What I Learned at Flash and the City 2010

While it’s fresh, here is what I learned at Flash and the City 2010 (blog).  It was a Flash & Flex conference in New York City that brought together developers from around the world.  The reasons for me to attend were (beyond being invited, duh):

  1. You don’t attend conferences, you speak at conferences.
  2. I like smaller conferences.
  3. I love Manhattan.
  4. One of my current clients is there.
  5. My wife had never been to New York.
  6. You don’t get many eastern conferences (east in the USA).

What to Learn

I go to conferences to meet & talk to other people, not attend sessions.  I do attend sessions, but as an audio learner, I tend to learn more by engaging in conversation with people.  That, and I wanted to learn about the following, stuff that isn’t usually presented on:

  1. How’s business?  Seriously, not the small talk, how is it?
  2. Has your lead qualification spiked like mine has? (ie a lot more clients to qualify to get a gig)
  3. Are clients asking you for mobile?  If so, what platform?
  4. What are you doing about iPhone?
  5. Do you care about Android?  What is your plan of attack if you do?
  6. How’s FlexUnit coming along?
  7. How’s your experience with OSMF?  What are your justifications for using it with clients?
  8. You’re seriously using Catalyst vs. Photoshop/Illustrator directly?  How?  What is your team makeup?
  9. Why do you use Intellij over FDT?

…and so on and so on.

Conference Demographics

In attending a few sessions and asking various speakers about their sessions, and the body language of the crowd, it seemed there was a really good mix of people at the conference.  Designers, developers, and hybrids.  Strangely (ha?) mostly developers attended my session.  I wasn’t really sure how Flash and the City would turn out because it was in New York, yet had a lot of Flex content.  In my experience, New York is a design/agency town, and the Flex developers who do exist in the financial/banking sector are few and far between.  However, it turned out it went pretty well!

In fact, a lot of the Flash Developers who were working at agencies were under-challenged and jumped at anything fresh, new, and different related to our industry.  I see this a lot.  What was great, though, was there was also some young blood, too, not just 7 year vets who were bored.  Having young, enthusiastic people coming into our industry is a great thing.  Thus, I and others have the moral responsibility of helping them along, hopefully so they’ll surpass us in ability and contribute to the community at large.

IDE’s

Maybe this is projection, or maybe I was finding what I was looking for, but a common thing I’ve seen both on Twitter and at the conference was the search for the better IDE.  This is always a common theme in a variety of programming industries, but it’s come to head recently again in ours, and I think I know why.

Flash Builder 4 (aka Flex Builder 4), came out recently with the Flex 4 SDK.  While Flash CS5 does have some coding improvements, anyone doing serious ActionScript development isn’t using the Flash IDE.  That said, while those with a designer bent are extremely dependent on Flash Builder’s Design View and FXG support, most developers in our industry are not.

Flash Builder was a disappointment to me.  While there are numerous small things they added to collectively make it a better coding experience, if you compare it to other open source IDE’s in the industry, combined with the fact that Flash Builder is at version 4… it’s pretty bad.  Not pathetic, but just bad.  Perhaps others agree?

The custom coding templates Intellij has, the code hinting that FlashDevelop and FDT have, the re-factoring tools FDT has… the list goes on and on.  Since you’re surrounded with the makers of FDT, as well those who utilize other IDE’s in their day to day work, not only was engaging them in conversation helpful, but so to was listening to them engage others.

Purists & Pragmatists: Consulting is Just a Strange Beast

After my talk, this smart Aussie comes up to me and goes:

“We use Robotlegs at our shop.  I disagreed with just about every practice you espoused in your presentation.”

“Wow… well, what parts specifically?  Why?”

Paraphrasing here: “We utilize Continous Integration, TDD, etc. with a good team.  A lot of what you recommend is bad practice, and amatuerish.”

“Yeah, but what if you work with mid-level developers who are engulfed in horrible situations?  Specifically, behind deadlines, non-communicative teams, or management who aren’t informed?”

“I don’t have that problem, we have a good team.”

“MY POINT EXACTLY!  I’m brought in to help those teams struggling.  Sometimes you just need to hand code off to other devs to ensure they can’t hurt themselves, to move things forward so we can get back on track.  Usually things are on fire, and best practices are the least of my concerns.”

Someone standing next to me agrees and offers another point of view explaining my position.  I really wanted to chat with him later with Joel, but when we met again on the boat, we just talked about kids and how I loved & missed Australia.

The software industry endeavors to put in place tried and true practices on all aspects to ensure we’re successful.  With such a high failure rate, everything is dissected, debated, and uber-detailed.  It’s an obsession.  A good obsession.

The same effort isn’t put into what do you do when you don’t have all the right ingredients, but still need to get things done?  The common perception I see is either those are bad teams, or you should make the teams right, ignoring the reality of the current situation.

To say it another way, consulting is so strange compared to software development.  The common ground is nice, but sometimes gives the illusion consulting and software development agree… which they don’t.

Another example is during the panel I participated in with Thomas Joos and Roger Braunstein, initiated & led by Mims Wright.  Most consulting isn’t done with agencies, yet most Flash freelancers work with agencies.  You don’t hear about many Flex freelancers; most eventually become consultants (or overpaid contractors under the guise of consultants).  The problems I have are so different from the problems they have.  We both educate our clients, we both build awesome, yet it seems only consultants deal with all the other stuff more often that isn’t coding related: specifically being allowed to code successfully.  The goal of the panel was help give some advice and knowledge to aspiring freelancers.  What I’m not sure I specifically communicated is that consulting and freelancing are totally different, and freelancing is Flash specific, while consulting is Flex specific.

Anyway, it’s just a common theme I keep seeing at Flash conferences.

BlazeDS & LiveCycle

Apparently it’s used in a lot of Flex projects.  Heard this for a year now.  I’ve never used it, nor do I ever plan too.

OSMF

It sounds like those using OSMF are using it because their clients are making them, not because they want to.  I cite my company and one other company I talked too. #oopsoup

Hardware

A lot of people were talking about what they wanted to do with Arduino.  Getting Flash hooked up to hardware is cool again.

Mobile

A ton of hype here, and little substance.  There were a lot of people getting clients for mobile, or investing resources into learning + marketing it, yet I couldn’t get anyone to conjure how the process works; ie what device they were targeting and if they were making money doing it.  Surf’s up, the hype wave is still in effect.

When I’d bring up the marketplace for Android, how the store experience is nowhere near what iPhone has, people would agree and just trail off.  If they were European, they’d talk about strange Nokia devices like the Flash Lite developers do, I guess implying they are ok with OVI as it stands.  Depressing.  From what I saw, Android didn’t look very promising, but maybe I’m just still upset over how unappealing Cocoa is. :: shrugs ::

Clients

For those freelancing, things are slowly picking up.  While I’ve been disappointed in the leads I’ve been getting this year, apparently others who had to retreat to W2 to survive are also back out as freelancers or their own small companies again, so that’s a good sign.

UX

User experience, interaction design… both are major skill sets are still sorely needed, and loved, in our industry.  Also, people like me muddy and confuse the terms often.

Catalyst

Very few people are using it.  Everyone has an opinion on it.  I guess the latter is a good sign.  Some of the Flex Developers who traditionally use the default Flex components in their “design” had strong opinions on it which I thought was cool and strange.  There’s also a lot of confusion on where it fits in the workflow.  This isn’t spawned from just from Catalyst being new to the industry, more so from the varied client base many people have, and how they work.  It’s the same reason Flash developers wonder why I use the Flex Framework vs. extending Sprite: different clients.

Either way, the easiest way to convert everyone, especially the Robotlegs/PureMVC users is to explain Flex 4’s state syntax coupled with Mediator’s with a quick example… and they get it.  Then, the guys start tatooing FXG into their arms with razor blades.  The girls put’em on their cheeks in a Hello Kitty font w/ glitter.

Conclusions

I met a lot of people that should be speaking at Flash and the City instead of attending.  I let ’em know.  Hopefully they’ll wise up.  I dug the conference, although, to be fair, it could of sucked, and I still would of loved it’ because it’s in Manhattan.  It was good, though, and as always I love meeting my colleagues in person, both new and old.  Learning things is always great too.  Great job FATC team!

One side note, Brandon Hall, my original childhood Flash hero comes up to me and is all like, “You look tired… you’re WAY more chilled out than usual.  Are you ok?”

While tired, I specifically didn’t answer, giving him a chance to guess.  He didn’t.  Holy crap, how quickly we forget.  To be fair, Brandon’s more high strung than me, but come the eff on man…kids!?  Hello!!!???  Sadly, I didn’t get to hang with him much.  I like smaller conferences because you get to spend more quality time with cool people vs. larger ones where it’s 5 seconds with a bunch of geek celebrities.  Also, Stacey’s preso went well and inspired a lot of people.  I went to Joel’s to heckle him, but instead got distracted watching him use IntelliJ.

I think the highlight of the conference for me was raving till dawn with my 1st daughter on a boat.

Here are some pics on Flickr; I think people still need to upload their photos.

13 Replies to “What I Learned at Flash and the City 2010”

  1. @Yennick Thanks! I guess because it’s been a long while since I’ve worked with Java developers who used AMF. Most nowadays make up their own XML or JSON schema and I use that. While I used to use remoting, a lot I’ve been exposed to are usually public API’s being (even if public means used only behind the firewall) used by many other teams & technologies, not just mine.

    I don’t think this is a trend, just coincidence and my current clients. Regarding LiveCycle… why, BlazeDS is free, and the real-time aspects of LiveCycle make no sense when you can charge the client to write yourself, and usually get specifically what they want… I guess. I mean, this is what I always overhear when people debate BlazeDS vs. LiveCycle.

  2. Nice post, as usual, but what is the bar at the bottom of the page? It really is annoying: there seems to be no way to make it go away, it does not allow the flicker page to load because it is in a frame, I clicked the circle slash without knowing what it was and then there was no way to undo the apparent flagging of your page as “inappropriate”! and it is just butt-ugly. What use is it?

  3. lol, left the page and came back, now its gone. Sorry about the wacky rant! I must have hit an “ugly bar” link somehow… actually it’s a bit disturbing

  4. Great writeup man. Agree with much of this. Of course, I get to use BlazeDS all day, so that’s nice. And I’ll make a concerted effort to blog more and maybe get a few submissions to conferences in 2011. Thanks for the boost man, I owe you big time.

  5. @Paul Thanks, yeah man, I’ve never heard someone who knows so much about the new text engine, nor does there appear to be a lot of content about it, so prime blogging territory.

    @producerism Thanks chief, fixed.

  6. Hey Jesse was good to see you. I thought FATC was a great first attempt. Definitely some things to work out but the “spirit” of the thing was fantastic.

  7. Hey Jesse.

    I just don’t want thought leaders to omit clarifications of their “pragmatism”. I really think we’re quite pragmatic in our shop, we did not race out and change everything at once, for example, as we adopted agile.

    I don’t think you can easily bring agile to anything, it’s such an absurdly different beast. And it’s no silver bullet either, however when stacked up with waterfall, it often feels like it.

    Nonetheless, I want to see the entire community, especially the thought leaders, pushing for better practices all the time. Jesse Freeman did this commendably with his underlying theme to the AR talk, and even he seems to look upon the ivory-tower types as a bit hi-fallutin.. I think we’re all the same people.

    Fact is, my idea of a good presentation of Robotlegs pre-fatc would have been an utter dissapointment to any attendee. Your’s was accessible, and nothing you said was invalid, despite what I said about it. You clearly have to lead by example, and those examples have to be accessible. Your presentation was very entertaining and very accessible despite the BPM :)

    I’ve decided that when I next present on Robotlegs I won’t discuss the framework at all, just show some examples of really hard “fixes” (Winston Wolf styles) and how well crafted code makes them easy enough to fix for the Vincent Vegas of this world.

  8. Can anyone comment further on Jesse’s #9: Why do you use Intellij over FDT?

    I’d also be interested as to how it compares against FlashBuilder for Flex development… but first things first – #9 anyone?

  9. @Peter I use IntelliJ over FDT.

    1. It was first to be that good. Simply erring on the side of maturity.
    2. The developers of IntelliJ appear to be tireless advocates of refactoring and clean code, everything in the tool reflects this.
    3. I can also develop in the same IDE, or similar IDEs/tools from JetBrains, in the following technologies: Ruby, Rails, Java, Spring, JS, HTML, Scala, C#, Groovy ..
    4. The tool comes bundled with a really nice UML tool that is growing in ability for the Flash platform.
    5. They busily fix stuff all the time. It’s as much a testament to their dedication as it is their own code’s refactorability.

    Mostly it’s not about the features directly, the features are driven by the underlying ethos, and this is what matters to me.

    This is not to say that FDT is not a great tool. I don’t stay abreast of it’s releases, so I can’t properly comment, and it may in fact be better. With IntelliJ I am comfortable and rarely stifled, so I move on to other things (like code and long comments on blog posts).

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