The amazing adventures of Doug Hughes

Archive for June, 2010

Failure Leads to Success

Ive done a number of hard things in my life. But, what I had to do last Friday ranked right up near the top of the list. Im sure that, by now, rumors are swirling in the community of developers that use ColdFusion, Flex and related products.

To just come out and say it, last Friday I had to let just about everyone at Alagad go. This includes Scott Stroz, Chris Peterson, Layne Vincent, Kirsten Fering, Matt Legrand, Ezra Parker, and Vicky Ryder. Pretty much just my family survived.

Why did this happen? Well, thats a simple question with no simple answer. In a nutshell its because business has been slow for quite a long time and one thing led to another. Historically, we have had a number of small projects that would last three or four months for one or two developers. Parallel to this, we would also have larger projects that would last several months with three or four people working on them.

The way the company has been structured required me to try to keep my team as billable as possible. That means that Ive always needed to try to time one projects start date to coincide with another projects end date. This is further complicated by fact that two projects at Alagad were rarely the similar. Some needed smaller teams, or larger teams. Also, if a project went long for whatever reason it would impact the subsequent project.

The thing is, most of our projects, especially the larger ones, had a very long sales cycle, sometimes a year or longer. This hasnt really been a problem historically because Ive just hired employees as work started. The thing is, about a year and a half ago the economy started the current down turn. When that happened the new leads essentially dried up. Without leads, after a year or so we began to experience real tightness in the company.

Now, I cant say that I didnt anticipate this. The fact of the matter is that I knew last year that we were in trouble and I communicated this to my team. At the same time, Ive tried a number of different strategies to try to work our way out of this problem. As examples, Ive hired sales people, Ive worked with third party lead generation companies, Ive sponsored conferences and contests, Ive given away prizes in raffles, Ive invested in public relations, Ive invested in social media marketing, Ive increased the amount of professional networking Im doing, Ive attempted to start new business offerings, and more.

But, for the most part, these have all failed for various reasons. For example, the PR firm I was working with was unable to convince my customers to allow me to talk openly about what weve done for them. Also, sales people are very difficult to find because Alagad produces essentially anything for anyone in software. How do you find potential clients for that?! Other initiatives have failed due to being short on money or simply not trying for long enough.

Weve also had other various challenges that I dont want to get into too far. But, as an example, we have had clients who didnt want to pay for project management or quality assurance. And, some clients even those whose entire company depends on their custom software that just dont understand the nuances of how software is created or best practices. How do you convince a client that reporting issues via email and tracking them in their own spreadsheet is not the best option for managing their projects? What do you do when your two options are refusing to service a challenging clients or paying your payroll?

As a part of all of this, Ive had a lot of people who were unbillable. Ive had some people working on internal projects while we waited for an appropriate project to come in. Ive had other people working with me to help me build and grow TaskForce. But, when another major project came to a close last week without anything to follow it up, I had to finally take a hard look at the business and decide what we were going to do.

Maybe, just maybe, I could have stretched this out another few weeks. But this would have been seriously risky. To put it simply, payroll at Alagad averaged about $45,000 every two weeks. Weve never been cash rich at Alagad and without cash flow the end was quite apparent.

In the interest of taking full responsibility, Ive got to be honest with myself. Ive made compromises and decisions that were probably not the best. My defense is that Ive always tried to provide the best service to my clients and to be the best employer I possibly can. Ive simply tried to take the dream of being my own boss and push it as far as I can. Really, Im an art student who taught himself to be a programmer and Im a programmer that taught himself to be a business owner. Its inevitable that mistakes would be made.

What am I concerned about today? Im concerned about the people who were depending on me that Ive let down. Im concerned about the families of the people who worked for me. Im doing everything I can to take care of these people, but theyll need support from the Adobe developer community as well. Let me state that they are all top-notch people who are very smart and get things done. So, if you know of employment opportunities, please contact them! If need be, Ill happily make any connections I can for these people and they all come with the highest reference from me.

What am I concerned about in the future? Well, I plan to try to rebuild Alagad over the next few months and years. Im going to continue to seek out new work and Ill grow my staff back up as these projects come to be. However, Im going to focus on running the company a bit differently. Im going to avoid taking projects that seem risky or short sighted. Instead, Ill focus on the clients who understand our approach and who appreciate it. Im also going to try to continue growing the TaskForce service offering.

So, yes, the rumors are true. Alagad has been gutted. I had to let seven wonderful people some of the best and most supportive friends Ive ever had go. This has been tremendously difficult and painful. But this isnt the end for me or for Alagad. After all, failure leads to success.

iPhone Development Happens

Getting To Know Sidney Maestre

If you think you can’t develop worthwhile iPhone apps around Adobe technology, think again. Sidney Maestre, founder of Crush It Mobile, has done just that with the great iPhone app he put together to assist NCDevCon2010 attendees. If you have been wanting to give iPhone application development a try, read on, as Sid has just been selected to present a 90 minute BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop) lab in October at Adobe MAX 2010. The session is entitledBuilding Mobile Applications with jQuery.

Accoring to Sid, “the NCDevCon iPhone app is an HTML/CSS/Javascript app built with jQTouch and packaged for the the App Store with PhoneGap. The back-end is powered by ColdFusion 9 and built with the new ORM and CFScript features.” Shiny!

NCDevCon iPhone Application

I believe the pre-release of this application probably gaveNCDevCon2010 an edge in terms of exposure. I know when I saw news of its release, I considered that you don’t often see an iPhone app created for just any 3-day affair. The app was free, so I installed it and learned a lot about the conference just by playing around with it. It showed me sessions listed in schedule format as well as by speaker. It provided a Google map of the North Carolina State University campus and surrounding areas. Also included, among other things, was an on-screenNCDevCon Twitter stream. I made good use of this application all throughout the conference.

NCDevCon iPhone App - Twitter Screen NCDevCon iPhone App - Speakers

NCDevCon iPhone App - Sessions NCDevCon iPhone App - Map

Recently, I had the pleasure of talking to Sid about his iPhone application development adventures. I learned that Sid developed his first iPhone app as a means for learning jQuery using the jQTouch mobile web development plugin. The jQTouch plugin provides animations, navigation, tracks the user history, and includes two iPhone themes to get your started.That first app, not yet launched, is an attendance tracker that sounds mighty useful for things such as classrooms, sporting events, and meetings. The NCDevCon application is built on a conference engine that is portable to other conferences for customization. Sid reported no issues with regard to submitting the NCDevCon app to the App Store.If this sounds like something you can use for an upcoming event, head over to Crush It Mobile for more information on how Sid can help you create a very complementary mobile application. In fact, he’s just announced a Beta program! “We are looking for a few good conferencesto help us improve our mobile app platform.”

Sid has been designing and developing with ColdFusion since 1998. His passion for cutting edge technology led him into RIA and now mobile development. After 12 years of running his consulting business, design over matter, Sid has decided to make the leap into full time mobile application development. This decision is marked with the launching of his new business, Crush It Mobile. Congratulations to Sid! Sid also manages the Bay Area ColdFusion User Group in San Francisco, CA. To contact Sid, visit his website at can also find Sid on Twitter @SidneyAllen or check out his blog.

NCDevCon2010 – A Spontaneous Adventure

To Go Or Not To Go

I can be a bit dense at times. With NCDevCon being FREE and hosted in “a school”, somehow I had envisioned it would be a CFUG on steroids and not worth the effort to get there. Don’t get me wrong. I think CFUGs are great. But, driving an hour to get to one is enough of a challenge on the average day, let alone five hours. Nevertheless, I kept peeking back at the NCDevCon website and among the Twitter hashtags. As chatter began to increase amongst those gearing up for it, coupled with that of those preparing for Scotch on the Rocks, the thoughts in my head thankfully morphed into “NCDevCon is FREE and a mere five hours away. Why am I not going?” I made the decision to go a day or two before the event, and I am sure glad I did. I’ve been to a couple CFUniteds and the like, good conferences, but this was far and away The Best conference I’ve ever attended. Substantial, but not overwhelmingly huge.

The Road To North Carolina

I lit out of here a bit late, but it was a beautiful Spring drive in the dusk. Just what the doctor ordered. I rolled into town around midnight and checked into the Clarion. The Clarion was affordable and within stumbling distance to the evening events, and the rooms were OK. However, the woman at the check-in desk could have gotten off her cell phone long enough to say “hi” while she checked me in, and anyone with previous experience seemed to have been staying at the Marriott. Heard tell that a fire alarm was going off for ages on one floor, a couple people found themselves with non-working TVs, and I found my AT&T key fob to be the best option for internet. However, that’s my only “complaint”. All in all, I’d say the hotel was worth the money spent. I had what I needed, and there were enough good people stationed there that I had company on the drives to the conference and safe escorts home from the pub. (It wasn’t necessarily a bad area, but I don’t fancy walking alone late at night.)

Let NCDevCon2010 Commence!

The first morning, I had the pleasure of riding over with Jason Dean, a virtual buddy from one of the #coldfusion channels on IRC. As we came upon the lovely North Carolina State University campus, I quickly realized this would be no rinkydink affair. I spied the Red Hat headquarters on campus, among other things. NCDevCon’s events were sponsored, in part, by the University’s renowned College of Textiles. Into the door of the main hall we went, and there I was like the proverbial kid in a candy store.

We were met by an understandably busy, yet extremely friendly registration staff. I enjoyed meeting Dan Wilson’s new bride, Shannon, as well as Jim Priest’s lovely wife Brenda. These two were an integral part of the overall NCDevCon staff among many others. I was met with genuine smiles, registered quickly, and went on my way with no question left unanswered. Didn’t even have to ask any.

The main hall consisted of sponsor tables and no shortage of swag. There was, of course, an Adobe table manned by Liz Frederick, where I finally snagged my coveted Adobe CFDude t-shirt! Been after one of these since last year’s CFUnited. SCORE. The Mura booth also stands out in my mind.


I was guided along the way by Sidney Maestre’s NCDevCon iPhone app. I have quite a bit to say about this app. But, for now, let’s just say it definitely gave NCDevCon a “conferency edge” in my mind, and you can look forward to another blog post dedicated to the subject. I found it very helpful.

One thing that truly impressed me about the main hall is that it was studded with large HDTVs, each showing something cooler than the next. Some showed sponsor logos and general conference info, while others featured streams of the #NCDevCon2010 Twitter hashtag. But it wasn’t until I got into good conversation with Shawn Dunning, Assistant Dean for Information Technology TCO, that I realized what was really at play here. Shawn led a comprehensive end-to-end audio/visual effort! Many of the session rooms were fully equipped with built-in A/V booths, and several of the HDTVs broadcasted the presos live throughout the conference. This was capped by the posting of said sessions online at the College of Textiles website for your learning pleasure. All there… free of charge… for your benefit. It’s like you were in attendance on the front row. TAKE ADVANTAGE!

I had a blast Twittering my observations and uploading Twitpics. And yes, the geek in me had to stop now and then to observe the Alagad logo among the stream. At one point, I managed to wander into what amounted to a small studio setup by DZone for interviewing various knowledgeable people in attendance.

The Sessions

Obviously, the sessions are a primary reason we all congregate at these things, and I was not disappointed with my choices. The first event was “The Not A Keynote Session” by Adam Lehman. He gave us some insight into Adobe ColdFusion 9’s new PDF / form capabilities as well as ORM and other tidbits.

I spent much of the rest of the first day in the Hands On Flex 101 / ColdFusion and Flex 101 with Adrian Pomilio, Ben Farrell, and Kevin Schmidt. If you could supply your laptop and a Flash Builder 4 install, they supplied everything else. What you got out of it depended largely on what you came in with. You left with anything from a good overview of Flex capabilities to having completed some actual hands-on tasks. I heard a lot of people raving about this track after the fact. Some of us thought the first and second half of the day should have been presented in the opposite order, but in the end I don’t really think it mattered.

Other session highlights for me were the Sunday morning Pecha Kucha where Doug Hughes taught us about managing stress. (Ok, I stumbled in two seconds too late to see Doug’s, but I’ve seen this worthwhile preso before.) All of these presentations were rather interesting. Jim Leether, who spoke to us about VWs and life, was memorable. My personal favorite, though, was Jason Long’s demonstration of hard vs. easy. This was a simple and elegant presentation from which I personally took a lot.

The last presentation I attended, and among the most interesting, was Simon Free’s Papervision 3D and Beyond. C’mon, he provided free 3D glasses, and we all looked mega cool.


The conference never once ran out of coffee. That right there is already more than I can say for other conferences I’ve attended. Being supplied with a bottomless cup of coffee, in my opinion, is tantamount to being given blood transfusions throughout the day. I would have appreciated a sugar substitute option, but maybe I also learned to appreciate less sweetener in my coffee. Snacks were plentiful, as well. Attendees didn’t have to pay a thing, although donations were accepted. I was more than happy to help out, as much of the proceeds benefitted good charities such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Conservator’s Center via 5 Bucks Is Change, sponsored by Janet Kennedy. (Never too late to donate, I’m sure!) I bought an official conference t-shirt knowing my money would be well spent, and I believe some of what I paid toward my lunches also contributed. You did need to pay for lunch if you wanted to eat on location, but I’d say half a BBQ’d chicken was worth your cash. It came complete with traditional Southern accoutrements, and the catering staff were full of wonderful information about the local culture.

Friendship &Amp; Networking

I had the greatest time meeting people. Many of those I met were people I knew only from online. That’s always an adventure. Others, I knew from past conferences and general industry interaction, and some I’d only heard about through grapevine tales. (They’re ALL true! ; ) There was a lot of action in the main hall both during and in between sessions. I should note, there IS risk of peril. I’m not entirely sure what you’d call whatever Liz and Kevin were doing to Simon Free…

The best networking event was held on Saturday night at The Flying Saucer. I plopped myself down with three virtual strangers at as the evening commenced, and by the end of the event I had three great new friends. What a pleasure. You’ll be seeing one of them (@headsplode) featured in yet another spin-off blog entry soon. We eventually moved to the back room of the bar where everyone was just jovial and having a blast. No such thing as a wallflower among this group. You can’t help but approach these people if they’ve not managed to approach you first. We all started the festivities with two free beers a piece, and it wasn’t just any beer. Actually, it WAS just any beer. Whatever your heart desired to pick from the eighty one beers on tap and more than two hundred in bottles. I took the opportunity to sample some stouts I had never before tried.

I handed out Alagad TaskForce stickers and information, drove old friends to the conference, took new friends to the airport, and have reconnected with many people via Twitter and Facebook. (Find me as @fuzie on Twitter, and Doug and I both tweet from @alagadinc. Doug is @doughughes.) It is now Friday, and I’m only just coming down from the highs of my epiphanies and catching up on my sleep.

A Word About Conferences And Other Community Events

This past month has been packed tight with events from cf.Objective()2010 to FITC to NCDevCon, and CFUnited is just over the horizon. You would think this spreads the good speakers and attendees thin, but my observation has been that each and every function had an equally impressive lineup. This really says a lot about our Adobe / ColdFusion community when you think about it. There are quality people everywhere, and everyone has something to offer. Many have more to offer than they think.

So, wherever you are in the process of getting to know this community, I encourage you to take it a step further. Check out your local CFUGs and Flex user groups. Make it a point to attend at least one conference. And, if you’ve been thinking about speaking, DO IT. I met so many people this past weekend who felt like they had comparatively little to offer, but then they proceeded to wow me with substantial amounts of fascinating and fulfilling information. It was a privilege, and to these people I say slap a title on it, craft some slides, and GO FOR IT. There’s rarely a preso without some sort of technical issue, which in itself is a lesson, and I have never once heard anyone say, “WOW, that guy really made an ass of himself!” Have you? Find your favorite speaker and ask him or her for advice. You’ll find they are more than willing to offer encouragement.

Whatever you do within the community, you will find that you get much more out than you put in. There are options for everyone. Speak, volunteer, or attend. Blog or tweet. Donate your time to beta testing frameworks or answering mailing list questions. Nothing you can do is too small. There are always people in need of help at every level, and there is no such thing as too much information. The more you help, the more you will learn.

With that, I’ve gathered a ton of links below where you can re-live the many events of Spring 2010 or find ways to insert yourself in the future. If you have any you’d like to see added or removed here, just let me know via Twitter or the Alagad contact form.

In Images

NCDevCon2010 Flickr Photostream
Roger Austin’s NCDevCon2010 Flickr Photostream
Vicky Ryder’s NCDevCon2010 Facebook Photo Album (more beer, less biz)
Alagad’s NCDevCon2010 Facebook Photo Album (less beer, mrore biz)
Scotch on the Rocks Flickr Photostream

In Words

Jason Dean’s NCDevCon2010 Review
Joseph Arrington’s NCDevCon2010 Blog Post
Adrian Pomilio Blogs About NCDevCon2010
Matt Gifford’s Insider’s View to Scotch on the Rocks
Liz Frederick blogs on FATC NYC

140 Chars Or Less

#NCDevCon Hashtag on Twitter
#NCDevCon2010 Hashtag on Twitter
#SotR Hashtag on Twitter
#SotR2010 hashtag on Twitter
CFUnited hashtag on Twitter
Adobe MAX 2010 hashtag on Twitter
Adobe MAX hashtag on Twitter

In Multimedia

NC State’s NCDevCon Presentations / Resources
Bucky Schwarz’s “JavaScript: Taming the Beast” Slides.

Other Comprehensive Lists

NCDevCon Resource List
Scotch on the Rocks Resources from the Official Blog

Official Websites

Adobe MAX
Adobe User Groups
Flash and the City
RIA Unleashed
Scotch on the Rocks
The Online ColdFusion Meetup

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