During The Actionscript Conference (TAC) 2009, Flashmech.net managed to catch up with Peter Elst to talk in depth about how he began his career as a Flash Developer, what are the conferences that he likes, and a small little surprise that this conference left him.
Flashmech.net: Hi Peter! Thanks for this opportunity to have this interview with you. Ever since I know you, you have been quite a prominent figure in the Flash world. So how did you first start out as a Flash developer?
Peter: It was probably in 1998 when I started playing around with motion graphics. I was mainly designing when I discovered Flash back then. I got an apprenticeship in a company where I got to do all the bad jobs basically, doing the banners and such. It got up to a point when Macromedia introduced a project called the Macromedia Generator, and that was able to do dynamic banners, and so I work from that.
When Flash MX came out, I started doing some components work which I really like. Some people found it and they asked me to write a chapter in a book, so I did that. I got a lot of emails coming asking about the work that I did, and they asked for help, so I went freelance.
Flashmech.net: How long have you been freelancing?
Peter: I did it for 2 years first, and I did some other work, before switching back in 2004. That would make a total of about 7-8 years.
Flashmech.net: Considering the amount of experience you have as a freelancer, any advice to give to have a successful freelance business?
Peter: You just have to be passionate about what you do, like what you do, and just go for it whatever it takes. You don’t necessarily have to think about the money that comes in; just do what you’re good at and what you like to do. Usually the money comes in and even if it doesn’t, you’ve done something nice anyway.
Flashmech.net: What advice you would give budding ActionScripters?
Peter: Just experiment. Think about what you like to do and build it, and fail and try again, fail and try again. After a while, you will get very good at what you do. You will also have learnt from all those mistakes, so you won’t make them in the future.
Flashmech.net: How long has it taken for you to move from the stage of making mistakes constantly to being good at it?
Peter: I still make mistakes. [laughs] But there are things like basic modeling of applications that you’ve done before, and so you will not make these mistakes anymore. It usually takes three to four attempts before you get something right. Once you got that, you can build on from that foundation.
Flashmech.net: Have you studied anything with relevance to programming before you embarked on this career?
Peter: Actually most of things that I do results from self studying. I never studied anything with technology. I actually did a Bachelor Degree in South Asia Studies. In my spare time, just find out more about it and experiment. That’s how I did it.
Flashmech.net: The Flash Platform is now such a huge ecosystem. How do you, as a Flash Platform Consultant, keep up with all these changing stuff?
Peter: In the old days when there’s not too much, you could just understand everything. Right now it has grown so big that you have to focus on areas and topics relevant to your work. Generally, as a consultant, you have to be aware of everything a little bit. If clients ask of you, at least you know some of the basics of the technology in that area. Otherwise, you can say that you will look it up.
Mostly now I focus on AIR, because it’s new and I like it. I also focus a little bit on Flex as well. Although the sound things that André Michelle does are very nice, but I don’t really have the time to play with it. It’s a matter of prioritizing. There’s too much to do all at the same time.
Flashmech.net: Since you’ve been to many conferences, any advice on how to improve TAC?
Peter: I like conferences which are very community oriented, without a lot of commercial things. That’s why I like TAC. Flash On The Beach is sort of like this, though it’s more commercial and expensive, as they have more cost to it as well. MAX is more commercial, but 360|Flex in the US is good. I haven’t been there, but I heard a lot of good about it. FITC is a very nice conference but it is also slightly commercial. Another in Australia, webDU, is very good as well with a community mind. Scotch on the Rocks in the UK, which is ColdFusion, Flex and a little of AIR, is also growing very well.
Community conferences are nice because they are community centric, are not expensive, and you get a lot of great names with local people speaking as well. This is what I like most because sometimes you get Adobe throwing thousands at venues and all that and the speakers don’t necessarily get paid. I get annoyed about that sometimes.
Flashmech.net: Thank you for being so frank. [both laugh] Has there been anyone from the conference who has left a deep impression on you?
Peter: Some guys from Thailand came up to me and told me that they flew over specially to see me. I was a little surprised because you don’t think about that but sometimes people really look up to you and they want to see you. We’re just ordinary developers, so it’s always a plus when we’re lucky to go somewhere and people like to see you.
Flashmech.net: Nice! Right that’s all the questions I have for you Peter. Thank you so much for doing this interview!