How has Rails Made Me a Better Programmer
First and foremost, I'd say Ruby on Rails has improved my programming skills simply by helping me to rediscover the love of the craft. I've been programming off and on since I was about 10, and using my parents TRS-80. Then, somewhere shortly after college, I lost the love for programming. I partially attribute it to programming on command for years at college, and suddenly not having that. I didn't know what to do. Then, this year, I discovered RoR while looking for a good tool to build a new web store front. I started out looking at Java frameworks, because I knew the language. But this "Rails" thing kept coming up. So I started reading up. Next thing I know, I'm building some simple Ruby applications to get my feet wet, and ordering the new PDF version of the "Agile Web Development with Ruby on Rails" book. As I started getting comfortable with the language and the framework, I was spending more and more time programming. Now, six months later, I'm almost ready to roll out my first real application to the world. And I've been loving every minute I spend on it.
Secondly, Rails is my first introduction to a good framework. Before that, the closest I had come was Java's Swing. Don't get me wrong, I loved the thrill of building a compiler in C while I was in college. But I'd always been daunted by the scope of building any type of large scale application. Especially one with any kind of GUI. I'd tried building GUI applications for Windows using Borland C++ 5, and quickly learned what a mess the Windows APIs could be. Java with Swing was good for GUIs, but still a pain. But building a Rails application is a completely different animal. Within hours of starting the actual programming work, I had something I could interact with, and actually did something. And that was the moment when I realized just what a good framework can do for you.
Now, after both of those realizations, I'm moving ever onwards and upwards. I have software related project ideas floating around my head that were never there before. Some of them are for Rails, but I'm also interested in learning Objective-C and the Cocoa framework now. I've been a fan of Apple for most of my life, and now I get to, the masses willing, add to that experience.
And if something that expandds your horizons, and re-introduces you to your lost love of the craft, doesn't make you better at programming, I don't know what would.