Accompanying image for Piston Republic was saved by a racecar driver


Piston Republic was saved by a racecar driver

David Heinemeier Hansson saved this platform. But he has no idea - yet.

SVT_MAN - Mar 03, 2018


It's hard for me to believe it, but this Piston Republic automotive enthusiast platform is over three years old now.

That might come as a surprise to faithful readers since the site was not promoted on any level prior to May 2017.  Sure, I had a few friends who would visit the site and beta test for me - but, for the most part, the site was still unknown and underground.  (In many ways, it still is.  And that's okay.  I'm in this for the long game.)

Thumb in case of fireHowever, development on the site was far from inactive at any point between 2015 and now.  Between the time that I started Piston Republic and now, I've written and rewritten a lot of code for the platform. 

In fact, according to Git version control, I've committed 1,382 times to the code repository.  

As I write this, I am looking at version #830 that I have deployed to production.  I've worked hard on this platform and hold a great deal of personal pride in it.

It might be surprising to you, then, that I nearly threw the whole project in the trash two years ago.  And that isn't an exaggeration.   While trying to come to grips with how to create this platform without going crazy after programming all day at my day job, I almost threw in the towel.

But ... I didn't.  Instead, the advice someone gave me was instrumental in continuing development on the project.  

And the person whose advice I took?  

 David Heinemeier Hansson.

And, yes, as you likely gathered from the headline - David is a racecar driver.

But David has no idea that his advice had this impact on me.  Nor does he even know who I am.

Who is David Heinemeier Hansson?

Because this is an automotive enthusiast platform, I will start off with a fact about David that is most likely to raise your attention: 

David is a Le Mans class-winning racing driver. 
Let that sink in: Le Mans.  How many people even get to go to Le Mans let alone win a class?  Racing is hard, and David has won at the top level there is.

If that's not cool enough, consider that he drove what I consider to be the prettiest livery ever in one of the most beautiful cars to ever grace victory lane. 

But don't take my word for it.  See for yourself. 

Here's David with his co-drivers standing behind their famous Gulf livery Aston Martin Vantage V8 GTE they drove to victory in 2014:
Thumb amr2014 2

photo credits to

Driving isn't what made David famous

If we only talk about David's racing resume, though, we don't really understand who David is at all - let alone how he had a huge part in the continued existence of this site.Thumb david heinemeier hansson

Look up Renaissance Man in the dictionary. 

What do you see?  Well, frankly, I have no idea - but we should see a picture of David considering how many interests and hobbies he has become expert level in.

But when it comes to the existence of this Piston Republic platform, where you should really start with David is back in 2003. 

That's the year he created a framework that revolutionized how web programmers work.  The framework he developed was called Rails and it runs on Ruby - thus, it is known as Ruby on Rails.  

Back in 2003, the web was a much different place in some ways, but much the same in others.  I was a sophomore in high school at the time, and I was just starting to get my feet wet with a popular web programming language known as PHP.  I liked PHP because it was a low barrier to entry to learn, and there were so many hosting services that offered servers that supported it at the time.  The web and its languages back in the early aughts seemed sort of like the Wild West at that time: untamed but exciting at the same time.

Thumb 04 dhhAlthough I continue to write some applications in PHP out of necessity at my day job, in my opinion, Ruby is a much more elegant and friendly language to work in.  People like David recognized this before Ruby became a popular language - for the web at least.  In fact, I'm convinced that David's framework is at least part of why Ruby is so popular today.

But the surprising part about Rails isn't so much that it was created, but more so how it was created.   

While working in Ruby for his day job, David began writing tools that would make life easier.  Yet, as the tools matured, he realized that if he extracted those tools, he'd have the beginnings of a full-blown framework.   And these tools, which he limited himself to around 10 hours per week to work on, were initially written for the Basecamp project (yes, that  Basecamp).  Once they were extracted, however, David released them to the open-source community for everyone's delight and benefit.

Although David would readily admit and happily remind you that success was not overnight, the release of the Rails framework made David a household name in the programming sphere in very short order.  In David's own words, he says that "Ruby on Rails is an open-source web framework that's optimized for programmer happiness and beautiful code."

Thumb ruby on rails logoThat might sound like a bunch of marketing mumbo jumbo to you, but I can definitely say that without the tools and concepts that David envisioned, many websites you enjoy today would never have seen the light of day.  Perhaps another framework would have come to the front.  But I doubt that it would have had the power and flexibility inherent to Rails.

Rails solves many of the problems of web apps straight-away.

So, I mean this in all seriousness: Piston Republic likely would not exist in the first place without Rails.  So, for that reason, I owe much of Piston Republic's existence to David, who also happens to be a Le Mans winning racecar driver.  And that alone is pretty cool given the subject medium we feature on this platform.

But, frankly, the site's continued existence goes beyond the mere tools and concepts David created and envisioned.  What prevented me from throwing in the towel on Piston Republic is something that no developer tool would ever be capable of. 

Yet David is the one I credit.  Let me explain.

Okay - so, how did David save the site?

Okay, you've made it this far.  So, here it comes.

On an ordinary evening a little over two years ago, I was slaving away at code for Piston Republic and needed a break.  I was seriously burnt out from working all day as a programmer for my day job and then coming home to pound away at some more code on Piston Republic.  I was feeling a bit as if my efforts were futile and in vain.  I considered giving it up altogether.

Thumb dhh talkI'm not sure what led me to seek out YouTube for refuge from my frazzled feeling, but I eventually settled on watching some inspirational TED talks to see if that would help me to break out of the slump I was in.  I can't recall how exactly I landed on a talk by David while watching a TED talk, but it probably was displayed in the suggestions.  David's talk was labeled "Unlearn Your MBA" (which you can view at the link) and it caught my eye because I knew of David's name from the Rails community.  I decided to give it a listen. 

Little did I know how impactful this short talk by David would be on the future of Piston Republic.

In the talk, David has many pieces of advice about entrepreneurship, but the most impactful was this: don't be a work-a-holic.  He notes how working harder doesn't produce a better product - so why bother?  

But even more importantly to a burnt out programmer like me at the time, he mentions the constraints that he placed on himself for creating Rails.  Would you believe that he only worked 10 hours a week on the project?  (Well, you might - I already mentioned that time limit in this article previously.)

This got me thinking: If David only worked 10 hours per week on Rails, why do I need to slave and burn myself out?  Moreover, was it even beneficial to the end result?   

Thumb shiftParadigm Shift

I mostly include that subhead because I know how much David loves  MBA-speak.  (Hint: He doesn't actually.  And I wanted to use this subhead also because, well - cool picture of a shifter.  Subtle, I know.)   

What I was really after was a new outlook for how I would construct this platform in the future.

Thanks to David's advice, I felt like I had permission to work on this platform less - and conversely, be more productive.  Although it seemed so simple, this was a sustainable new template that would prevent me from burning out.   

So I vowed to calm down about the whole thing and stop worrying about how much I could get done in an evening.  And while I occasionally still fall into the trap of 8 hour programming jam sessions to put in some kind of feature, I only do those when I am in the groove and enjoying myself.  If I stop enjoying what I am doing, I stop working.  It's that simple.

So thank you, David. 

I appreciate it more than words can express for enabling me the constraints and, therefore, the sanity, to create this platform and outlet for myself and fellow enthusiasts.

And thanks for Rails, too, of course.

David had some help.

While I owe a great deal to David for his sage advice on the "Unlearn your MBA" talk at Stanford, which I consider to be a turning point in Piston Republic's history, I also owe a great deal of gratitude to several other people who have encouraged me throughout the Piston Republic journey so far.

Although it can be dangerous to name names because I'll inevitably forget someone, one person I need to thank is Jonathan Stassen.  Jonathan (TheBox193) is not only a great friend - he's also a great programmer and the only other person who has ever committed to the Piston Republic code repository.  He often acts as a sounding board about new ideas that I have for the platform.  He is innovative in his thinking and often helps me sort out user interface better than anyone else.  Thanks, Jonathan.

I also want to thank Mike Steinke for his support of the project.  Mike, who is one of my best friends, is a great graphic designer and often gave me hints about the user interface at the beginning of the project.  He also gave me an outsider's perspective on the platform since he doesn't necessarily consider himself an automotive enthusiast.  Thanks, Mike.

While I'm at it, I need to thank Donald Ford (owner of Don Ford Productions) as well, for his wonderful partnership with his Dream Machines Video Series.  Don, who is also a great friend and fellow Mustang enthusiast, is a first-class videographer whose talent is more undiscovered than it should be.  With his help, this platform is getting exposure and growing.  Don has written some excellent blog articles for the platform.  In turn, I am trying to help him grow his platform as well.  Thanks, Don.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention that Rob Faust was an influential person in my life when it comes to my love for web programming, which ultimately culminated in me creating this platform.  Rob (Voodoo262) was one of the first people I showed early versions of the platform and his support and encouragement was also instrumental in this platform becoming what it is now.  It's also worth mentioning that Rob and I are old school chums.  Our computer and programming antics date all the way back to elementary school.  In fact, I think Rob is actually the person who initially peaked my interest in programming by teaching me some QBASIC and HTML way back in the day.  Rob's a cool guy, a great friend, and his (now sold) Mitsubishi Eclipse has gotten a lot of fan attention on this site.  Thanks, Rob.

I also want to thank my twin brother, Vaughn De Fouw, who has supported my endeavors and often helped with testing on this website - particularly Internet Explorer testing.  Vaughn is a computer genius and has often helped me with the hardware side of configuring computers that I have owned over the years.  Vaughn also has written some great blog how-to articles on the platform, featuring his Lincoln Mark VIII.  Thanks, Vaughn.

One more shout out I need to give: to my dad, Paul De Fouw.  My father was instrumental in my twin brother and I developing a love of cars and car culture at a young age.  My life is undoubtedly more fulfilling and vibrant because of this love I have for cars.  This platform has allowed me to mix the two things I love together: cars and code.  Thanks for the support and opportunities to learn, Dad!

And, last, but undoubtedly not least, I want to thank my wife, Melodie, for supporting me with the website.  I know that it's a lot of work, and I deeply appreciate your love and support as I work to build this platform.  I love you!

While I'm at it ....

This thank-festival wouldn't be complete without thanking the visitors of this website for supporting us.  We can't build this community without you.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart to those who continue to visit and support us.

Onward we go.  It's going to be a great ride. 

Meanwhile, watch David catch some opposite lock at my "home track" -  Road America - in his #37 Conquest Endurance car! 

David is pretty darn good at saving things - sometimes even those he's completely unaware of.



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