From the Big Android BBQ Europe: Pixplicity CTO Paul Lammertsma on the importance of bouncing ideas off other developers, and Android's future beyond apps.
The Big Android BBQ Europe, held in Amsterdam, Netherlands recently, brings together some of Europe's top Android developers, enthusiasts and other community members in a celebration of Android, code and cooked meat. A spin-off from the U.S.-based Big Android BBQ, the European event is now in its second year.
In addition to the actual BBQ part, it's also host to two days of talks from Android developers, and this year's keynote was presented by Pixplicity's Paul Lammertsma. We caught up with Paul during the event to talk social coding, how his company pivoted into app development, and what lies ahead for Android on the desktop and on your body.
Who are you and what are you doing here at the Big Android BBQ Europe?
I am Paul Lammertsma, I'm CTO of a Dutch agency called Pixplicity, based out of Utrecht, which is smack dab in the middle of the country. I always go to community events, like I always go to DroidCons and Devfests and that sort of thing whenever I can. And Big Android BBQs as well! And I kinda like to be involved in the community. I'm also one of the leads of a GDG [Google Developer Group] in the Netherlands here.
So I like to be involved in the community because it's sorta like something you have as a passion, and you share it with other people that have the same passion. So it's an easy way to meet people and make friends, chat about things that interest you, stay up-to-date, that sorta thing...
Also, I like compelling myself to stand on stage and take a topic that I find interesting, or something that I found challenging for myself, and translate it in such a way that it's presentable. Like, I can break it down into bite-size bits. Most of the time I take a topic, I think is a good tool to have in your toolbelt. So to have something that is useful knowledge, present when you would use it, how to approach it — not go too much into the details because most of the time you can find that in the docs — but that's basically it.
Something I find challenging for myself is really taking the leap to stand on the stage — you know, public speaking. It's something I think a lot of people are fearful of doing, but then once you do it it's fun and rewarding. And I guess I just take pleasure in challenging myself that way.
How did you get started in the world of Android development?
That's a really interesting question. I started in 2010, I think it was. I was actually in a molecular biology startup, and we were doing software for scientists, virologists, to basically plan experiments about cloning and genetic research and stuff like that. And a colleague of mine, he came into the office one day and he had bought an HTC Desire. He was really excited about it, and said "hey, over the weekend I made this app."
We were like: 'What?! How can you make an app over a weekend?'
And we were like: "What?! How can you make an app over a weekend? Do you know how long we've been working on this [other] software?"
He said: "You know, it's so easy, and so fun, and so rewarding." It's mobile and you have to think in different ways. But a lot of the things that had been chosen for Android — not just the IDE being Eclipse at the time, the language being Java — a lot of the approaches in the language about thread pooling, lifecycles — [were] very similar to what we were doing at the time.
It was through a stroke of luck that we got a client that approached us in that same building that said: Are you guys familiar with Android? I remember my colleague who had just written his first app said: Apparently! So we tried that, we got into that, and we pivoted something like a year later and we've done it ever since.
What are some of your favorite and least favorite things about working with Android?
That's a tough topic. My least favorite thing — let's start with that — is the sheer multitude of framework stuff there is out there. There's a lot of stuff in the Android SDK itself [so] it's really hard to keep an overview of what you need and what the right approach is — what's good, what's not so good.
When you go beyond that, the libraries. A lot of this stuff is kinda offloaded into open-source stuff, so what are you gonna do? Let's take a random example like if you want to bring up an image on your phone. There are tons of libraries for that. You can write it yourself. You can [use] different libraries like Picasa or something like that or a Facebook library. What is the correct approach? There's not necessarily one [correct choice], but making a choice has its implications.
So I think it would be nice to have an approach where you say this is the way to go; this is the only way to go. There's something to be said for that.
But what I like about it is that it's an open platform. You see that there's lot of different approaches. Tons of different devices because you can basically take the Android open source platform.
I can't put my finger on what really drives me. I think the reward factor is really quick. Most of the projects that we do are quite short-term. So they're projects that are like a month up to several months, and each time you're given the opportunity to take a new and fresh approach. Mobile moves very quickly, so you're always compelled to try some bleeding-edge new tech. So that's something I really like about the platform.
What's the most important piece of advice you could give to someone starting out in Android development today?
I think to me it's really important to be involved in a community of people. I see a lot of freelancers, they work by themselves — like, single freelancers working in Android. I think having that kind of mentality, working in a group — not necessarily for Android, I think it goes for any kind of software engineering — you're not constantly compelled to challenge yourself or re-think your approach. You're very much more inclined to go on a particular direction and reinforce yourself that that direction is the right way to go.
I think to me it's really important to be involved in a community of people.
Whereas if you're in a community like this community here today, or like GDG communities around the world, if you just go over to an event like that once a month or once every few months, and you just chat with somebody over a beer about the things that you're working on, some challenge that you have. Just bouncing an idea off somebody is invaluable, especially if you're working alone as a freelancer.
So yeah, just the constant reinforcement, challenging your own ideas. I think that's a really important aspect of being a good developer.
Where do you see Android development, or Android in general, headed in the next few years?
So Android has been around for like five years. (Laughs) So what are we gonna expect in the next five years? I have no clue. Even predicting a year ahead is a challenge.
Instant Apps is a great way to step into basically having a mix between a native app experience and a web experience.
We're seeing this movement towards more wearables. I think we're also seeing a movement of combining web and mobile more. I think the notion of apps is going to be gradually on a decline. The notion of heading over to an app store, to Google Play and installing apps is going to be on a decline.
Instant Apps, for instance, is a great way to step into the cross-platform world of having basically a mix between a native app experience and a web experience. I think we'll see more of that. Of course we're also going the direction of Android apps on Chromebooks. We'll probably see that much more. Maybe Chrome altogether will start to run Android apps, kinda like in the style of ARC (Android Runtime for Chrome.) I think that ARC was a very premature first step, but we might see more of that. It's hard to say; I'm not going to make speculations.
I think more concretely in terms of hardware and things, you're going to see more wearables. I've always had this mentality of people walking around like this (Gestures looking down at phone)
This is not the future anymore. People don't walk around with their eyes pointed down onto this little handheld device. It's not gonna be Google Glass. Google Glass is wonky and weird too. But there's something there that Google can fill in for us I suppose — or somebody else — to figure out what does work.
Paul Lammertsma is the CTO at Pixplicity. Follow the studio on Twitter at @dotpixplicity.