The process of creating art can take less than an hour or go well into extra innings, extending across years as the artist returns to a work that isn’t complete. Da Vinci’s beguiling Mona Lisa was a work in progress when he died.

Raymond Alvarez: Professionals and students alike may wonder what interest an artist/writer has in learning Ruby on Rails. My quick answer is it can’t hurt. The real answer is coming to me.



The Ruby on Rails training at the DaVinci Institute headquarters is an 11-week intensive training program. The learning curve is steep for someone like myself, a near novice. However, there are some things that an artist can teach programmers, too.

At first, one finds that programming is a very deliberate and methodical process. The shoe on the other foot: It is understandable if a software developer or a coder might quickly become exasperated with a paintbrush or drawing tool. Several students have remarked to me that they just “do not get” Photoshop, an artist’s tool that I call the Swiss Army Knife of software. Illustrator is just as mysterious to some.

This opinion piece is not about selling programmers on using Photoshop or Illustrator.

I want to answer the question: What can a Ruby programming student learn from artists?

A few years ago, I read a book by Shaun McNiff, PhD. He’s the Provost of Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. He’s an artist and internationally known figure in creative art therapies. The title of his book is Trust the Process | An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go. Bear with me. Even though I’m letting go, describing the process of creating art is difficult to encapsulate in succinct paragraphs. The same is true about learning Ruby. This week, the DaVinci Coders class is learning to break down exercises to get down to the nitty gritty of coding. In my notes, I called this process the anatomy of breaking down code. It seems you have to fake like you know coding before you even attempt it – at least, that seems to help rather than take it all on as someone would jumping from the ground to the roof of a building. Anatomy is a good description because you have to open up these exercises to see what is inside.

Even a class full of sharp minds is challenged approaching concept and not terribly complex instructions in reverse to get to the manageable information, some key words that barely resemble code but will end up as passable code and eventually more elegant code.

This approach relies on two and more people to get after it efficiently.

The effect of caffeine was wearing off. But if instructor Daniel Stutzman was becoming exasperated, he didn’t show it.

There is a lot of trust that comes into play in learning code. The desk lamps can burn late into the night before the student consumes the reading and class notes that is crucial in going about solving the problems assigned. Here is a real test of trust. Still needing an assist after doing that work, the student can go out to certain web sites for help from perfect strangers. There is more trust that comes with working with others of different backgrounds that have widely diverse levels of programming experience. Through diligent work, students learn.

In Trust, McNiff writes: “The issue of talent is the most effective defense against expression. It is also a crippling defense against expression.”

I’ve seen considerable talent on display in the “Ruby community.” Some days, I might be tempted to indulge in a little despair as I wonder when I will get to a point that I can trust it will come to me quickly.

I’m a creative person to be sure. In the realm of art, I am a non-linear thinker. I might write the beginning and ending of a screenplay before a rough outline. I might paint a sky before the landscape. The ideas come to me as I’m in the middle of the process. Ruby has that kind of experience, too. You will hear people talk about coding from the inside out. Trust me. It happens.

McNiff says “any person can express himself or herself in an authentic and intriguing way with just about any art form.” As I get a handle on writing more and more code, I trust that you could say the same thing about coding.

Author Raymond Alvarez is enrolled in this semester’s Ruby on Rails class. He is a writer turned web designer who illustrates. Facebook: BolderRealEstateTeam.  Learn more about training in Ruby at the DaVinci Institute web site. The next semester begins April 15. Apply at