At work we are currently looking for a web developer ( php/SQL/Actionscript). We have been looking for the last six months. Ideally we hoped to get someone who had some experience with Flex. But most of the applicants had never heard of Flex. I guess Flex is sort of new ( I attended numerous Flex presentations at MXDU in 2005 ; so it's not that new). But over the last six months I've found myself asking where are all the Flex developers?
At the university where I work there are now fewer Flash developers than there were two years ago. Some have moved on, some have moved up and some have been put off (I don't mean sacked). It's this last group that I started to think about.
The last three releases of Flash have seen major changes to the structure of Actionscript. Each release has made Flash faster and more flexible. But each successive release has also required a steeper learning curve. Keeping up with all these changes wasn't essential because most of the practices we learned in Flash 5 still worked in Flash 8. Consequently many developers haven't bothered to keep up with all the new changes. For these developers learning Flex requires a different development metaphor using a scripting language that has become unfamiliar. Instead of exploring Flex they are in fact exploring their career options.
Perhaps this is fair enough. Many of these people were attracted with the promise of an easy to use tool for creating exciting user experiences. But the problem for them is that the web has moved on. Clients are less interested in flashy front ends and more interested in functionality (RIA's). RIA's require the power and complexity of the Flash Platform. Hence those who were put off must now find a way to move on or move up. Either way they recognise that they lack the skills we are looking for in a web developer.
Most of the "put offs" that I've met started life in multimedia or design courses. But what we really need from our developers is design attitude and IT aptitude. A few years ago I was teaching multimedia and one thing I noticed was that there was a lot of movement between multimedia and design (multimedia teachers were teaching Flash and Dreamweaver to design students; graphic design teachers were teaching Illustrator and Photoshop to multimedia students). But there was absolutely no movement between IT and multimedia or IT and design. Yet it seemed clear to me that there is a clear continuum from design to IT ( with multimedia sitting right on the cusp). In any multimedia class there is always a small number of students who could easily become graphic designers and a small number of students who could move into IT. From the IT side there would no doubt be students who could benefit from the perspective offered in multimedia studies. But there was no interaction between multimedia and IT. One consequence is that Flash development isn't on the radar for the vast majority of IT students. Part of me suspects that this isn't a global problem. That it is a direct consequence of how Australian education is structured (I'd be interested to hear your thoughts and experience on this).
So here we are in the Web 2.0 world and the vast majority of RIA's are AJAX or Flash based. Our IT graduates are still dreaming in Java, old world Flash developers are trying to pretend that Actionscript 3.0 doesn't exists and we are left wondering where our next web developer is coming from. I could be reading too much into this. It could just be that there is lots of well paid, exciting Flash work available and that the education sector has a bad reputation. But six months spent trying to fill a position tends to make you obsessive and paranoid.