Gizmodo’s Developers Cubed series offers a behind the scenes look into Australia’s up and coming dev scene. This week: We talk to Alan Zeino about his new app design agency, Synthetica, why you should never sign a non-disclosure agreement and how Sydney is screaming for app development talent.
Who are you and where do you work?
My name is Alan Zeino and I currently run a Sydney–based app agency called Synthetica with my business partner Dan Nolan. We just incorporated in the past few months and we've been inundated with work — we're loving the experience of partnering with brands and delivering products that work, on time.
The competition in Sydney is not as fierce as it might be in Melbourne but we're focusing on repairing relationships some enterprise firms have experienced with iOS by guaranteeing quality software and letting enterprise firms "in" on our process as we make their apps. You'd be surprised at how many Aussie brands have been burned by "ad hoc" development firms that pop up, tender for projects and then outsource the development through services like Freelancer. Horror stories like this have steeled Dan and I to focus on creating strong relationships with our clients.
Why do we know you? What have you created?
Before Synthetica I had been working in enterprise for about two years, developing iOS security apps, retail window display software for the iPad, and file management software used in various finance institutions and other large Aussie corporations. My retail software is installed in dozens of outlets internationally, which is something I'm proud of. I also currently actively develop a twitter analytics app for iOS called "Retweets!" as a vanity project, as well as having worked as a freelance developer for some App Store software too.
What platforms do you develop for?
iOS. I banked on iOS about five years ago in the early stages of my Computer Science degree, and it paid off big time. Not only have I had the opportunity to write software used by thousands every day, but iOS' success has given me the opportunity to start my own company and be my own boss.
The ease of which to develop with and for the iOS platform is something I never take for granted. I've tried the Android SDK (with its insanely slow emulator — at least, until ICS), and the Windows Phone 7 SDK, and none of them have ever attracted me from a developer standpoint. Android sure does sell a lot of devices, but the software on them is average in design at best and the fragmentation problem makes it very difficult to support your customers.
I am quite the fan of the DoubleTwist apps for Android, and I wish more Android developers took design as seriously as they do. But, designing for Android and its myriad of screen resolutions and types isn't easy. The reach available to Android developers is huge, and Google has done well to cultivate a rich developer community in the past few years — so I always buy the newest flagship 'Google' devices to gauge where the OS is from time–to–time.
The market for iOS software engineers in Sydney is huge. Demand far outstrips supply, and places like the big banks have poached much of the talent that was available until now. But the larger demand is within enterprise; where big business is using iOS devices such as the iPad to replace legacy computing devices such as laptops and mobile telephony — this is why we started Synthetica.
What are you working on right now?
Some secret on–device file management software, as well as some branded apps for our clients at Synthetica. I wish I could tell you more!
What do you think about the rise and rise of App Stores? How has it influenced your titles?
I remember what it was like before the App Store. Jar apps for Symbian were as far as "apps" went, and there was no centralised "store" akin to Apple's now. I was excited for the App Store back in 2008 and I saw the potential immediately. I credit much of my career to the iOS App Store, and I know many Aussie Android developers who are making a living from Google Play sales too.
What’s your favourite app that you didn’t create?
Path. I am a fan of lithe social networks that focus on core features and make them great — and Path, does that very well. Everything about Path is sublimely engineered; from the colours to the animations they use. It's Facebook without the ads and without all the people you hate.
What phone do you use? Why?
An iPhone 4S. I'm an engineer and while I developed my skills using Linux in my CS degree, I surprisingly don't care much for customisation or modifying my portable computing devices. I want simplicity, style and software that's reliable. You could ridicule iOS for its simplicity and staid evolution, but I'm a strong believer that simplicity in design is much harder to engineer than the opposite. Almost everything about how my iPhone works was the result of thoughtful engineering on the part of Apple.
I've also owned a Galaxy SII, a Galaxy Nexus and a Nexus 7 — none of which have compelled me to switch to Android. It's 2012 and they're still working on making their OS 'smooth' (see, Project Butter). Apple fixed that in iPhone OS 1.0.1.
What advice do you have for budding Aussie developers out there?
Pick mobile. iOS or Android; you'll have more work than you can handle — and the future of software is mobile.
Never sign an NDA to listen to an idea — or work for free, other than for family, friends or charity. Selling yourself short is a mistake — so don't bother competing with developers in the third-world on Freelancer.
Make a name for yourself by delivering quality software for the agreed upon terms, and big business will always turn to you before anyone else.
Find a hobby project to keep you sane when deadlines loom and seemingly–insurmountable problems arise. If you love what you do, this won't be hard — and never lose sight of what matters; keeping yourself grounded is important too. There's always stuff yet to learn.