I got my ‘thanks but we don’t need you to speak at the BlackBerry Developer Conference’ email this week. I’m really frustrated; I’ve been silent on this for years now, but I have to say something now. Here we go, but be sure to keep in mind that the opinions provided here are mine alone and do not reflect the opinion or public statements of my employer.
I’ve attended every BlackBerry Developer Conference. One as an employee of Research In Motion, another as an employee of BoxTone and two as an employee of AT&T. As you may or may not know, after I left Research In Motion, I wrote one of the first books dedicated to BlackBerry development (I usually say mine was the first, Anthony Rizk’s Beginning BlackBerry Development technically made it onto paper a week before mine, but my book, BlackBerry Development Fundamentals was available online on Safari Books Online months before that).
When I was at Research In Motion, I couldn’t present at the conference because I didn’t work in the ISV Alliances team nor did I work on any of the internal BlackBerry development teams. I worked for one of the carrier business units (AT&T of course) and even though I was considered expert enough to work with customers on BlackBerry development stuff, I wasn’t good enough to speak at the conference.
The next year, I submitted a couple of session topics but was declined. The following year, folks at Research In Motion actually encouraged me to submit session abstracts, but turned me down anyway. By then, there were two books on BlackBerry development on the market and I’d written one of them (the author of the third book doesn’t even attend the conference). You’d think I would be qualified to speak at the BlackBerry developer conference, but nope – declined. I didn’t submit any topics last year, but I just knew it was an exercise in futility. This year, just like Charlie Brown trying to kick a football being held by Lucy van Pelt, I thought I’d try yet again – declined.
The issue for me is that Research In Motion is just too close to some of these topics to present them with any type of real impact. Watching Tariq Tahir year after year present on Push and completely omit important details plus get interrupted time and time again with questions because his presentation wasn’t structured well - was painful. Watching Adam Stanley and Tim Neil present on Widgets (WebWorks) at last year’s conference and get peppered with questions over and over again because they just weren’t explaining the details clearly was painful as well. Developer types at Research In Motion do know their topics, but many are too close to the topics (and therefore omit important, assumed details) and don’t really have the organization and presentation skills needed to impart the information well.
Developer Conference sessions should be stuffed full of details, examples and background information. It should be structured in a way optimized for people that don’t know anything about the topic. Research In Motion developers assume too much when they present topics, they assume you know a whole bunch of background information, rather than build their sessions with no assumptions and therefore making a bigger impact on less knowledgeable learners.
I’ve always wanted to present on BlackBerry Push capabilities. For the longest time, it wasn’t documented very well anywhere within Research In Motion’s documentation, and I felt that I knew more about the topic than most people outside of RIM . I wrote more than 100 pages on push in BlackBerry Development Fundamentals and I think I know it pretty well. If you’re a developer and you want to learn it, there’s on-device API’s that help you leverage it, but for creating server processes that leverage push, the only examples available from RIM help only if you’re using Java on the back-end. If you take a look at Research In Motion’s last documentation on RIM Push available here you’ll find that the sample application illustrating PAP shown beginning on page 90 will NEVER WORK since the code pasted in there illustrates an example of RIM Push, not PAP. I told Research In Motion about the error years ago, but the documentation was not updated – it’s been wrong for years now. If you want to learn how to do BlackBerry Push by hand, you’ll have to buy my book since Research In Motion’s documentation is wrong and has been wrong for years.
Having worked with the technical team responsible for the BlackBerry Developer Conference, while at Research In Motion and later while helping me with the book, those people really don’t know me very well. I was part of the carrier team, rather than being a ‘true’ developer type, so I never felt that they accepted me as a peer.
The thing is that I’ve been a professional software developer for almost 30 years. Even though I’ve not been an in the trenches Java developer like the developers at RIM, I still know an awful lot about software development and a whole lot about all aspects of BlackBerry development. I’ve created several commercial software products (by my hand) including two award winning ones. I’m a regular speaker at developer conferences (Lotusphere, The View Domino Developer Conference, MWLUG). I was a certified Novell Netware Instructor (CNI), Lotus Certified Notes Instructor (CLNI) and a United States Soccer Federation (USSF) State Referee Instructor (only about 5% of USSF instructors achieve this status) so I have more than 20 years of experience teaching technical topics to both adults and children. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics with a certificate in Computer Physics. If you look at posts on this site, you should see that the articles are chock full of details and are very well structured. None of the details needed to understand a topic are omitted from my books, articles and conference sessions. I can discuss and teach the deepest possible technical topics to learners at any level; if you’ve seen me present at conferences, you’ll hopefully agree.
I give up – if you hear me talking about submitting a speaker abstract for next year’s BlackBerry Developer Conference, please talk me out of it. I’ve moved away from BlackBerry development, instead selling cross platform development tools for AT&T and working on a book on PhoneGap. Perhaps after I’ve published a book on PhoneGap and more articles on this site about cross platform development topics that the PhoneGap community will accept me and let me speak at their conferences. I bet it will be easier to work with that team as an outsider than it is to work with my former colleagues at RIM. I only want to help, to help make the BlackBerry Developer Conference a better experience for attendees. I think I have the knowledge, experience and presenting skills needed to make a big impact, unfortunately I’m not able to make RIM understand that.
For the record, RIM has been helpful in supporting the book. They did a complete technical review of the book and scheduled book signings at the last two conferences. Even giving me a media pass to one of the conferences when I'd lost my job at BoxTone and wanted to attend. Sales are winding down though, as BlackBerry development is no longer as important as it was in thos cross platform world.