Flex developer Hu Shun Jie from online video microblogging service Seesmic (think a video version of Twitter) is taking some time off his extremely busy schedule to speak on a panel discussion on “Web 2.0 and Building Online Communities” at the upcoming Singapore Digital Media Festival 2008. I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions (and deprive him of some much-needed sleep):
Q. Tell us a little about your role in Seesmic.
In Seesmic we have people in Germany, Romania, France, US and of course Singapore! Unfortunately I am the only one here. My main role is mostly building plugins and applications that “exist out of Seesmic” website. For example, the Seesmic Threaded Player, Seesmic recorders for Seesmic-powered blogs, and the recently published video player for Washington Post. It is a great job as I am able to mingle some of the best developers from all over the world. Working with them makes me learn a lot and I am able to develop both my developer as well as my interpersonal skills.
Q. What got you interested in Flex and RIA (Rich Internet Application)?
I was always interested in moving graphics and animations. I started off as a C# .NET developer in 2004 but at the same time, interested to
create more interactive web applications. Flash was the answer at that time but creating applications without Flex is really a daunting task that requires massive effort. When Flex 2.0 arrived, it was really god-sent. I can now develop applications with twice the speed and half the code. Having an object-orientated programming background, coding in Actionscript 3.0 becomes real neat and straightforward. Together with the arrival of AIR, the proliferation of third-party APIs, as well as growth and stabilization of open source libraries and various frameworks for Flex and Actionscript 3.0, every piece of the puzzle began to fit. The realm of RIA has arrived!
We are seeing web and desktop applications moving closer and closer to one another and users are able to enjoy features that is impossible prior to RIA.
Q. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS). I began my career in late 2004 when I taught in 3dsense Media School on Flash MX and Actionscript 2.0, while taking up freelance jobs of my own. When I graduated in 2006, I joined them as their Technical Media Director, continued as their Actionscript instructor as well as improved their existing courses. At the end of 2006, I decided that development was where my passion belonged and joined local startup (now defunct) Radixs where I worked on VelvetPuffin, a social networking client with Actionscript 2.0. In early 2007, I got more deeply involved in Flex and AIR with my pet project AirTalkr. At the end of that year, I got to know Johann, the CTO of Seesmic, through a very casual conversation. That’s how I got into Seesmic.
Q. What it was like when you were growing up, and how did you develop your interest in technologies?
I have been in love with animations and websites since secondary school. I self taught myself some HTML way back in the 90s. When my junior college lecturer used 3D Studio MAX for our physics lessons, it intrigued me into learning 3D and animation. I did my own self study of modeling and 3d animation and then enrolled into 3dsense Media School to continue learning 3D. It was then that I met with their directors and subsequently I begin to teach Flash and Actionscript there.
Q. Tell us a little about your involvement with the Singapore Flex Usergroup and The Actionscript Conference.
I am currently the manager of the Singapore Flex Usergroup (FUG), and the founder of The Actionscript Conference. FUG started in November 2007 and its goal is to increase the local awareness of Flex, as well as helping the local developers community in knowing each other and learn Flex together. We have monthly meetings and it is amazing how much we have grow over the last year. We are one of the most active user groups in Singapore now. The Actionscript Conference is an initiative by FUG to fill in the “conference void” in the local Flash community since MAX ceased to be held in Singapore from 2006.
Q. So you code at work, code in your spare time, and even have an active blog! Where do you find the time?
Lots of coffee and lesser sleep! I work from home and that saves me a lot of time. I usually blog early in the morning, and limit each blogging session to two hours. However, I still wish we have 48 hours a day!
Q. What advice would you give someone, such as a student, who wants to start the next big thing in Web 2.0?
I believe someone who wants to break into Web 2.0 has to be in the world of Web 2.0 itself! To win over your users, you have to be a user yourself. Start blogging, post videos and photos on your Facebook account, explore other Web 2.0 sites. If achieving something is difficult for a technically-inclined, then it will be impossible for the otherwise. Understand your users, talk with your users and make friends with them. Do not think that “if you build it, they will come”. What is important is “they come and keep coming back”! Begin to work on your small ideas and not be afraid of competitors. Having something is always better than nothing. Get talented partners, put 200% effort into it, and build the next killer application.
For students, I will suggest they start building experimental applications on their own. The applications do not need to be big. Start small, and gain experience as you go along. Get an internship in some Web 2.0 company overseas and learn from your seniors. The advantage of being a student is that they can be very focused, they have access to a lot of software (that is) either free or at a very low cost, and of course, they can afford to make mistakes, and learn from them!