why the lucky stiff

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why the lucky stiff
_why at RailsConf Europe
Born Jonathan Gillette
Disappeared 19 August 2009
Status Possibly returned to online community
Other names why, _why
Occupation Ruby programmer, author, musician
Known for Why's (poignant) Guide to Ruby, Camping

Why the lucky stiff (often abbreviated to Why or _why), was until 2009 a prolific writer, cartoonist, artist, and computer programmer notable for his work with the Ruby programming language. He was known as "one of the most unusual, and beloved, computer programmers" in the world before he abruptly disappeared from public view.[1] Along with Yukihiro Matsumoto and David Heinemeier Hansson, he was seen as a key figure in the Ruby community.[2] His real name is Jonathan Gillette.

_why was the keynote speaker at RailsConf in 2006.[3] He also had a speaking session titled "A Starry Afternoon, a Sinking Symphony, and the Polo Champ Who Gave It All Up for No Reason Whatsoever" at the 2005 O'Reilly Open Source Convention held in Portland, Oregon.[4] It explored how to teach programming and make it more appealing to adolescents.

On 19 August 2009, his online presence was drastically truncated; his accounts on Twitter and GitHub were shut down, along with many of his personally maintained sites.[1][5] His projects have since been collected and centralized on the whymirror GitHub account.[6]

On 5 January 2013, _why's site[7] was found to be back online,[8] though as of October 2013 it was only serving a blank page.[7] In March 2014, the site re-launched as the personal blog of an anonymous individual from Australia with no apparent connection to _why. Apparently not being aware of the site's previous owner, the new owner notes on his contact page that he has received a lot of mail asking if he is "some kind of famous programmer called #why from Pittsburg or something".[9]



His best known work is Why's (poignant) Guide to Ruby,[10] which "teaches Ruby with stories."[11] Paul Adams of Webmonkey describes its eclectic style as resembling a "collaboration between Stan Lem and Ed Lear".[12] Chapter three was published in The Best Software Writing I: Selected and Introduced by Joel Spolsky.[13]

In April 2013, a complete book attributed[14][15] to Jonathan Gillette was digitally released via the website whytheluckystiff.net and the GitHub repository cwales. It was presented as individual files of PCL (Printer Command Language) without any instruction on how to assemble the print outs into a book. Based on timestamps from the git repository, Steve Klabnik compiled the pages in the order in which they were released into a PDF file which he titled CLOSURE[16] since the book provides some resolution to the story. Although no authorship is claimed in either the book or the git repository, the writing style and content are remarkably comparable to that of Jonathan Gillette[17] and the storyline references certain events and the text includes the names Jonathan Gillette and _why.

Code tutorials[edit]

Try Ruby is an online interactive learning tool that provided a browser-based Ruby shell and an instructor that guided beginners through their first steps in Ruby. Since Why's disappearance, the project has been continued in spirit at Try Ruby[18]

His final project before his internet retirement, Hackety Hack, is a Ruby- and Shoes- based environment intended to bring the power, freedom, and simplicity of BASIC programming to the current generation, with special intent to be accessible to children.


_why is the author of several libraries and applications, most of them written in or for Ruby.


He has illustrated The Ruby Programming Language, authored by David Flanagan and Yukihiro Matsumoto.[24] He also dedicates his illustration every year to RubyKaigi, the biggest Ruby conference in Japan, similar to RubyConf.[citation needed]

In March 2009, he was a speaker at the Art and Code conference at Carnegie Mellon University.[25]

Real identity[edit]

_why never publicly revealed his own identity while he was active as _why. Shortly before he left the public eye, an anonymous blog was posted,[1][26] identifying him as Jonathan Gillette, and offering detailed information about his identity, including his schooling, his address, his membership in the band The Child Who Was a Keyhole, and the identity of his spouse. At the time, he did not make any statement on his being outed.

While his offline identity was considered common knowledge in the Ruby coding community,[citation needed] it remained unconfirmed until a 2012 article in Slate magazine quoted a statement from a fellow programmer saying, "Jonathan is _why, he is fine, and he just wants to be left alone."[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Lowrey, Annie (15 March 2012). "Where's _why? What happened when one of the world's most unusual, and beloved, computer programmers disappeared". Slate. Retrieved 15 March 2012. 
  2. ^ "_Why: A Tale of A Post-Modern Genius". Smashing Magazine. 2010-05-15. Retrieved 2012-03-13. 
  3. ^ "RailsConf Keynote: Why the Lucky Stiff". Scribe media. 2006-11-25. Retrieved 2009-10-24. 
  4. ^ "O'Reilly Open Source Convention 2005". O'Reilly. 2005-08-04. Retrieved 2009-10-24. 
  5. ^ ""why the lucky stiff" Vanishes". The H Open Source. Heise. 2009-08-20. Retrieved 2009-10-24. 
  6. ^ "Why mirror". Git hub. Retrieved 2009-10-24. 
  7. ^ a b Why the lucky stiff .
  8. ^ "_why's site is back up". Hacker News. Y combinator. 2013-01-06. Retrieved 2013-05-16. 
  9. ^ Contact - Why The Lucky Stiff 
  10. ^ Fitzgerald, Michael (2007). Learning Ruby. O'Reilly. ISBN 0-596-52986-4. 
  11. ^ Richardson, Leonard (2006). Ruby Cookbook. O'Reilly. ISBN 0-596-52369-6. 
  12. ^ Adams, Paul, ed. (2003). "Getting Your Feet Wet With Ruby on Rails". Archived from the original on 2006-12-31. 
  13. ^ Spolsky, Joel, ed. (2005). The Best Software Writing I. Apress. ISBN 978-1-59059-500-8. 
  14. ^ The CLOSURE Companion 
  15. ^ Kevin Morris (April 18, 2013). "The cryptic return of programming legend Why the Lucky Stiff". The Daily Dot. 
  16. ^ CLOSURE. 2013. 
  17. ^ Is _why Coming Out of Exile? 
  18. ^ Try Ruby .
  19. ^ a b Advanced Rails. O'Reilly. 2007. p. 235. ISBN 0-596-51032-2. 
  20. ^ Beginning Ruby: From Novice to Professional. Apress. 2007. p. 443. ISBN 978-1-59059-766-8. 
  21. ^ Standard Library documentation for Syck[dead link]
  22. ^ InfoQ: Ruby Shoes for lightweight GUIs, graphics and animation
  23. ^ O'Reilly Network: Shoes Meets Merb: Driving a GUI App through Web Services in Ruby
  24. ^ Flanagan, David; Matsumoto, Yukihiro. The Ruby Programming Language. O'Reilly. ISBN 978-0-596-51617-8. 
  25. ^ "Art && Code Symposium: Hackety Hack, why the lucky stiff". Vimeo. March 2009. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  26. ^ "Who is Jonathan Gillette?", Who is why the lucky stiff, Posterous, archived from the original on August 21, 2009 [dead link].

External links[edit]