User group profile: Winning as a team in Tokyo

by John Koch

Just as my colleagues and I are finishing our workday and heading home for dinner, a world of developers in Asia is waking up to a day of learning and working with Adobe tools.

As part of the Adobe Developer Relations team, my mission is to connect Adobe user communities in Asia with Adobe headquarters in California and regions throughout the world. Perhaps the best part of my job involves traveling to Asia at least four times a year to meet with Adobe user groups and community leaders. I also meet with people who gather regularly to discuss Adobe technologies but have no formal contact with Adobe.

We talk about the buzz in the communities. We talk about challenges and opportunities. Some leaders have trouble finding a place to hold meetings, and others feel overwhelmed trying to maintain an active online community. However, the most common challenge involves searching for resources and information in their language about Adobe products.

Users who are fluent in English may take it for granted that Adobe produces many resources in English. But imagine what it's like to learn a new product or technology without the aid of documentation in a language you understand. I was recently inspired by the ways in which a small group of people in Tokyo joined forces to help others in their community learn and use Adobe Flex. Here is their story.

Supporting Flex developers with FxUG

Before discovering Flex, Satoshi Yokota specialized in Java architecture with a focus on rich Internet applications (RIAs). Given the nature of RIA development, Satoshi felt compelled to learn more about Flash — and he soon discovered Flex. But as he tried to dig deeper, he quickly realized that little information about Flex existed in his native language. He wondered how others in the Japanese Flex developer community were getting their information.

Yokota began to gather Flex-related information from around the world and started reporting it (along with his own perspective) in a blog for the Japanese Flex user community. He also began to write about how technologies such as Java, PHP, Ruby on Rails, and ASP.NET work with Flex.

As traffic to Yokota's blog increased, many of his readers encouraged him to start a Flex user group. After contemplating the demands of his day job as CEO of ClassMethod with the demands of managing a user group, Satoshi submitted a user group application and launched a website to support the Flex User Group (FxUG).

A year later, FxUG now boasts 400 members and is the largest Flex user group in the world. Yokota believes membership has grown rapidly for many reasons. But the chief reason is the Flex study sessions that FxUG organizes. Each month, the study sessions are filled to capacity (40 seats) and attendees often have to stand against the wall in the back of the room.

Teaming up for success

Japanese Flex Usergroup at MAX 2006

From the left: Keisuke Todoroki, Kazumichi Nishimura, Satoshi Yokota, Jun Funakura at MAX 2006

While Yokota serves as chairman of FxUG, the user group is co-managed by a committed group of developers. Kazuya Komon, an engineer from ISID Inc., and Kazumichi Nishimura, a developer and systems integrator who recently launched his own company called Tekono, Inc., give presentations on the basics of Flex to newbies at the monthly Flex study sessions. Shigeru Nakagaki creates Flex samples and Jun Funakura researches and writes about how Flex connects with Java open source products. Naohiko Ueno answers questions on architecting Flex applications in the forum.

These core leaders keep the structure of the group loose and free, however, so that their duties in the group do not adversely affect their day jobs. "If someone needs help, he just needs to raise his hand and the others will step in to help," Yokota told me.

Many Adobe user groups throughout the world are managed by a team. Like FxUG, the Taiwan User Group in Taipei is managed by a team of developers and designers. Their community site offers help to developers throughout Taiwan, China, and the larger Chinese language community in Asia. With more hands on deck, leaders can offer more to their community, such as spending time in the forums to help users of all levels. Operating as a group also helps leaders navigate through those times when urgent work duties consume the time they'd like to spend working with their user community.

Flex 2 Origami Workshop application

Several leaders of FxUG attended MAX 2006 in Las Vegas and presented a Flex 2 application they're developing that teaches users about origami, the Japanese art of paper folding. The app is called the Flex 2 Origami Workshop application and is designed to guide users through the creation of an origami object, bringing together computer-based training with a hands-on folding approach to learning.

According to Nishimura, the transformative power of Flex 2 inspired their choice of origami as the demo theme. "Through the creative act of paper folding, a piece of paper can be transformed into a crane or a rabbit or a variety of other things. You can apply this same analogy to Flex 2," he explained.

Inspiring others to do more

I'm convinced that community leaders are the true creative superstars of the Adobe developer world because they apply such a large portion of their time and talents to building and supporting user communities. They are a constant source of inspiration for me, and I believe they represent the inspirational power that comes from joining forces with likeminded developers and exploring great technology.

If you are interested in joining or creating an Adobe user group in your region, please visit the Communities page on Adobe supports user group leaders by providing promotional goods and free software twice a year that they can raffle off at community events. The program also provides free hosting benefits and access to mailing lists where user group leaders can communicate with one another.