Any Port in a Storm

There goes another one.

That’s @jonathanpenn, as he heads off to Apple. He follows a number of top indie developers/author/speakers to head to the mothership in the last few months, including Patrick Burleson, Kevin Hoctor, and if we’ll go back a little over a year, we can throw in my former iOS SDK Development co-author Bill Dudney.

This is causing a little bit of angst among those of us who hate to see our friends decamp from our communities to California, and to suggest that maybe indie iOS development/writing/speaking isn’t tenable. Janie Clayton-Hasz, whom I’m working with on a soon-to-be-announced project, expresses this from the POV of a newcomer to development life in her latest blog.

I can’t help but be reminded of times I’ve seen this before. About 10 years ago (I think), a lot of the top authors and speakers in the Desktop Java space all went corporate in a short period of time. Between Sun and Google, they hired up Chet Haase and Romain Guy (co-authors of Filthy Rich Clients), Joshua Marinacci (my co-author on Swing Hacks), and I think the Java Posse‘s Tor Norbye might have gone to Sun to start working on NetBeans around this time.

At the time, it was pretty clear to all of us what the proper conclusion to draw was: there was no quality work to be found doing Desktop Java, so the best option was to get a gig at the platform builder itself, guaranteeing interesting work and a regular paycheck. Problem is, this is clearly evidence of an unhealthy, unsustainable job market. By analogy, it’s not much different from the useless liberal arts degree, whose only practical application is as a college professor in the same field, turning out more useless liberal arts graduates (signed, with love, Chris Adamson, AB English, Stanford University class of 1990).

“Now wait just a damned minute,” you should be saying, “Desktop Java was always a historic underachiever. How can you compare that to the million-app App Store, and the billions of dollars Apple is paying out to iOS developers?” Fair question, but hear me out. No, better yet, check out Matt Gemmell’s latest blog, in which he says something a lot of us have been saying for a while now: the iOS gigs are drying up:

If you attend an iOS/Mac dev meetup and hang around long enough, you’ll start to hear the whispers and the nervous laughter. There are people making merry in the midst of plenty, but each of them occasionally steps away to the edge of the room, straining to listen over the music, trying to hear the barbarians at the gates. There’s something wrong with the world, Neo.

We’ve had our (latest) software Renaissance in the form of the mobile platforms and their App Stores, and I think the software biz is now starting to slide back towards consolidation and mega-corps again. It’s not a particularly great time to be an indie app developer anymore.

Small shops are closing. Three-person companies are dropping back to sole proprietorships all over the place. Products are being acquired every week, usually just for their development teams, and then discarded.

This is something I’ve been saying for a while too. A company that I do most of my subcontracting with has kept me busy for just 2 of the last 12 months. They say they’re getting a lot of call for Android, but almost nothing for iOS. I’ve been partially living off loans for the last couple months because I had almost no paying work for Q2 (and when I did, they were short 1-2 week engagements, mostly rescues), and spent the time revising my intro book instead (three new chapters of Objective-C since April, which I’ve now ported to Swift).

My friend Eric Knapp believes that a lot of companies are bringing their iOS work in-house, rather than farm out to pricy consultants who then walk away with all the knowledge. This is definitely a plausible explanation for the seeming health of the App Store despite Matt’s observed withering of the indie developer environment. It also makes sense that with the death of the paid app market, perhaps only companies that are selling something other than the app itself can make a go of being on the App Store, and thus need our services as developers.

For the first time in over a decade, I’ve been applying to permanent gigs, when they come up and when they’re willing to work remote (few are, but at least for now, I can still take my time). There’s no way I’d move my family to California, but I’m willing to give up a significant degree of career independence, because it increasingly seems untenable.

For now, I’m focusing on things where I think I’d be the ideal fit — audio, video, streaming gigs — which come along quite rarely, so this is a long game that may or may not pan out, a background process to the daily scramble for work and writing. I went after a streaming video position at a company I greatly admire, but they were adamant about relocating, since they’d had a bad experience with remote workers before, so that didn’t pan out. I did a phone screen on another position last week… kind of odd to have to prove my bona fides on iOS audio after literally writing the book on the topic. It’s also a problem in interviews that I had to pull my own apps from the App Store (long story short: Apple’s revised guidelines outlawed my revenue model), so now I have to point to client apps, at least those that are public and have good reviews.

For now at least, we have to carry on and hope to pull something together.

You are stronger than any storm you will ever face

Huh… inadvertently but appropriately enough, I listened to Quadrophenia while writing this.

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