karmen Blake>> As a teacher and having taught many different languages I compare Ruby to these languages that I knew. In particular I compare Ruby to Java. I taught a 3 quarter sequence in Java and so any language I learn I use Java as a litmus test. I love that in Ruby things are by default intuitive and natural (I know this sounds a little vague but for those who have used Ruby you know what I’m talking about). It just feels good. I love dynamically typed variables, everything is an object, attr_* family for classes, meta-programming and DSLs, iterators, and ruby library in general (I’m constantly amazed how I’ll find methods for exactly what I need).

Satish Talim>> Do you think Ruby has the potential to be a mainstream programming language?

Karmen Blake>> Will Ruby be a mainstream language? I don’t know. I believe it has the potential to be a mainstream language. My gauge for ‘gone mainstream’ is if it is adopted by computer science departments. Computer science departments in general are slow adopters of languages and don’t switch unless a language is either mainstream or has been mainstream. Fortunately I teach at a community college where I get to move quicker in relation to the industry. I make many curriculum changes every year to keep up. Most teachers think I’m crazy for keeping up with technology but I think it is exciting! Who would want to teach the same thing year after year after year for 25-30 years? Not me! As a result, the 3 quarter sequence that I used to teach in Java – Drum roll, please – I use Ruby now. More recently I’ve added another class to the mix so I teach a total of 3 Ruby classes and a Rails class. That is now 4 classes that involve Ruby. How cool is that?!!

Satish Talim>> What applications, utilities have you developed in Ruby and what platform are you running these applications on?

Karmen Blake>> I use my instructor website as my Rails sandbox. I try new things on it first. Starting this last summer and currently I am consulting using Rails. I’m pushing Rails into places where Java/JEE used to reside. As a result I have had to do some integration work using Ruby, Java, and XML. In my consulting work I use a Mac and at the college I use Ubuntu. Last year I presented Ruby and Rails at the Course Technology Conference and it went over well. I’m trying to do my part in education to push Ruby and Rails to a mostly .NET and PHP crowd.

Satish Talim>> Anything else you would like to share with us?

Karmen Blake>> Thanks for giving me this opportunity to share and inspire others.

Satish Talim>> Thanks Karmen for sharing your views with our members.

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