Big gap in the Flash industry exploited?

Over the last year or so, I think I’ve done more brokering of Flash talent that accounts for more work in total hours than I probably have done in my entire flash career over the last 8+yrs. To say there’s a need for Flash developers is a complete understatement. If you’re doing AS3/Flex2 development right now, you’re in a really REALLY good place to have some real leverage in your pricing / salary. Throw on top of that some knowledge of FMS, Red5, Apollo, Papervision3D, Cairngorm and any other hot technology, and the possibilities are even higher.

Now, I’m not saying I see the same things happening that went on before the Internet bubble burst, but I have seen SOME things that would make one think we’re back in the late 90’s again. I’ve interviewed many people for Flash jobs over the last few years and I feel like I’ve met everyone in the Los Angeles area who has even breathed the word ActionScript (is it 2 words?) and any other agency, I’m sure, will tell you: there’s a real gap in the development end of the Flash spectrum.

I get calls and emails from people on a weekly basis – and now at conferences, I’m getting hit in the elevator and lobbies. I was just riding up the elevator with Dominic at FITC in April, and the guy in the elevator is hitting us both up about him being a recruiter and looking for Flash Developers. At FF Austin, same deal, only in the lobby outside the sessions. The guy saw my name tag and went to work right then and there on me. And despite Red5 being only at v0.6 and Papervision3D not even released at v1.0, I have emails coming in all the time for people looking for developers for both technologies – incredible!

One interesting thought I had was about how this might affect Silverlight’s adoption rate. I mean, right now, sure, there’s a lot of talk, some good articles and a lot of money being thrown at it to cause the adoption rate to escalate unnaturally, but could it also be affected by high developer costs and very limited experience to draw on for Flex2/AS3/FlashCS3 development? It’s a fact that there’s far more Flex2/Flash work out there right now than you can shake a dead cat at. It’s not going to take too long for M$ to exploit these issues and they’ll start filling the gaps with the many .Net developers who will be very happy to take a piece of that Flash pie.

I don’t get into raising a flag and camping with one technology (insert the very very tired Mac vs PC arguments – I just taunt Chris Allen for fun, but I grew up on Mac ;). So you’re not going to hear me scream “Save Flash!” “Down with Silverlight!” – please, if it sucks, it sucks. If it’s good, it’s good and we’ll all adjust. But that doesn’t help our industry at the present moment. So back to my point…what was my point?

Oh yeah – Flash development gap. We have a “good” problem that’s unique to Flash, and Grant eludes to it in his article about Silverlight. Flash is unique in the people it attracts – they’re not hardcore developers so much (well, some are), and they tend to come from a mixed background that allows them to be very creative – hence the attraction and loyalty to Flash. We have a bad problem in that what we do is somewhat VooDoo to people coming in and playing. Knowing the player and its little tricks, the do/dont’s in developing Flash apps and sites is a bit steep and unless the person is REALLY driven to learn, they can be easily turned off. That’s the problem we face.

Personally, I think Adobe’s well aware of the issues and have at least a clue about what to do in the future. The move with Flex to Open Source is genius IMHO (surprise surprise), and they’re obviously making moves that mimic proven OS strategies that are very successful. This move brings in many more people who might have not otherwise touched Flash or considered it a viable technology to adopt, and with the energy and time they’re putting into Flex2 right now (and Flex3), I think it’s going to be easier for new developers to get into “Flash” development.

Flex2 is gaining more and more area in the overall “Flash work” pie, but there’s still a HUGE amount of agencies still doing experience sites involving animation and traditional uses of Flash. These 2 worlds, however, are growing closer and closer every day (enter Moxie). I find myself often times using Flex2 for tasks I normally would have done in Flash these days. And I think that anything, these days, that includes some sort of forms/data work causes me to reach for FB2 right away and make Flash bend to my will πŸ˜‰ I don’t think I’m the only one doing this! It’s because Flex2 is so cool from a developer’s POV and it makes our lives 10x’s easier in many ways (it’s not the end all be all, but it’s good enough to make me fight for using it in a project). Adobe’s well aware of this and they’re making things happen as we speak.

OK! conclusion – sorry, this is WAY too long, but it’s good content πŸ˜‰ We have a big gap in Flash/Flex development, that gap is likely to be exploited by Silverlight. But Silverlight lacks the creative/imaginative draw that Flash has always offered – oh and despite the voodoo, it IS easier to pick up and use than Silverlight – forgot to mention that simple fact. Adobe’s making some bold moves to ensure their technology, and yeah M$ has alot of cash, but Adobe’s not dumb πŸ™‚

Wow, that conclusion kinda sucked. I think you get the point though.

  1. A big problem is the education in general. Where can you learn Flash and ActionScript? At universities? No. Only a handful of (private and expensive) colleges offer courses for flash. But the quality is far away from the required level to call it professional. So you need a lot of passion and commitment to learn it by your own.

  2. I have been using Flash for nearly 9 years, but for the past 8 months have almost exclusively used Flex. Flash has become a skinning tool for the most part. Its not that I have abandoned Flash. I just like not having to hack, build yet another component, or waste precious hours accomplishing what I want to build.

    There are many people who are afraid to look at Flex, thinking in their mind they are betraying Flash. Not true. You are extending the thing you love the most. If you (like me) have ever built a framework to support features that Flash does not, then Flex is no different. It is a framework.

    Clients want what takes the least amount of time and money. Flex offers this without compromising creativity. You just might find a new angle to your creativity!

  3. [Haradi] – I agree, education seems to be a few steps behind sometimes as well (IE: they’re teaching Flash 8 or even Flash MX, and we’re at 9 going on 10). Not every class is like that, I’m just saying that the options are very limited. If you find that your university is teaching at an older version of Flash, you’d have to find some other form of paid training.

    And even then, there’s so much to cover, you could spend months teaching someone. But with weekend classes for 2-3 days, you’re lucky if you walk away with enough to inspire you much less did they actually teach at a level you were comfortable with.

  4. [Rob] – you said it much better than I did! that’s what I was trying to say – I’ve slipped into Flex2 without realizing it and now nearly everything I do is with Flex2 builder or the flex framework.

    That’s exactly what’s happening: alot of developers are really happy with their new Flex way of life, even if it’s just the IDE and they’re forcing it into their workflows whenever possible.

  5. Could not agree more. I just posted a couple days ago about feeling like all the Flash developers in my city (Spokane, WA) were already working with me. We have continual open positions at my company that I just can’t fill.
    On the one hand, it’s nice job security for us and I believe it makes the online FPUG community more tightly knit with less slop; on the other hand, it sucks trying to hire new talent.
    Now that we have ActionScript 3 and even more so once Apollo is officially released, we’ll finally have some of the capabilities that are standard in many (most?) other programming languages. I believe this will aid in attracting a new wave of a Flash developers that come from other programming backgrounds.

  6. Exactly – and what’s funny too is that, when we end up and flash conferences, I feel like the entire flash world is there and you practically know everyone.

    If M$ was serious about taking out the competition, they’d blow up the next venue πŸ˜‰ Poof, there went the flash community. NEXT!

  7. please whatever you do, don’t tell M$ about Flash on Tap! They might blow it up! LOL

    Seriously, that was a nice ramble there John. I think that we as a community need to embrace brining in guys and gals from other technologies so that we can fill those positions and perpetuate this awesome thing called Flash! It’s definitely happening, but we really need to push it so it happens faster.

    Anyway, thanks for the great post!

    I give it four rock ons! \m/\m/\m/\m/

  8. Be it as it may, but at this point there is dozen different web programming languages (client side / serverside), and hordes of people using and favoring different combinations of them.

    I see Flash and Java as a different categories.

    Little competition will do good for Adobe. Especially in Flash graphics accelerator department towards implementing DirectX/OpenGL.

    Btw, how crazy is this – I am learning Flex but just for the fun of it, knowingly that I’ll never be able to sell solutions based on Flex to any of clients in my area who never heard for something like that.

    On other hand I heard the other day that M$ agents are cruising around the town visiting web agencies and offering all sorts of deals for those who follow the path of Silverlight.

  9. yeah nearly every agency I’m familiar with has indicated they’re either doing some Silverlight work currently or they’ve been romanced by M$ to do so

    • David
    • May 16th, 2007

    This may be completely off topic, but I’ve always made sure to keep the tool and the trade separate. I don’t like that we’re called Flash developers or as my agency calls me, “Flash guy”. Don’t get me wrong, I love Flash. I use it everydayeverydayeveryday. But like you said, the skills that draw people to Flash, are the same skills found in people with any mix of design, illustration, animation, development, motion and experience design. All I’m trying to say is that maybe you shouldn’t be looking for “Flash developers”. Maybe look for a designer with some programming experience. Or a developer who can draw. These people have the mindset for what I wish flash dev’s were called – Interaction Designers. Not to be confused with the jack-of-all-trades, the Interaction Designer specializes in the conception and production know-how aspects of the unique, immersive and innovative interactive experiences (presently dominated by the Flash platform).

    Flash is amazing. Silverlight’s pretty cool. But personally, I’d rather spend time working on the top-level skills that make my Flash work successful – then applying them to Flash or Silverlight or whatever.

    You have to have solid design or dev skills to make great Flash work – or at least be have the drive to be solid πŸ™‚ Besides, would you really want your site build by someone who uses flash simply because it’s a valuable tool. I may be very wide-eyed, but to help bridge this flash dev gap, you’d be better off looking for a great designer who loves design and interaction – and then teaching them Flash.

    • Astor
    • May 16th, 2007

    This reminds me of the time when there was once a tool that M$ made named “Front Page”.

    It was pushed heavily in the schools and workplaces with the Office Suite, but, it didn’t quite have it.

    After looking into Silverlight it seems just as half-baked.

    Yes, people will use it…but will always take a backseat to what all of the creatives in the Flash community can produce.

    Ultimately, this is where the power of Flash lies.

    • Kevinjohn
    • July 24th, 2007

    The big disadvantage that Flash/Felx has is that there are no transferable skills.

    With Silverlight, as an example, programming languages that you already know can be used.

    With Actionscript 1, web designers/developers could take their JavaScript/dHTML knowledge and pick up Flash quite easily. Thats really not the case with AS2 and AS3.

    Flash also has the issue of being such a new technology, with no transferable skills, that it’s very hard for Universities to be able to teach it. Even collages, who can move with teh times faster, really can’t keep up with a technology that changes the mechanics (but no the output) every few years. Lets not forget that it’s only been 10 years since Flash 4 changed to 5. And in that time we’ve had at least 4 major shifts in the technology. It’s very difficult for learning facilities to keep up with that level of change, especially given that it’s not happening in any other aea of technology.

    C# is eaily picked up by anyone with Java or VB experience, and rewiting learning materials is not that difficult.

    HTML and JavaScript have had the same core methods for 10 years (lets not forget CSS/DIVS and AJAX are all 10 years old).

    Databases have stayed the same, SQL has stayed the same.

    The only thing thas changed is hwo to write/serve up flash, and unless Adobe slow down the rate of change of the technology, it’s growth outside of people already in the industry is never going to increase.

  10. There are some good solid points here there, I agree about teaching at the university level – people coming out have literally no clue what is really going on in Flash until they get their first day job – then it’s either love or hate πŸ˜‰

    The problem with Silverlight argument is that it misses the core audience for Flash – designers. Designers are 9 out of 10 flashers in a room. So, from the stand point of a “designer” flash hasn’t changed much more than the drawing tools it supports or the file format imports it implements.

    So what does silverlight do to accomodate people who hate writing code (thus nullifying the silverlight argument)?

    They’ll turn to flash, because of it’s ease of use, it’s saturation in the market, it’s cross platform ability (silverlight?) and the market demand for Flash work in general – which is what this article is really about.

    now, in saying that, I realize too, that my comments were from *my* perspective – a developer. But none-the-less, the points are valid for good Flashers in general πŸ˜‰

  1. May 31st, 2007

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