by Brian Rinaldi
Getting involved in the community is, by far, one of the best things you can do for your career. It can help you keep up on important discussions, relevant tools, and shared challenges that keep your skills fresh. It can also be an invaluable resource if you have a problem or question because you are likely not the first person to encounter that issue.
One of the best but oftentimes most intimidating things about getting started is that there are so many ways to get involved. In this article, I share my favorites so you can make sense of all the options. Because I am a developer focused on Adobe ColdFusion and Adobe Flex, many of the sources I discuss relate to those products, but even if you don't use ColdFusion and Flex, I'm sure you'll find something useful among these resources.
One last note before we dive in: Since most of you are probably familiar with the majority of resources available on Adobe.com, I chose to focus on alternative sources of information. However, I did want to highlight a few resources that have recently been updated and are definitely worth exploring.
The Adobe Developer Connection has released an updated version of its free Flex in a Week video training series to reflect the Flex 4 beta. Build on your programming experience by stepping through this five-day video training course.
Find and share code in the new, integrated Adobe Cookbooks. For those unfamiliar with the cookbook applications, this is a searchable repository of community-generated code samples. Recently updated, Adobe Cookbooks now supports 16 different products/technologies all within a single application and offers more than 800 unique code samples. Whether you are looking to contibute your own code sample or ready to jump start a project, Adobe Cookbooks is a resource definitely worth checking out..
The single best place to meet and network with developers with common interests in your area is your local Adobe user group. A variety of user groups focus on the developer community, including ColdFusion user groups (generally called CFUGs), Flex user groups, Flash Platform user groups, and more general Adobe user groups. These groups are officially supported by Adobe. Not only do they offer software and giveaways but they also have access to Adobe speakers for special product launch events and tours. Often you get the opportunity to talk to product team members within relatively small groups as opposed to a conference experience. These groups generally meet once a month on regular meeting days.
While each group usually has its own URL and hosted site, finding an Adobe user group has become much easier with the launch of Adobe Groups. Every group has a presence on the site. Some groups simply list contact and meeting information; other groups, like Boston CFUG, publish in-depth information, such as an event calendar, discussion area, blog, and job board. I recommend starting with a text search for the closest city to your home.
In some cases, there may not be a user group in your local area. Don't worry. Many user groups actually host and/or post their meetings online via Adobe Connect; some, such as The Online ColdFusion Meetup, meet exclusively online. In fact, community member Charlie Arehart continuously updates a list of user group recordings on his site, UGTV.
You can find hundreds of blogs focused exclusively on developing with Adobe technologies. In many respects, these can be the best way to keep up with cutting-edge development, open source, and important discussions within the community on a daily basis. I follow only Flex and ColdFusion, and I still have hundreds of feeds in my feed reader. Unless you have a personal blog addiction, as I clearly do, you are better off getting your blog fix via an aggregator. Below are some of the best that are focused specifically on the Adobe developer community:
Adobe Feeds covers the gamut of Adobe products, including categories focused on every developer product Adobe offers. The full subscription can be noisy, but you can subscribe to feeds specific to the categories you are interested in. Each category aggregates a large number of blogs that have been vetted, so you won't find any spammers here.
Full As A Goog has been around since before Adobe Feeds (it even has a category for Central if you remember that), and it covers almost every developer-focused category Adobe offers. Generally speaking, Goog's categories cover fewer blogs than Adobe Feeds in part because getting approved is a little more difficult — though each blog is also vetted. The blog lists aren't identical either, so it's often beneficial to follow both Full As A Goog and Adobe Feeds.
Originally started by Raymond Camden as a way to show off some features of ColdFusion 8, ColdFusion Bloggers has become a must-follow resource for ColdFusion developers.
This Flex focused aggregator was started by Scott Stroz using the code from ColdFusion Bloggers.
Attending a conference, or even a regionally focused community event, can be a fantastic way not only to stay up to date on trends but — even more importantly — get to know the leaders and influencers in your community face to face. I often find that I learn more about the direction that a certain product is headed over drinks at the bar than by any other means. Below are some popular events located in the United States.
While MAX is not specifically developer-focused, it includes hundreds of sessions for developers, as well as ancillary events like the ColdFusion Unconference and 360|MAX, which focuses on Flex and Adobe AIR. However, I have found that MAX is best for getting a sense of the overall company vision as it relates to the broad range of products I use.
360|Flex was the first and is still the best Flex and AIR developer conference. The event has an informal and often enjoyably irreverent tone, especially when Doug McCune is presenting. It also happens to be jam-packed with informative sessions focused on everything related to the Flash Platform.
The oldest and largest of the ColdFusion conferences has lately added a great deal of Flex and AIR content. This is the single best event to mingle with nearly every notable developer in the ColdFusion community.
This ColdFusion event focuses on the advanced developer and offers plenty of high-level content.
These events are smaller. They are generally run by community members, and they typically focus on a regional area. However, they are usually inexpensive or even free and are easily accessible if you can find one nearby.
Flash Camps are being held around the world, so you are likely to find one in your area. They usually feature some of the best local and regional speakers — and, despite a common misconception, they are not a thinly veiled sales pitch.
This is my personal event in Boston (formerly Flex Camp Boston). This year, they are offering three tracks focusing on Flex, AIR, and ColdFusion.
Run by Bob Flynn at Indiana University in Bloomington, this event covers two days — one focused on ColdFusion and the other focused on Flex and AIR.
This new event in North Carolina — focusing on ColdFusion, Flex, and AIR — is being run by members of the Triangle Area ColdFusion User Group.
Social networking offers a variety of ways to keep up with the products and technologies you use every day. Here are some of the most popular options:
You are probably tired of hearing about Twitter by now, but if you can get over its current overexposure, you might find it is one of the most useful ways to keep in touch with the developer community. I have gotten to know more fellow developers via Twitter than through any other resource in this article. The trick is to give it time and be sure to participate in conversations by replying (since others generally see replies even of those they are not directly following). You can also follow some of the official Adobe Twitter feeds, including Flex, AIR, and ColdFusion — even Dreamweaver.
It goes without saying that many Adobe developers are on Facebook, but Facebook also offers more ways to connect with them. For example, I am a fan of the official Adobe Flex and ColdFusion pages, among others, which can be a great source of information from the community. Facebook offers unofficial sources as well, including the global Adobe Flex User's Group and ColdFusion Programmers.
While I find LinkedIn to be less of a source of community discussion than Facebook or Twitter, it's another useful resource, particularly if you are looking for a new position. LinkedIn features some official groups, such as Adobe ColdFusion Developers, Adobe Flex Developers, Adobe AIR Developers, and Adobe Flash Platform Developers, among many other official and unofficial groups.
Yes, IRC still exists and, while I have never used it, it is apparently still widely used within the developer community. From what I have been told, the better discussions happen on DALnet.
By subscribing to the Edge newsletter, you are already doing something right when it comes to keeping up with the developer community. However, many other newsletters and mailing lists are worth looking into. I list a few general-interest mailing lists below, but if you are interested in a specific framework or an open source project, you can probably find a mailing list for any topic.
This is an official Adobe newsletter covering news, information, and updates related to the Adobe Flash Platform.
This unofficial Flex developer's mailing list can be noisy, often containing hundreds of messages per week, but it gives you access to developers around the world, including many familiar names in the community.
Like Flex Coders, this list can be extremely busy at times, but it can be equally useful if you are looking for an answer to a question or if you just want to debate a hot topic in the community.
Adobe community experts, like myself, are simply community members recognized for a high level of expertise in a specific product area and their deep involvement in helping the Adobe developer community. While this isn't always the quickest or most straightforward way to get answers to your questions, I love getting e-mail from the community via the experts program. So don't hesitate to find and contact a developer on the list.
Although the resources listed in this article are focused on Flex, AIR, and ColdFusion, I hope you find them useful, no matter what your area of expertise. Most people don't have time to be involved in all of them, but choose the ones that suit you best and, if you haven't already, start participating. I think you'll find that it's one of the best and most rewarding things you can do for your career.