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Working With Development Seed

I'll get right to it.

I've decided to join Development Seed, a consulting and R&D shop in Washington, DC with whom I've done past work and known personally for over five years, in a full-time capacity. I'll be continuing to live and work in Portland, Oregon, though I will be visiting DC, a former home of mine, from time to time for code sprints. The first of these is next week.

Specifically, I'm going to be working on the MapBox team, continuing development of MapBox for iPad and getting into some server-side work in the Node environment.

So, three sections to follow with some more info: some background on my decision, a bit about the space and what we hope to accomplish, and lastly, where this leaves Code Sorcery Workshop.

Some Background

As I've mentioned here before, I've been working with Development Seed on the MapBox project since early last summer. I've had a blast, and I've long held the folks at Development Seed to be amongst the best innovators I know.

I have huge respect for Development Seed's impact on the Drupal community. Now that I've been working up close with them on a daily basis, I've seen their process and just how much heart they put into their work. I've also seen the willingness they have to head in new directions, specifically with things like the positively stunning TileMill and the work that I've been on in the iOS space.

At the same time, personally, I've been completely happy as a freelancer and solo shop. This past November, I reached the milestone of four years of being self-employed, and presumably with no end in sight. I've had great clients, fun and interesting projects, excellent travel opportunities, a sustainable pipeline of new work, and the chance to achieve an ideal work-life balance. I've lived abroad, moved between coasts of the US, released a new product, presented at conferences and been on a number of podcasts, and expanded into new areas such as iOS development and Mac OS X Server administration.

In short, when Eric at Development Seed and I started talking last month about a more permanent role with the team, I just couldn't picture doing anything other than what I was doing at present. I loved it too much.

The more we talked, though, the more I realized that the MapBox work has been one of the most fun, as well as the most iterative and experimentation-driven, projects that I've had the pleasure of working on. As I saw innovation continue in the spaces around TileMill and the MBTiles format, I couldn't picture not being involved firsthand. I wanted to be there. A wild ride is about to begin.

I've been tempted many times in my solo career to join other firms, many outstanding in their own right. Turning down several of these has been very difficult. But none felt like they were tempting enough to give up the indie lifestyle. I much preferred working on a project basis as a hourly contractor for the control over my time and work style that it afforded me, as well as the ability to keep the work interesting through variety.

Up Next

At Development Seed, I'll be focused on the iPad space in particular, eventually hopefully working on server-side technologies as well. I've been involved in the server-side technology space (in the form of PHP/MySQL, often Drupal) for well over a decade and Cocoa programming for over six years, but I feel like both areas are just starting to get really good at this point in time. I think the things we will be building will be, as Development Seed likes to put it, positively disruptive.

Such a goal is exciting and challenging. Knowing that that is the driver behind what we're doing, both in the tools we provide people as well as the open source technology that we are releasing in order to impact even more people, is awesome. People in non-profits, governments, and developing countries will have access to our tools. Just have a look at Development Seed's about page for some background on the excellent work they've done so far.

In the near term, I hope to be thinking hard about what the touch interface brings to mapping technology, as well as what it means to have highly custom and personal maps offline and with you everywhere. I can see a time where it just doesn't make sense to collaborate around anything with a geographic context and not have instant, touchable, personal and interactive access to what you're talking about.

I attended a phenomenal conference in October called SecondConf and saw Brian Boyer from Chicago Tribune speak there. Brian's talk on hacker journalism really got the wheels turning for me and I entered 2011 really wanting to focus on the open data and positive social change spaces. Joining Development Seed is a natural fit with that. And as it turns out, Brian is now using MapBox tools in his work!

The Workshop

My company will continue to exist at the present time as an entity, though I do not expect to have the bandwidth to take on any consulting work for the foreseeable future. On the products side, my apps will continue to be offered and I hope to make incremental improvements to them. In fact, both of my main apps are in active development right now.

Over the course of the four years that I've been on my own, I've realized that I'm not really a product person. People know and love my apps, and I use them both myself every day, but a company built upon software download sales is neither something that I found particularly motivating day to day nor sustainable with a healthy work-life balance. Again, for me, personally -- I have many friends who do this and do it well. Keeping the apps moving, but largely devoting my time to services, are what worked best for me.

That said, my apps are useful to certain people and I've put a lot of heart into them. I want to continue to keep them alive, though perhaps not at the growth rate that many others in the community enjoy. But none of this should come as a huge surprise to anyone who's actually watched the pace of development thus far.

In short, I'm off the consulting ship for a while and my apps are not being sold nor end-of-lifed. I will continue to improve them when I can and how I see fit, and will continue to evaluate where they are and if the directions need to change to best benefit my users.

In Conclusion

I'm excited for the future. If you had told me even a month ago that this is where I'd be today, I've have hardly believed it, but now it feels right. I'm looking forward to being on an outstanding team -- and being positively disruptive.

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