After flash: who are ‘we’ now?

First up – the most exciting news: we’ve managed to secure some sponsorship for try{harder} Level Up, that will reduce the price for freelancers (including those already signed up). If the cost is what was holding you back, get in touch – there’s only 10 days to go! More info coming very shortly – we’re just finalising details, but I’m taking names who are interested.

But that also brings me right to the point: describing try{harder} has become much more difficult since the Adobe ‘incident’ in November.

The original strap-line, “collaborative learning for flash-platform developers”, now feels like it weighs us down. That flash-platform is being eroded daily – we’re stuck in our very own 2D adventure game, and the ground is breaking up around us. Perhaps it’s on fire in some places… with particle effects and everything! Can’t do that in HTML5 can you? Oh… but… anyway…

We will always be flash developers

Regardless of what tech we’re building our projects in tomorrow, if you and I have both spent three, or five, or even ten years building projects that were anchored by whatever incarnation the flash player was in at the time, that experience changed us. Our brains have been physically moulded by that process. We can’t un-make those connections.

Not to say that we’re identical, but the nature of the brain-wiring that the process creates gives us a good chance of being able to have efficient, high quality communication about a problem. I often have great conversations with developers who work in other technologies, but the most concentrated goodness comes from sharing with other advanced AS3 devs, and the buzz I’ve experienced at FOTB tells me that I’m not alone. (Not that AS3 devs are better, but that my brain can dig their brain more effectively).

Crucially, the label “flash developer” gives us a way to identify each other – to recognise each other as potential sources of support. We’re a tribe, and the “flash developer” label serves the same purpose as the Christian cross, or the rainbow – it allows us to find each other in the crowd (or on Twitter), even if we’ve never met before.

And now, without much warning, the buffalo have gone away and our tribe is breaking apart.

The pain you feel is not about technology

I’ve felt anxious on and off since that horrible week in November – how about you? And I know that my anxiety is not about the requirement to learn something new – I love learning new things, and I know that much of my understanding of development is language and platform independent. But I still feel anxious.

I suspect that the source of the anxiety is the breaking up of our tribe. It feels similar to the early-adulthood exodus. My friends who stayed behind in the town we’d grown up in feel that those who left thought they were stupid for staying behind. Those of us who left feel that we’re no longer welcome in the places most familiar to us.

Everything changed and it feels uncertain, and human beings are allergic to uncertainty, because small, fleshy beings with pathetic teeth and claws can’t afford to be undecided about whether the rustle in the bushes was the wind or a tiger.

The flash-platform community is going through the same process as a million tribes before it. After a period of prosperity and stability, something shifts. The population outgrows the resources, or those resources are randomly disrupted, or there are rumours of dragons in the forests or gold in the river beyond the mountain. And some people up and leave straight away, and others follow them soon after – perhaps unsure which trail to take, but figuring that any path out is better than staying behind, and some folk can’t leave, or choose to stay behind.

Sharing without judging

In these circumstances, it’s hard to share our new experiences in technology without sometimes feeling like we’re being judged. “Hey, check out this awesome js framework!” has an echo of “Quit hanging around where there are no buffalo, stupid!” for those of us who are still shivering at the thought of actually writing JavaScript as a day job. (Hold any feedback on whether writing JS is actually fun or not, that’s not the point!)

And those of us who are left behind are, no doubt, increasingly defensive in our responses. It’s not that we don’t value your advice that we should be moving on, it’s just that really, we don’t want to hear it – because it suggests that we’re just uninformed, and in need of persuasion for our own good. So we don’t even respond with our usual respectful curiosity, we either bat it away or make references to the emperor’s new clothes. We RT the people who agree with us and gradually unfollow those who don’t.

So communication in these situations becomes increasingly hard, but it’s necessary. If we want to continue to benefit from the larger tribe’s shared pool of knowledge and wisdom and technology, and not all be sitting in our little caves reinventing the wheel (or asynchronous process token) from scratch, we have to push through this phase. We have to try to keep the communication going between those who stayed behind in the village and those who are forging new trails, without judging each other for being in either position.

try{harder} is a tool for keeping our tribe together

I’m lucky to have found myself some amazing individuals who also happen to be flash platform developers – some of them now panning for js gold, some of them still in the flash village. try{harder} is an opportunity to share with each other in a style that is intentionally de-polarising. We aim for a balance between the concrete and the abstract in our seminars – it’s not just ‘inspiration’, but neither is it so technically specific that it’s only relevant to a subsection of the group.

We’re a small enough crowd that it’s inevitable that before the week is out, everybody will have asked at least one naive question, so we encourage and respond positively to naive questions as well as expertise. And our shared fluency in AS3 gives us a solid basis for communicating complex ideas, and collaborating in AS3 or other technologies.

But “collaborative training for advanced developers-who-have-a-shared-basis-for-understanding-as-a-result-of-having-spent-significant-time-working-with-flash” doesn’t really trip off the tongue.

About the Author

I'm an actionscript programmer living and working in a tiny village in the Yorkshire Dales, UK. I used to be a TV reporter, but my inner (and often outer) geek won. I also write stuff. Most recently Head First 2D Geometry.

Visit Stray's Website

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  • Joseph Labrecque

    – “Hey, check out this awesome js framework!” has an echo of “Quit hanging around where there are no buffalo, stupid!” –

    Then there are those who actually flat out say 
    “Quit hanging around where there are no buffalo, stupid!”. I’ve seen a number of condescending blog posts and conference sessions of this very nature by certain individuals who make it a point that they have “moved on” and we need to do the same. It’s absurd and childish.
    These things were happening even before 11/9 though they have escalated since then, tremendously.Everyone’s circumstances and area of focus is different. Just because it makes sense for one person to stop working in a particular technology and adopt some other one hardly means that everyone using that technology should or even could make such a change. People need to stop judging and build with whatever suits the project. It’s certainly struck my nerve a few times…

    • Reality Bias

      I’ve even seen Adobe folk saying similar things – it comes with the “use the right tool for the job” meme – a meme which should have no place in the culture of a platform technology vendor (your platform needs to be the right tool, if you want to sell a platform – duh!).

      Anyway, the Flash community fractured as it is, started as a niche, hobby platform for animation. Refocusing in on a new niche (gaming and video) is a fantastic move, and maybe we’ll even get some new APIs out of it (we’ve already started to).

      Personally, I’m going to keep using it for what I’ve always used it for – the awesome stuff HTML can’t (ever) do, and make web pages out of HTML – just like always. :-)

      Edit: I friggin hate disqus…

  • Chris Gannon

    I’m still in the village – I’ve kept the fire going and I have made everyone tea.

    Nice article :)

  • Samuel Tilly

    There is a tribe gathering over at fresh crossplatform compiling for everyone. Flash developer should feel right at home ;)

  • Marcelo Duende

    Curiously, we had the same discussion today at flashcodersNY group and I just said that… 
    Marcelo Duende10:14 AM (11 hours ago)to flashcodersny

    Wassup Kevin,I became a rider, I don’t have a favorite language anymore, despite I still work with AS3, I’m commercially working with Java/Android and html/js/bullshit. But to be honest, I’m about to go deep with business… I’ll explain.I just love flash, for real, I think it’s the best tool ever made and I just love it, but it wasn’t paying my bills anymore. So… from love, it became just work. If it is about to just work for money, I’d rather to open something and just get the freaking money, using any language. But, on top of it, I can create something sick for being the owner of the place, and not just super cool parallaxes from 2007.That’s my thought, little bit crazy, but still a thought.Thanks

  • Chris

    This article does a great job of bringing the human element back into the Flash shakeup.  Most people view it as purely a technology issue.  I also think that most people looking in from the outside don’t realize that staying around Flash is just as hard as leaving it.  When you’ve been around a platform so long and watched its rise, it can be tough to continue to think about pushing the envelope when a lot of the excitement has moved on.  

    There is still enough food left for a tribe, its just a much smaller tribe.

    • neilmanuell

      I agree. half of what we do as developers is learning how to learn and problem solve. Technological change is part of our work, and our life – change is a  constant. There have been some shifts for me that have hit me in the stomach… (changing from pmvc to robotlegs eg) the main problem for me, I now realise was leaving the community that I had become part of. 

  • Charles Moundir

    Do as Adobe said. Shift your focus. I always hated being called a web developper. I’m not anymore. I’m a flash video game developper. (can you hear my joyful shriek?)