What I Learned From 360Flex 2010


I attended and spoke at the 360 Flex conference in San Jose this year. Before the high fades away, I wanted to post what I learned last week for a few reasons. First, to share with others. Second, to share for those who didn’t attend, but might if they feel they’d gain something from it. Third, a growing number of Flex devs, albeit really small, feel they don’t gain much from conferences. I wanted to show a potential counterpoint to this in hopes it’ll convert them back.

360 Flex was in San Jose, California this year, so it’s a long hike. That said, people from all over the USA and world converged to meet & greet. 360 Flex is THE premiere Flex conference. As a speaker, it’s always been the place, next to Boston, where I KNOW people in the audience will get what I’m talking about. As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve struggled to present topics that weren’t too advanced for the general Flex community, yet would interest those who are advanced as well. Her majesty constantly reminds me that the things I’ve spoke about 2 years are still very relevant to Flex & Flash devs today, and I should find some way to get passionate enough about those topics so I can speak on them. Regardless, I don’t have that problem in San Jose and Boston, so it was a nice reprieve.

This attitude is based on my perceptions of the body language of the audience as well as twitter & in person responses afterwards (or lack thereof). It’s not 100% accurate, but I can usually read an audience, knowing if they are getting it, and recognizing what things in my talks need to change material wise. I also find that I speak better when I’m jet lagged and/or hung over. This mellows my normal spazz-tastic nature, and helps me find a really good pace, especially if her majesty reminds me to have fun before hand. Timing these sorts of things is hard, hehe.

I’m usually just so excited to speak about something I love that I forget the basic tenets of giving speeches, and that is “effective pausing”, pace, and stopping to re-assess the audience’ engagement. That’s one of the reasons I continue to speak. I feel like I rock at Flex, but still have a long way to go at speaking. Regardless, what “job” allows you to spread knowledge, gives you the opportunity to have dialogues with geniuses, and act like a crackhead in front of an audience causing them to lolcano?

I may not come away from conferences & user groups with gallons of insight like I did in the past, but I’ve found other angles of knowledge, and EVERYTHING is right with making new friends, and re-connecting in person with existing ones. I love this shit.

Goal: Flex 4 and Catalyst Workflows, & Meeting Different, New People

My goals for Flex/Flash specific conferences nowadays are to hit the sessions that are gaping holes in my knowledge.  I’m probably the last Flex dev on the planet who doesn’t use Flex 4.  This is a combination of my consulting work on existing Flex 3 projects, tight deadlines, and the need for dependability.  Thus, anything Flex 4 specific I’m interested in, not really from the technical side (Adobe’s got great docs), but more from piercing the marketing bs.  Asking top tier to regular devs “how do you REALLY work with the tools?” and striking up a dialogue.

Another passion of mine is people.  I love people.  I love working at Starbucks, and even more so, Manhattan, because I’m surrounded by people. By energy.  By life.  It’s an exciting feeling, and helps motivate to create cool shiz.  I’m fascinated by what makes people tick.  I like to see how some people have certain causes that lead them to certain effects.  If you challenge some commonly held beliefs, you can really get a good dialogue going with developers.  If you make vaporous statements about commonly held agreements, you’ll nodding confirmations, but not much more.  From groups to individuals, you can cause a lot of interesting things to happen. IF you know what buttons to push.

I’m not just fascinated by crowds and groups, but by individuals.  If you’ve ever been to a Microsoft conference, one thing that differentiates the Flash/Flex world from them is our diversity.  We don’t have every application angle handled by Adobe, thus we must reach out to others for help in certain areas.  While we do technically have a client side and middle tier, we don’t have a database solution.  We must use MySQL, SQL Server, Oracle, etc.  This requires us to integrate with other communities.  In turn, they are exposed to us.  We’re different, from different backgrounds.  Some of the culture these clashes are bad, most are good.

Because our tech works with a common goal, we have a “managed diversity”.   Studies have proven that companies who have diversity that’s managed are more successful than those who don’t have diversity.  In turn, those who are so diverse, but aren’t managed are worse.  Flash hitting Rails, Flex hitting Django, AIR conjoining with C++.  Design agency punks mingling with executive, khaki wearing Enterprise Java J2EE devs.  It’s wonderful, crazy.

In short, the opportunity at these conferences, both large and small, to meet someone totally not like me is high.  Yes, we have a common thread; we love t3h SWF.  Yet we all have different backgrounds, different goals, desires… and once you dig into someone’s background, and get them talkin, I eat that shit up.  I love hearing about where people come from, how they arrived where they are, and why they decided to come this way, if at all.

It’s said that the best things about tech conferences are the discussions between/after sessions. For me, it IS the conference.  I’ve always tried to surround myself with people that are better than me.  They rise you up.  Debating with computer scientists, and genius artists… how can you NOT walk away a better person?

What Did I Learn?

A ton.

  1. A lot of developers don’t mind the lack of career path.  You rise to architect/consultant level, and instead of hitting the glass ceiling and breaking into management, many just saturate Flex/Flash avenues as far as they can, or go learn another technology and do the whole thing over… only a lot quicker than it took them the first time.
  2. A lot of developers read technical manuals & programming books vs. marketing & sales ones.  There are exceptions, but most drink from the tech knowledge fountain and can’t get enough.  I feel like I have a responsibility to help fill the gaps to help them so they either (A) don’t have to worry about this gap or (B) have a desire to get out of their comfort zone.
  3. Adobe doesn’t like me much anymore.  There are some great people there whom I still interact with, but it’s been pretty clear over the past 3 years that as I’ve moved into a more architect/sales role with my professional consulting, I’ve had zero time to evangelize software I don’t even fully believe in.  You can get away with not filing bugs for Adobe as long as you evangelize and help the community, but even that value perception has fallen out of favor apparently.  Given the fact that I’m focused on higher level problems like software workflows, marketing, sales, and products, this is time NOT spent talking about how dope Flex 4 states are, or how wonderful Flash Builder 4 handles certain coding challenges.  I’m not alone in this career transition, it just sucks that I can’t really devote the time I need to get respected again.  Additionally, Adobe’s focus, at least in the Flash Player sphere, has been exposing boilerplate API’s and functionality to allow them + 3rd parties to build powerful extensions on top fo the Flash Player.  I totally agree with the approach, but I’m not technically saavy enough to really help them in this area.  I know what my clients need and want, but translating that to a use case “please expose sound data via sound sample data so I can build Hobnox” is just not a jump I can technically make. To be fair, only 10% of it is CS3/CS4 related.  I screamed and bitched at Macromedia and Adobe for years, and saw the fruits of my suggestions along with the communities become a reality.  While some of their software is old, and it’s challenging for them to add pimp, new revenue generating features without alienating old markets or breaking old workflows, they still have people with mad skillz working for them, with a long successful track record (except for Flash CS3 and CS4; even though Fireworks CS3/4 crashes, we ALL love that prog).  I’m still in good with the Flash Media team, though, and that’s been helpful since I’ve been 100% focused on video for the past 3 years.  They are a pretty thick skinned bunch, so maybe that’s why… Anyway, given the amount of responsibility I have with running my own consulting firm + having 2 kids, I just don’t see how I can return to the days of old where I’d take 4 hours one night, create some kick ass shit, blog it, and thank Macromedia/Adobe for the cool toys…. and then suggest new things.  Maybe someday.
  4. The latest fad with our industry is Dependency Injection, and Yakov Fain won’t tell me what the next fad will be… if you figure that out, you’ll be the shiz.  Historically this has been what another programming community has had for years, and the Flash/Flex devs just suddenly get and freak out.  While cool, it was apparently obvious to others.
  5. If a mentoring program existed for the Flex community whose sole goal was to make 1 product/project complete and “live” from 1 of the 30 “side projects” each Flash/Flex dev has on their computer, the world would be an AMAZINGLY better place.  All these 20% to 80% done apps/libraries/products that these developers have, some are really damn cool and NEED TO BE RELEASED.  Those like me who know this have a moral responsibility to help/empower these individuals to “do the last 10%”.  I don’t know how to do that, but it needs to be done somehow.
  6. People who create kick ass open source projects don’t get enough feedback.  The only solution I can think of is people need more evangelists to not only promote their projects if they aren’t capable of being evangelists themselves, but also utilizing those envangelists to forcibly extract/publicly recognize via Twitter & Blog streams successful projects that have utilized their software.  Meaning, like Joel Hooks will re-tweet Robotlegs endeavors done by the community to help give it a wider recognition.  Additionally, he’ll interact with those who’ve done projects, and take “back to the Robotlegs community” the problems/concerns/commendations those who use the software.  Steven Sacks getting public, community member quotes on the Gaia site is another example.  Projects like PyAMF and Hamcrest need this role, and I’m not really sure how to help them recruit for it beyond citing simple tasks they can do to help themselves.
  7. Dan Florio was right in ignoring my advice.  I told him not to do RunPee.com.  I didn’t think it’d be profitable.  I was wrong.
  8. A lot of people in our industry are happy to make bling working on consistent Flex work with a consulting firm.  I am not like this.
  9. There’s a growing desire for many developers to learn & teach UX concepts.  This is a direct result from the lack of qualified UX talent.  Since this discipline most affects our client’s bottom line as well as project costs & risk… we don’t have time to wait for UX people to just magically popup out of colleges.
  10. I’ve gone 10 years without having a contract of my own, and signing any contract a client/company/consulting firm throws at me.  As long as the correct rate/price is on there, I didn’t care what the rest said.  After seeing Ellie Khabazian’s presentation, while I won’t create a contract of my own (since the clients work with would never sign it) I will most definitely ALWAYS be reading contracts I sign, and adjusting wording as necessary.  I’m one lucky mofo.
  11. There seems to be more animosity towards Silverlight, and more fear towards HTML5.  Those in the know don’t care about HTML5, and don’t seem to fear Silverlight.
  12. A lot of the old Flash devs don’t seem to see a lot of rapid innovation in produced content, whereas the new devs seem to have that feeling of daily finding wonder that the old ones had back in 2002.
  13. Twitter makes blogging hard.  We all already knew this, I just got more corroboration.
  14. Writing large scale examples for frameworks is a constant problem in “finding the time”.
  15. I have a lot to learn about sales.
  16. Getting developers on camera is freaking hard.  For a podcast?  Simple.
  17. Getting Kevin Suttle to break character is freaking hard.

Hope to see y’all another conference soon!  Thanks John & Tom.

9 Replies to “What I Learned From 360Flex 2010”

  1. Jesse, I was very glad meeting you in person at 360Flex you are also a damn good interviewer ! You almost roasted Kevin Suttle and get out of him amazing information, and thanks to the interview I’ve got to know Kevin even better! Looking forward to see the video!

  2. Hey, sucka. It was good to see you again. For the second time, I tried to catch your session. For the second time, I only caught a bit before duty called.

    I did notice the pimp slide deck though, that was new. I also remember the first time you presented, you stopped mid-sentence and said, “This is boring you guys isn’t it? Do you want to see code instead?” The crowd nodded and that’s when the true JesterXL came out of ya. ;)

    I hear you on the time constraint side of things. With two kids and travel due to my Flex gig, I hardly have time to dabble myself. I’m still a Flex 4 n00b and it’s almost out! That’s one reason I had to leave the conference biz. It ate away at my tinker time.

  3. Jesse, I still got the love for ya! But unfortunately I don’t have commit access to any Adobe products so I can’t help get your features added. Sorry.

    -James (Adobe)

  4. Great presentation. The RobotLegs portion was a good sanity check for me. I think I am sane.

    Loved the slide deck. I am a hard core TF2 player (but I suck). “Building a sentry!” “That is not medicine!”

    I LOLed a lot throughout the talk. Thanks.

    – Randy

  5. Jeeze, what a great post. Let me comment by the numbers:
    1. Career path: I hear you. When you figure it out tell me. But, I do think many see a path to manage others—taking on bigger projects etc. But, I do think it’s best for people to study what they like and what they’re good at. If when they get to be 95 years old and have nothing to show for it but a bunch of killer Flash/Flex projects I don’t know that’s so bad. Personally, I try to keep many personal projects going because I am not THAT interested in my clients’ projects.
    2. Reading. It wouldn’t hurt to mention OTHER types of literature… you can gain a lot from getting out of your comfort zone.
    3. Adobe likes you. They seem to have a bit of an identity crisis. I don’t know their direction and I pay attention. They sometimes don’t know. The whole bit with competing with their customers… and selling services…. And, oh, making tools (seems not their #1 priority) is a problem they need to come to terms with. MSFT seems to have a handle on this—perhaps because they’re so huge and established. But your point (from the 360flex post) that the job-titles are clear at MSFT where at Adobe no one know I think goes a long way.
    I agree they should do more to help make projects and their customers succeed. Not 100% sure how, but it seems like a small investment with a good return.
    4. Injection… for sure it’s just another thing we can learn from others. I’m not sold on really injecting your code. It seems pretty clear what parts of a project should be kept external/dynamic and which are native.
    5. Side projects—hence one of the reasons I’m wary of using libraries. I mean, I can’t do everything from scratch every time—but the one thing I hate is blaming some code that I’m building on top of.

    8. going beyond consulting. What do you want exactly?
    10. You have contracts even if you don’t have a boiler plate one. I’m pretty much in the boat you are. Often I’ll write an email just to make sure we’re all on the same page—and that’s enough.
    11. I don’t know anyone who’s defensive about HTML5 and that’s really the only problem I can see happening. We’re all ready to do cool stuff if it’s possible—right now, however, Flash does cooler stuff. Look back a few months/years to how Ajax has killed Flash. Same deal. Sure, maybe for video only—we’ll see. It sure ain’t there now.
    16. Try getting devs to help you make a satire video if you want a challenge.

  6. I think I’m going to add a slide to my presentation about taking personal projects to market. The slide will read: Be sure to get advice from @JesterXL and then do the opposite. :)

    Love you man. Had a blast hanging out. Hope to see you again at the next Grateful Dead/360Flex conference.

  7. Jesse,
    You chased me all over 360|Flex for a video interview and I declined. Not because of you (you totally ROCK) but because I hate the way I look and the idea of continuing the support of reality TV. Podcasts I would love to do. Work with you… any time. But no Video recordings :-)

    Meanwhile, maybe the next trend if Functional Programming and Behavior Injection.

    I am one devoted fan to your enthusiam and insight. Carry on dude!

    You missed my presentation on l10n Injection (www.tinyURL.com/l10nInjection)

  8. BTW,
    At my presentation, they started throwing screaming monkeys at me while I was talking… not as good as the drag queen at another session and not as good as Doug McCune biting the heads off all the monkeys at the conference… but still hilarious.

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