State of the Flash & Flex Market for 2010

Sorry so late, folks, I usually do this in March or April.  This year was really strange, so I waited hoping for some context that never came.  Much is the same as last year.


The following is a broad coverage of the state of the Flash & Flex market for both W2 and 1099 (employee and freelance) with some W9 data (corp to corp, consulting, etc).  My metrics and data are garnered from:

  • my freelance and consulting business
  • my network of freelancers and consultants I work with in my makeshift, un-paid recruiting business
  • my network on email, blogs, and twitter
  • interviews with others who are employed, self-employed, and consulting
  • reading high-level economic reports of public companies, federal law summaries, and corroborating between respected economists

I write these yearly to give the community of what I’m seeing from both the trenches, and where I predict technology and employment opportunities going.  In reading this, you should be able to confirm/deny your current assumptions about the hiring climate, recognize steps you can take to get more opportunities, and gain an understanding of how things are in the Flex & Flash industry from an employment perspective.

Work In General

Much is the same from 2009.  With Sarbanes/Oxley legislation finally make it’s 2nd round in Congress, banks were afraid to lend earlier in the year.  With the real-estate market continuing to suffer, and banks both here and abroad failing/merging/acquisitions, loans have dried up.  With no loans, many larger software initiatives at mid to large companies didn’t move forward.  Many companies who actually have the money (and yes, there are a lot of corporations sitting on a lot of easy to liquidate cash)  RFP’s, and other contract jobs never happened.  The confusion in larger companies of where the budget was going to come from happened only after planning was setup.

This lead to a lot of early year projects that were discussed, and much sales cycles and paperwork were started on, but work never actually commenced.  This wasted time, was costly for some freelancers & software firms.  This has increased the lead count (how many people/companies who potentially have work), and thus intimacy with potential clients has sometimes suffered for some firms.  For those that have the capital, sales cycles have elongated, and existing customers have received extra love.  For those that don’t, many things have resulted.  Some have become less choosy in the work they take on, some have broadened the technology niche they serve, and others have just moved technology stacks completely to target what they perceive as a more profitable market.


Rates have continued to decline for some contractors, some even halving their rate if they don’t have an existing client base.  Recruiters have taken advantage of this 2nd year recession, and are continuing to lower their rates for positions as well.  Some of this is opportunism, while others are merely companies who are forced to do more with less.  Sadly, this has not affected the amount of potential, good candidates.  It’s still hard to find good programmers.  Some who are already gainfully employed are not swayed away with these lowered rates.  Those who have them are continuing to ensure they don’t leave.  While I’m sure they are out there, I’ve seen no evidence of companies abusing their developers because of the recession.

Considering this lack of talent, even the recession hasn’t affected those that charge top tier rates.  Those companies that want the best, or are in serious trouble and have no choice, seem to have no qualms shelling the cash required.

Opportunity Amount & Location

The amount of opportunities is about the same with 2009: high.  Their location & telecommute options, however, is drastically different.  A continuing trend I’m seeing this year is a major lack of talent in New York for both Flash & Flex, as well as San Francisco.  The financial sector on both coasts seems to be struggling to find both good Flex & Java developers, offering insanely high rates for on-site W2 employment.  Additionally, the larger consulting firms such as Deloitte and Accenture, are starting to branch our in their hiring vs. training developers in Flex, preferring to get experts for specific gigs.

Strangely, while the amount of opportunities all over the USA is high, many appear to be on-site with no telecommuting options, including one in Dubai.  In a day in age when companies wish to save money and struggle to find qualified candidates, it’s quite strange to me why they do not engage in this practice to ensure a broader access to talent at reduced cost.

The Great Divide: Consulting and Freelance

One interesting note this year is the broad divide between freelancers and consultants.  I’ve had an increase this year in freelancers, mostly Flex, who have a harder time finding gigs.  On the flip-side, those on-site in San Francisco, New York, Boston, or Chicago seem to have too much work.  Additionally, those with established consulting firms both big and small continue to have a steady stream of work.  I don’t know what this means, but for every person negative about the Flash/Flex economy, you’ll find someone who is the complete opposite.  Again, the pattern is single freelancers seem to have it rough if they don’t have existing clients and/or a large network, whereas those who do are doing just fine, continuing to turn down work.

Not sure what to make of that.

Startups: Not As Strong As 2006

My preferred gigs are startups.  While I’ve heard both the Valley and China are on a investment binge, it seems they are hiring locally, or getting young/cheap talent.  Recessions are a wonderful time to start a business, so it’s disappointing not to see an uptick in this type of work with all the investment going on.  I have been keeping up with a few people starting smaller businesses, some around mobile, some around TV related initiatives, but most seem to be flying under the radar, or are Angel funded with smaller budgets.

The 3 startups I’ve heard of this year are doing exciting work, but seem to be getting burned by the outsourcing trend, asking local developers to fix/inherit, which results in much re-work.  That, or they only have budgets for short time periods vs. the traditional 4 to 8 months.  While unfortunate the breadth of startup knowledge for free on the internet doesn’t seem to be taken advantage of, it’s wonderful to see a new breed, both young and old from 2 non-tech disciplines (record producing business & investment banking) are diving in head first.  That is a great sign.  If 2011 really is just an extension of the 2008-2010 recession, then startups will continue to attempt to launch on shoe string budgets.  If you’ve ever wanted to moonlight in a startup, this may be an opportunity to do so since finding qualified talent to launch will be tough for these companies.  That, or you can be a consultant and attempt to fix this products when they launch in late 2011/2012 for those that weren’t written by professional software developers.


Advice & findings are about the same as 2009.

  • Flash work continues in large supply.  For the freelancers, it’s mostly short, 5 day to 2 month micro-site, or mini-applications.  Most involve video or 3D.
  • Design Agencies continue to have churn, and actively seek, qualified Flash Developers.  They are apparently still in short supply.  One trait I’ve seen a lot of Agencies look for is hybrids who can do web stuff as well.  They’re fine using Flash CS5 one moment, and busting out jQuery and CSS the next.
  • FDT & FlashDevelop continue to make in-roads in Design Agencies as the preferred method development IDE.
  • More and more agency projects seem to be ActionScript-only projects.
  • There are a lot of Flex projects where they need someone to “skin” a Flex project.  As it’s not that simple, these projects can turn into longer term consulting engagements.
  • Many clients working on Flex continue to utilize the 3.x SDK with later builds vs. 4, even with new projects.
  • There is a ton of Flex work if you’re willing to join a consulting firm and do some on-site/travel, both freelance and employee.
  • There continues to be Flex consulting engagements where large teams run into GUI or scalability problems since they are Java developers first, and were trained to be Flex developers on the job.  I’ve seen 3 this year myself.
  • Flash video continues to be a strong niche, and finding qualified developers, whether they use OSMF or not, continues to be a problem.
  • LiveCycle and BlazeDS, continue to be desired technologies in the north and north east beyond the standard Spring/Hibernate stack for hybrid Flex/Java developers.
  • Good designers who know how to design Flash & Flex content are continually hard to find.
  • Information Architects and others in the UX field for use in our work continue to be hard to find.

Continue to network (Twitter, Email, blogs, conferences), continue to learn, and blog/tweet about what you learned.  I haven’t seen any Android/iOS/AIR/TV work yet, although have heard about 2 companies here in Atlanta.  I still believe there is a lot of lucrative work to be had here, specifically for employees/freelancers building applications for other companies vs. marketing to consumers directly.

Sadly, Catalyst & Flex 4 continue to make slow headway.  There are a few gigs, yes, but clearly people are still figuring out their workflows and technology.

I’d say the worst thing about our industry right now is everyone continues to do things differently.  Agencies all have their own workflows that change with those they employ.  The same goes for Flex Developers of all company/firm sizes.  Thus, it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with as many IDE’s, frameworks, and workflows as possible.

Good luck and keep your head up!  Flash & Flex are still strong even if the economy is not.  It’s not glorious like 2006, but seem to have hit rock bottom already and appears on the way up, albeit slowly.

15 Replies to “State of the Flash & Flex Market for 2010”

  1. Great post, but curious how you think multitude of devices and new platforms will affect developer income. Will new ecosystems and marketplaces drive individual developer revenue or create more demand from agencies as commissioned application development increases?

  2. Hi Jesse,
    After reading your post I went back to and ran this query:

    It probably needs to be cleaned up a bit, but I think it reflects what you describe. Some will be amused that Flex’s rate of growth appears to be less than Silverlight’s and that Silverlight job postings are catching up to Flex.

    Yours truly,

  3. I can’t understand why agencies are so afraid to work with devs from Europe for example, if the talent is there and so are the skills.

    There’s many advantages – not having to pay the same high rate, nor having to buy the machines or to rent a larger space.

    Yes, there might be some advantages as well, but with the right people and attitude, that might not be the case.

    We work with several agencies from US, and we’re always looking for more work. We’d love people to open up to this.

  4. Like yourself I’m also completely baffled by the large amount of resistance to telecommuting by companies that seem to have the same positions open for months. As someone that lives on the extreme eastern side of the North American continent, I see a plethora of positions that would fit into my available time perfectly due to the time zone differences, but am always told “well you have the skills, but we can’t do offsite”. In todays technology environment, there’s very few positions that cannot accommodate folks that can meet your skill requirements, but wish or need to work offsite.

  5. @Chuck Great question, Chuck. Speaking for Ben Stucki, he and I both believe there is a great future in developing for devices, specifically AIR for Android, and perhaps a few lucrative jobs in iOS. Android, for now, follows the 80/20 rule in that most of our effort can be expended on that platform for the majority of future return on investment. That, and we can re-use of the design & development strategies that are required for Android mobile to port to iOS. The only huge difference is iOS design guidelines; for the most part a large majority of the same code base can be used.

    However, one thing I’ve noticed about mobile is all the devices seem be… different. While the development hurdles can be overcome by most Flash Developers I know, the design ones are really hard. It’s like 2004 all over again with different resolutions, browser fallbacks, and size contraints. I’ve seen some clever HTML developers do some great flow designs that adapt the resolution… but this is a design discipline, not a development one.

    Believe it or not, from a development perspective, especially with the release of Flash CS5 and the upcoming Flash Builder Burrito, developing & deploying for mobile is pretty easy. It’s the designing that’s really hard.

    So, yes, I whole heartedly agree with the 2nd part of your questions; I definitely see Design Agencies taking a larger role in mobile development since they have the design resources to tackle these hard challenges (Same app for 4 devices, 2 are tablets, one is a phone, and the other a large TV screen… riiiight). There is a growing amount of UX firms as well; even Universal Mind is pitching itself as a Design Agency, even though most in the know recognize them as premier application development. Having qualified design resources who know RIA tech is a major trump card, and only 4 firms I know of have that kind of talent (UM, Roundarch, Cynergy, and Effective UI). Thus, beyond Adobe Consulting, these are some of the first people you think of when you want to create powerful RIA’s on this platform. Everyone else, I think, has zero clue what they should be doing (Native Java, HTML5 WebKit, or Flash/Flex/AIR?). In the end, I believe all 3 will have tons of opportunity in terms of getting work to build apps for other companies, and even consumers. It’s just that, aside from the Ruby on Rails crew, Flash Design Agencies tend to have better sales teams, better design portfolios, and thus an overall easier time in getting this type of work. What TYPE of work they actually do (java/web/as3) is dependent on the firm. I’ve seen a rise of technology agnosticism from agencies in recent years because no one knows what to use anymore, thus they just deliver whatever the client wants, and outsource the rest.

    …what I don’t know is individual income. It’s already extremely hard to find good developers, yet I see a ton of mediocre developers get hired. Because of the increase in tools/libraries, and lowering of the barrier of entry, the ability to create apps from a variety of platforms has increased. For consumer applications, this is fine. Many still don’t invest in metrics, and ignore consumer polls stating that what they are creating is garbage with no ROI. They seem, instead, to pay attention to surveys stating that consumers want to access them on their devices. What’s strange is that companies, at least that I’m seeing, are going EXTREMELY slow… so maybe they are in fact reading the metrics now, haha! The lack of qualified developers may be a problem, but I’m not seeing the true effects.

    The second problem is I don’t think there are enough creative directors/producers/technical Directors who really get and/or can sell the breadth of what brands need to do technically across the board. You don’t just need a website, you need a mobile website. You don’t just need a website that works on both desktop and various devices, you also need an app that helps add value to consumers interacting with your brand (like Delta’s checking flight status). If you launch a new consumer application, it needs to work on the web and on various devices. Which devices? What technology? Do you even have a social media tie-in (like Comcast’s @comcastcares on Twitter)?

    Examples of people who do strange things usually because the brands they work for are so stuck in the stone age, and the salesman either can’t sell them on the future or ROI. For example, launched both a web version and iPhone app version to watch HBO GO content. Only the website actually allowed you to watch video, even though Netflix proved you can do DRM video on devices. Frankly, I’d much rather watch video on my phone, and I bet you tons of other people would as well. Another is iTunes; they still don’t have a web version, nor iPhone version; you download rentals/purchases via iTunes desktop, yes, but… dude, Steve Jobs, the world moved on…

    I think we’ve all been hearing this mobile revolution hype for 10 years now, and now that it’s finally hear, many have tuned out. That, or they are taking their time, especially in the recession. Consumers have been demanding TV on the web, retail stores show up on GPS devices, and they are accessible from whatever device they are using. Getting metrics to help focus these companies is apparently hard. I know of a ton of metric jobs I was on and never once heard of a decision directed from metrics; perhaps those so high up the food chain actually did consume the data to make decisions. My gut says no they didn’t; perhaps this is why Adobe purchased Ominture? In a climate that is so volatile with devices currently, what do you do? Do you support the lowest common denominator, alienating a certain part of your market? Is it worth investing in a preliminary version to get some good metric data? Can you even trust your metric data? Is the data even readable? That last one is the kicker; a ton of metrics I’ve added to Flex & Flash projects I never confirmed/denied the Google Analytics/Ominture Dashboard was even reasonable. It’s been my experience you need on iterate on that and work with both the stakeholders who care as well as the coders who input the metrics to ensure you get good, readable, and RELEVANT data.

    I could go on all day, but here’s my bottom lines of what I know and don’t know, Chuck:

    Brands WILL commission applications be made, and websites be workable on Android/Windows Phone 7 (assuming they sell well). This in turn will require agencies to at least spend a little extra time on the design so the Flash Developer doesn’t have to do much work to make it work. Granted, to do it right, you really should invest effort in fall back code or even different versions, but that is NOT going to happen in most agencies I know. That, and most designers are good at taking extra time from time slots that don’t have time to take away from anyway. That, and it’s currently hard for Agencies I know of to sell value to clients on supporting those devices. Once they start asking, though, and mark my words, they will, the first step will just making the design to support bigger buttons. The second step will be more scaleable designs, and the 3rd will either be a process, a niche market, or some sort of workflow for that particular agency that’ll eventually get adopted. The “stage.onResize” revolution already happened 3 years ago in the Flash Design world, so it’s not like we haven’t done this before.
    That’s for the browser, however, it’s cheaper for existing agencies who already have Flash developers on staff to use the AIR for Android/iOS than it is for them to branch out and hire contractors/consultants, especially if they get a big, company funding client (like Coke/Pepsi), or just own a niche market for a long period of time. It’s been my experience consumers don’t give a flip about if it’s Java or ActionScript; they just want it to work and do what they need. The web is different, and won’t work on those models. If a client wants an app, Agencies will start making them.
    For Business to Business? I have no clue. This is where things get fuzzy for me. Even Apple invested in iOS 4 for “app islands” so Enterprises could hand out of company ordained iPhones vs. Blackberry’s, and control both the apps installed as well as the typical Exchange connectivity… so if Apple thinks consumer device invasion finally has shifted power in big companies, perhaps too will companies who desire to support Android for single-sign on, their company sales tool, reporting, etc. I WILL say, however, once the Agencies have done it for 2 years, you can be damn sure businesses will start hiring you to do applications vs. the widget apps agencies produce… and I’ll start getting consulting gigs for Agencies who bit off more than they could chew.

    This is why Ben and I are investing; we believe this natural progression of Flash in browser support (Android, Windows Phone 7) will start to be “assumed to work” by big brands. Then, they’ll start to learn what’s possible (the Agencies and the Brands), and start to have that work commissioned. The scope will increase with businesses who need either apps for customers, or apps for their own business (Flex’ traditional realm).

    The only challenge with that theory, currently, is the phones currently run AS3 pretty well, and Flex “ok”. While I’m not happy about that, businesses won’t wait. Flash 3 was slow as ballz, but it exploded on the web so… the good thing too, about mobile stuff, is that it tends to be smaller scoped, even for Enterprise applications. Since the apps tend to be more focused, you can get away with smaller code bases, and thus “doing less”, so performance isn’t that big of deal (excluding dashboards, and other data intensive applications).

    The other challenge which I already explained is design. Designing for mobiles is WAY different, and each device tends to have it’s own guidelines which are pretty good and should be followed. We already have a designer/UX deficit and it’s only going to get worse. Those who have a modicum of design experience (Flash Developers as opposed to the cliche Flex Developer) I think will do extremely well.

    What I haven’t figured out is where this money is coming from. You typically don’t “build just a website” or “build just a mobile version”; you build both. Same goes for apps, especially in Agencies. It’s often part of a larger effort. If the budget doesn’t change, which I don’t think it will in the early years, you’ll have to do more with less. Thus, maybe you’ll make a smaller scoped website, but ensure it’s capable of being used on more devices.

    To say another way, if it takes $200,000k to make a Flex app, and you take $50,000k of that away to fund the iPhone Objective C version, what happens to the Flex app? Does the scope stay the same? That’s a negative… thus, scope is going to suffer. That’s my guess as to why a lot of the current branded apps we’re seeing on phones currently aren’t 100% of what consumers expect them to be. My guess is companies are still figuring this out, and only investing some of what’s really needed. Again, though, what’s great about mobile is a lot of the apps are forced to be smaller scope, and simplicity in software is great… maybe this’ll leak to the desktop/web versions… maybe not. :: shrugs ::

    So, more opportunities? Yes. More income? No. I think over the long term, say 4 years, YES Developers will have an income increase based on the fact more people will use more powerful phones, market places will be more common place, tools will be improved, and consumer expectations will be higher.

  6. Hi,

    To Andrei and Chris: I have been telecommuting since 2004. First as a full time employee when I moved to Florida and now as a freelancer, here in London. I was the first employee offsite at the agency but I also was the first freelancer to work remote for the London based agency I now work with. I would say trust is the main issue. Employers have a hard time keeping in-house employees in check, so they can’t fathom managing people remote.

    Jesse: Great post. From my trenches I need more hours in a day to for all I want to and need to do. Frankly, this has to be the best time to be a Flash/Flex dev. I know the economy is still in the crapper but platform-wise we are heading towards some crazy, crazy times!

    I just ported an app from iOs (iPad) to a Tab in 15 minutes thanks to AIR. The only change was the layout because of the Tab’s screen resolution. How awesome is that!?



  7. @Chris,

    I agree as well. My living preferences would actually be in the middle of nowhere on an undisclosed amount of acreage (with decent internet access), but I can’t do that because my company needs me on-site.

    I think it’s still a matter of trust and control. Companies have been burned too many times by devs that can’t manage their time and don’t produce quality work. However, in my opinion, that’s more of an HR issue in getting the right people.

    My other theory is that they can’t figure out how to get collaboration going correctly. However, I think requiring anyone wanting to work off-site to have a skype account(with some sort of backup) and a webcam would go a lot further towards this goal.

    I think too many companies also forget that there are major benefits to allowing an employee to work off-site. You’re not paying for their parking, they generally use their own equipment and software, and maintain their own machines (usually doing a much better job than their own internal helpdesk). It can save a company a ton of money, if they’d just relinquish a little bit of control….

  8. To Jerome: thanks for the answer. I would assume that’s an issue, but I wasn’t speaking of hourly work if that’s what you had in mind.

    If a flat rate is provided per project, there’s a strong motivation to do the work within the timeframe and budget discussed.

    If the agencies prefer to work hourly, than yes, that is an issue.

  9. Regarding the issue of agencies being apprehensive about hiring outside talent, it’s actually a legitimate concern. I’ve worked at various agencies in NYC over the last 10 years. And I’ve yet to see a project using an outside resource that has gone as smoothly as the projects done in house. There just seems to be something about working with people face-to-face that helps avoid many obstacles. In addition, agencies see themselves, and as a result the processes they employ, as creative think tanks. There is a perception, and I think on some level justified, that the work and process will somehow be hampered by the logistics of dealing with outside talent. The creatives at these agencies want to see those that they are dealing with. They want to know them. They want a rapport with those that take part in helping execute their vision.

    As developers we’re comfortable using technology as a means to communicate, collaborate and socialize. Agency creatives aren’t trained that way and don’t work that way. This is surely changing, albeit slowly. But I suspect anyone who considers their work to be “creative” work will tend to prefer working with others face-to-face.

  10. Great post. I have been an ardent user of Flex apps for a few years now. It’s simply awesome!

  11. Interesting round-up, thanks. Are you seeing much commissioned business resulting from the boom in app stores? Or is this all being driven by independent developers creating apps in their own time?

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