Our dear friend and colleague Chris Seaton passed away last Saturday, December 3rd, 2022. Chris was an important part of our team at Shopify, and a notable figure in the Ruby community, and we are deeply saddened by our collective loss.
Chris lifted up all of those around him. While he was often the most knowledgeable person in the room on a given topic, he never talked down to anyone. If you needed to learn something, he was an incredibly willing and patient teacher. Moreover, Chris compelled those around him to be better, in his very understated way. He simply asked, “You can do that, right?” and you never wanted to let him down because he already believed you were better than you thought you were.
Chris accomplished much in his life. He completed a Ph.D., rose to be Squadron Leader in the British Army Reserve, and started a young family. The facet of his life many of us know him from is his voluminous contributions to the Ruby ecosystem. Chris began the TruffleRuby project in 2013 as an intern at Oracle Labs, having never written a line of Ruby previously, and stewarded it into a full-fledged Ruby implementation. In the decade he worked on the project, Chris advanced the state of the art in dynamic language optimization, co-authoring 16 publications, contributing to countless others, and establishing both the Ruby Bibliography archive of Ruby research publications and the Ruby Compiler Survey, the latter of which examines the rich history of optimizing Ruby implementations. For his efforts, he was a Ruby Prize finalist in 2016.
Recently Chris initiated an academic research program within Shopify to encourage more computer science research on the Ruby language. This has led to long-term fruitful partnerships between Rubyists and leading academics working on aspects of computing performance.
Chris had academic pursuits outside of Ruby as well. He worked with a team at King’s College London on improving code editors by basing them on ASTs. He built an iPhone app for helping doctors treat burn victims — the first app in the UK regulated and CE marked as a medical device. He researched eliminating the overhead in debuggers and profilers.
Many of us had the privilege to meet him at conferences or interact with him on various platforms. Always the educator, Chris produced a staggering 25 talks and 20 essays, each of which expertly dissects a deeply complex topic and makes it digestible to those just getting started with programming. TruffleRuby is his master work, pulling in the best parts of CRuby, JRuby, and Rubinius and building on them to produce a remarkably fast and capable Ruby implementation. But Chris gave the Ruby community much more than TruffleRuby. His work on
benchmark-ips is recognizable by all who benchmark Ruby. His research ideas have been carried over to CRuby. He identified and fixed security vulnerabilities in CRuby. He mentored members in the community. He proved that idiomatic Ruby can be much faster than anyone thought was reasonably possible. He was the rare person that could comfortably slide between academia and industry, technology and business. The world may never see another Chris; we’re incredibly lucky to have spent time with the one we had.
Chris’s papers, essays, and code contributions are currently archived at chrisseaton.com.