True believers: The biggest cults in tech

You may be a member of one of these IT cults or simply know someone who is. Here's what makes each cult tick.

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Tech cult No. 2: Brotherhood of the Ruby
Established: 1994
Gathering of the tribes: RailsConf, RubyConf
Major deities: Matz, DHH
Mantra: MINSWAN (Matz is nice, so we are nice)

Programming language Ruby and its younger, sleeker sibling, Ruby on Rails, evoke the kind of devotion usually seen in disciples who've spent years in the wilderness, only to find themselves on the cusp of mainstream acceptance.

"It helps that we're better than everyone else," jokes Obie Fernandez, author of one of the cult's sacred texts, "The Rails Way," and CEO of Hashrocket, a Ruby on Rails development house. "One of the main ingredients for cult devotion is a sense of superiority. Also, from the beginning we faced a lot of resistance. That persecution complex definitely helped sow the seeds of cultishness."

[ See which IDE is best for Ruby on Rails in the InfoWorld Test Center's comparison of nine tools. ]

Ruby was created in 1994 by the Zen-like Yukihiro Matsumoto, known simply as "Matz." He wanted to create a scripting language he described as "more powerful than Perl, more object oriented than Python." An open source community soon formed around Ruby, along with the philosophy of MINSWAN, or "Matz is nice, so we are nice."

In 2004, David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH) developed Ruby on Rails, an application framework based on Ruby that enables rapid-fire development of sleek-looking Web sites. Unlike Matz, DHH has been known to drop the F-bomb on people at conferences and other public events. Nonetheless, RoR quickly garnered tens of thousands of acolytes, including several at Fortune 500 companies.

"Thanks to a groundswell of open source support, Rails is very mature right now," says Fernandez. "The amount of enthusiasm in the community has created a richness of libraries and plug-ins around the framework, making it both powerful and productive."

While there is some rivalry between Rubyists and members of the Python cult, Fernandez says both are sworn enemies of the compiler clan. Being a dynamic language, Ruby doesn't require compiling before being run, leading to less coding and fewer errors, he says. (Followers of static compiled languages like Java and .Net may not-so-respectfully disagree, he acknowledges.)

The Ruby cult is also fiercely Mac-centric. Brandishing a Windows PC within view of a Rubyist can become a life-altering event, and not in a good way. "From the beginning we've taken a page from Apple playbook and concentrated on being superior," adds Fernandez. "We're not afraid to show off and look more polished than everyone else."

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