The BlackBerry Developer Support Forums would not be what they are today without the good will of developers willing to help other developers. Every day developers are turning to their community, and others are always willing to jump in to help. There are a handful of users who do account for a bulk of the answers. I’m sure you’ve seen them before; you just have to glance in the replies column or the Top Liked Authors list to find someone who likely helped you out. This blog series will highlight some of these expert users and allow them to introduce themselves to you in their own words.
Starting alphabetically, the first expert we’ll be highlighting is BBSJdev, who’s known outside the forums as Stephen. Take it away Stephen:
I live in Cambridge in the UK, have a degree in Computer Science and joined a famous chip designer out of University, working for them for 14 years. I worked on some of the original ARM tools including the compiler, linker and profiler before being put in charge of the Windows ARM Debugger (it no longer exists, or rather, is no longer used by anyone).
I was given the opportunity to move to Japan and jumped at the chance, eventually spending nearly five years there doing everything from office IT admin to training (mostly ARM chip structure and how to code for ARM processors). I must have visited and helped every major Asian manufacturer while there and loved every minute of it.
While I’m good at computer languages, I’m terrible at spoken languages, so don’t ask me anything in Japanese!
Upon returning from Japan, I was briefly in support before being put in charge of a membership program for ARM design partners. This eventually led to a senior marketing and business development role. However, no matter how far up the ladder you go, real programmers never lose their love for creating something unique – I never lost my love of programming and continued in my spare time. I started by testing the waters with a simple program for Android called Sympatico, which uses Chinese Numerology to match you with your partner or famous celebrities. No, I don’t believe in stars or numbers as a way to guide your life, but I’m happy to write an app for those that do!
I was particularly proud of my first app, which used simple animation to jazz up the program, and when I heard about the BlackBerry PlayBook offer I decided to port it over, which got me started on the BlackBerry development road (and a free PlayBook).
Several months later I heard about a new phone OS coming out called BlackBerry 10. At the time, I was still using a Symbian 60 phone, so I decided to attend the London event to find out about the new OS, and of course get a new phone. While I wasn’t blown away right off the bat, but after speaking with some of the BlackBerry Presenters and spending some time playing with the new OS, I started to see that the OS had the potential to be great. I especially liked the built-in animations for ordinary UI components and the unique way of moving around the interface.
To keep the phone you had to write an app, so I spent some time thinking about what to do, initially starting on an Alarm Clock app before deciding that it was not unique enough and ditched it. One of the reasons I hadn’t changed my phone for so long was that I used a password manager not available on any other platform and the thought of having to retype all my info in again (it had no export function!) seemed like a nightmare. So here was a good excuse to come up with something unique for BlackBerry 10 and solve my password data problem in one stroke. I read all I could on BlackBerry 10 and Cascades and wrote stokLocker, a password and general information application (with an import/export function). Yes, I still had to type in all the password data eventually.
It took several months to do; the documentation was sparse at the time and code samples were thin on the ground so I spent much of my time working out how to do things rather than implementing the design. The number of experts was thin to non-existent in the early days, with several problems I posted going unanswered. Looking back, however, we must have all been in the same boat, all struggling with a brand new OS. Now, with plenty of developers now having built their first (or hundredth) app, there is bound to be someone who has experienced the same problem you have and willing to give an answer.
I submitted my app just a few days before the offer deadline and the number of entries must have been huge, as I managed to do a few updates before it was eventually approved two months later. I then entered my app for Built for BlackBerry and was pleased to eventually get approval for that as well. Having decided to write such a big app that covers an awful lot of areas (e.g. animation, custom controls, SQL, XML, etc.), I feel I hit a lot of the problems earlier than others did and so gained a lot of experience. I have a huge cook book of problems and solutions and continue to add to it, and as such am now able to pass on that experience to others.
What previously took me eight months to write I can now do in two to three, but that’s the advantage of experience. What I’ve liked most about this process is talking to the BlackBerry employees, something I think is unique to the BlackBerry experience. Sadly, some of the contacts I made are no longer working for BlackBerry, and I wish them the best, but those that remain are as passionate about what they do as they were at the start.
While writing my next app, I keep a browser window open on the native forums, as well as several others, and jump in with an answer when I can. Hopefully my experience has helped others get their app completed and I look forward to helping many more in the future.