The Year Ahead 2012

January 3, 2012

In the last few months I started checking out 750words.com and healthmonth.com, both which were started by Buster Benson. I’ve been participating in both of them daily and in turn it’s inspired me to carry through with some of my goals and to put them out there for everyone to read if interested. I must say that I do this with some hesitation after watching this TED talk about the success of reaching your goals when you tell people about them. But I think putting it out into the world is part of reaching your goals at the same time. So I plan on revealing some of them without getting too specific. Maybe that will strike the balance between pronouncing your goals to the workd and keep your mouth shut.

After looking back at what I learned and the work I’d done in 2011, I realized that there were some things that I want to change in 2012. One of the major things is that I want all of my learnings to actually produce something. Not just a folder of tutorials. I learned a lot last year, read a lot of books and whatnot, but I feel like a lot of what I learned will probably disappear as a result of not doing anything with it as it often does and has in the past. To (attempt to) resolve this issue, I’ve come to the conclusion that I want to release some sort of project every month. I know that it seems kind of ambitious and maybe not reasonable, but I’ve come up with some rules to help myself move along.

For each project I must:

  • Decide on the next month’s project the week before the first of the month.
  • Learn something new.
  • Either create something new OR make a significant improvement to a previous month’s work in an obvious way.
  • If a project only takes a week or two to complete, even better. Don’t rush to start the next month’s project. Enjoy your time off.
  • If a project takes more than a month to complete or I just drop the ball, that’s ok, but it must be finished the following month or I must take a step back and re-evaluate to see if it can be turned into a finished project at a later time.
  • Blog about my progress a few times a month.
  • Blog about the end product at the end of the month.
  • Not work when on a planned vacation.

The purpose is to find a curriculum that works for me so that I can learn and explore as many things that interest me. And there are a lot of them. This one project a month goal will serve a few other purposes too. It’ll force we to keep learning things, it will help dissuade me from taking on freelance that I don’t want to take on, and it will force me to blog more often.

My next post will describe what the project for January is. I’ll put out a loose timeline that I plan to stick to. The point of this is that it’ll give me smaller goals to stick to and should help keep me accountable for the ridiculousness that I’m about to take on.

Some topics I hope to explore a bit more include but are not limited to:

  • kinect
  • processing and OpenGL
  • javascript / HTML5 canvas
  • cinder and c++
  • flash games
  • iOS apps
  • arduino and physical computing
  • lots and lots of particles

Wish me luck.

2011 Work in Review

December 21, 2011

2011 was an interesting year for me professionally. It was my first one where I was employed for all 12 months by The Barbarian Group. There was minimal freelance work and the stuff that I did do was chosen very carefully. This year was devoted to learning a lot of new things. The reasons for that are:

  1. I am primarily a flash developer and there are fewer projects for me to work on
  2. There are so many other exciting things to also learn and I’d hate to pidgeonhole myself into only being able to work on one type of project
  3. Mobile has been exploding and I wanted a piece of it
  4. Learning is funsies. For real. I like to learn knew things and the more I learn, the more I want to learn and the better I get at the things I already know

Let me just explain real quick about the first point. I just want to put it out there that I still love flash. I think that it’s still a viable platform for many things, unfortunately it’s a matter of fact that there’s fewer and fewer projects that require it. That being said, I’m not bitter about it. There’s so many other things that can be done that it just doesn’t matter if you were a flash dev, unless you think it does. I’ve started learning so many other things that have built on my flash knowledge that I’m not really worried that it was a waste of the previous years that I spent using it.

Here’s a summary of the different kind of work I’ve done throughout 2011. Before I continue, I just want to acknowledge all of the awesome people that made a lot of these projects possible and helped me learn a lot of what I learned. TBG has some fine ass developers, designers, producers, strategies, UX people, etc, etc, etc.

At The Barbarian Group, the first few months of the year was spent concentrating on developing a flash app for Kashi, dubbed SevenWhole Grains on a Mission. It was a nice little project that had some fun after effects video transitions and incorporated swfaddress significantly. As a warning, the current version of the project might not work as well as it once did since the site was handed over to another company. It still looks pretty though.
Link: http://www.kashi.com/meet_us/seven_whole_grains
Blog post: http://barbariangroup.com/posts/7827-kashi_seven_whole_grains_on_a_mission

In the spring and early summer decided to take a crack at learning android development and  created my first android app, Gastrodamus. It was an internal project for TBG whose main purpose is to find the nearest food truck in your city based on a truck’s tweets. There is also an iPhone version that this based off of. It was a fun little project and I learned a ton. The Java syntax and ways of doing things helped a lot with some of the processing work I did later on in the year. I’ll admit that it’s not perfect, but I hope to go in and do an update in 2012.
Link: http://gastrodam.us
Blog post: http://barbariangroup.com/posts/8856-gastrodamus_for_android

Throughout the year, I worked on a website for my mom. It’s a wordpress site that was designed and developed by myself in addition to designing her logo. I’ll admit, I haven’t done interface or logo design in a long time, so it was a bit intimidating. It was fun, but not where I want to spend most of my time. Same thing goes for developing front-end and wordpress sites. Actually, the html/css stuff was fine, it’s more just the overall process of building a wordpress site that’s not my cup o’ tea. But I’m glad I was able to help my mom out with her new business.
Link: http://www.ihealthcoach.net/

Early summer included some work for an episode of The GE Show that The Barbarian Group put together throughout the past 2 years. I was psyched to be included in the making of one of these, since they always turn out so awesome. I got to work on a flash-based map and online what-your-parents-shagged-to poster that went with it. This was a nice little piece that included the challenge of dealing with a lot of data without the use of a database what would also load quickly. Hard coded massive arrays was the answer.
Link: http:www.ge.com/thegeshow/visions-of-health/#ch3
Blog post: http://barbariangroup.com/posts/9085-the_ge_show_episode_7_visions_of_health

In late summer right before fashion week in New York, a few weeks were spent working on a fun installation for the Hudson Hotel. It was a flash based installation that was projected on 12 adjacent walls whose content was driven via a tumblr blog.
Blog post: http://barbariangroup.com/posts/9075-fashion_week_at_the_hudson_hotel

During some of my downtime, I helped put together a fun little game based on our IT department at TBG. It was only about a week or two worth of dev time and was put together without any sort of framework. It was old-school style of flash programming.
Link: http://itherogame.com/

In the more recent months I’ve spent a good amount of time working on processing sketches and learning some fundamental creative coding techniques. This is where I plan on spending a lot of my time next year. I put together tumblr blog where I post a lot of stills from my sketches along with any other drawings or anything else I come up with there, not strictly processing stuff.
Link: http://thegrego.tumblr.com/

In my processing learning, I also came up with an idea to learn how spider webs were made. I did a processing version, but then realized that to do what I really wanted to do (which is still in my head and on my todo list), I’d need to do a version in javascript. So I spent some time learning and playing with some javascript canvas tutorials and examples so that I can get a version of my webs online.
Link: http://www.gregkepler.com/work/js/spiderwebs/
Blog post: http://www.thegrego.com/2011/12/06/charlies-web/

Also, in my processing journey, I felt the need to explore some of my genealogy and put together the first of what will hopefully be a series of genealogy-based projects. As I learn to deal with a large amount of data and some beter visualization techniques, I have some high hopes that this will be a really cool, really expansive project in the future.
link: http://gregkepler.com/processing/family_lifespan/
blog post: http://www.thegrego.com/2011/09/25/kepler-family-life-spans/

I also spent some time learning arduino and integrating it into processing. I hope to have some progress on the project that I’m working on in the next month or two.

Stay tuned for my hopes and goals for 2012.

Getting a Flash Dev Job in NYC (Part 3)

July 31, 2010

Part 3 is has some of extra lessons that I learned from the other aspects of job hunting. If you have questions about my experiences not answered in the other posts, leave a comment and I’ll make one last post answering any lingering questions that I have answers to.

When to Look for a Job
It’s tough to look for a job during the holidays. If you are job hunting during November and December, don’t get discouraged if potential employers don’t contact you, even if it says that they’re hiring on their website. Chances are that they are busy wrapping up projects by the end of the year and taking care of other year-end business, which is good news for you. At that point a lot of companies are more aware of their budget and amount of work that they’ll have for the upcoming year, so if they’re looking for more people, they’ll do it once the holidays are over. Just keep sending in your resume. I’ve noticed that, especially this past year, that a ton of companies were hiring in January and February. That’s not to say that you can’t find a job throughout the year, but if you’re more of a newbie, just try to get in there before the college grads sneak in there and steal your potential job for less money.

The Cover Letter
This is usually just the email that you write when applying, but a few times, I’ve been asked for a separate letter. In that case, I made the email shorter than usual. Overall, make your cover letter short, but not too short and more importantly, to-the-point. Please don’t have misspellings or grammatical errors. I’ve done it and as a result, there was no result. I didn’t hear a thing. I’ve also seen cover letters that have had misspellings and disregarded them (it just makes the person sound stupid). This goes for everything that you show curing this process including code samples.

Code Samples
The biggest question I had when I started interviewing was what to provide when the interviewer asked for code samples. Every company has done one of the following:

  • Given a code sample test
  • Requested code samples before the interview
  • Requested code samples with the cover letter
  • Requested code samples after the interview

One thing I was surprised about was that I’ve never had to walk through my code with them. If anything, I made sure that there was some kind of explanation about what the code does, even if it’s partial or theoretical. Another thing that threw me off-guard was having to provide “dirty” code along with “clean” code. This was to show what my thinking process was when having to do quick tasks and prototypes.
As mentioned above, it’s important to make sure your spelling isn’t off in your code samples. They also want to make sure that function and variable names make sense and that you use comment appropriately.
On the other hand, you might not be asked to send code samples at all. If that happens, don’t fret. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not interested, just that they do things differently.

Portfolio
This is usually the first opportunity, besides the intro/cover letter, to show the potential employer what you’re all about, so don’t mess around. I approached my portfolio site as a portfolio piece in itself as a functional piece that has a specific function, to show off your work and to show who you are. So I think the best way to go about it is to make the work the main attraction. It’s fine to have an “about” section, but the work should be the first thing they see. Also, the navigation should be straightforward enough to get to and have a short load time.

Rejecting a job
If your ever in the oddly fortunate position of turning a job down, its good to do it in a way that keeps the option of working together in tact for the future. It shouldn’t have to be said, but just be polite and let them know that you’re sorry to turn them down, but another opportunity came about. People get it, just don’t be a dick.

If you missed it, Check out Part 1 and Part 2 to for tips on getting the interview. Part 3 will about other random aspects of flash dev job hunting such as what to put together for Code Samples and rejecting a job offer. If you have any questions or anything to add, let me know in the comments below. Good luck. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Getting a Flash Dev Job in NYC (Part 2)

June 27, 2010

Part 2 is focused on the interview process of job hunting. The anticipation of an interview can be excruciatingly nerve-wracking, especially if you’re generally afraid of people and haven’t interviewed in 4 years like myself. I knew that it was going to be a rough start, so some of my methods were planned out with that thought in mind.

The Interview



1. Go on as many interviews as you can, at first.

Even if you have a good idea what you’re looking for, just go on as many interviews as you can. For my first interview, it was the first one in 4 years and it scared the crap out of me. Since I was so nervous and I wasn’t getting interviews at companies that I wanted to work for yet, I saw it as an opportunity to practice. If I screwed up talking with a company that I didn’t really care about initially, the worst thing that would happen is that I’m rejected by something that I didn’t want in the first place. These initial interviews really helped me figure out what I wanted and didn’t want. Be cautious though. After a few months of interviewing, only take the interviews that you want unless you’re desperate. You might end up taking a job you don’t want out of desperation and in turn, just settling. At the same time, be realistic. If you’ve had you’re resume out there for a few months and haven’t had any bites, it might be time to re evaluate and take a job that you can get to gain some more experience and develop your portfolio.


2. Be prepared, but not too prepared.

I’ve gotten the question many times of or a variation of “What do you know about our company?” or “Which of our projects do you like? And why?”. So it’s extremely important that you don’t fail these. I think it’s best to make sure that you know basically what the company is about as well as their most recent/most high-profile projects. No one expects that you know their entire portfolio inside-out. On the other side, when you’re too prepared, you forget to ask important question since you already know the answers. Asking questions is an important part of the interview, so make sure that you have some to ask, even if you know the answers. The interviewer wants you to be curious about what they do, while a the same time, they generally like to talk about themselves and sell their company to you.


3. Don’t be afraid to write your questions down.

Every interview I go on, I have an index card of questions that I’ve thought of before the interview and I usually keep in in my pocket. When they ask if I have any questions and I pull that baby out, more times than not, they’ve been impressed that I came prepared and have been thinking about the job and am taking it seriously. Of the 5 or so jobs I’ve been offered over the months that I was interviewing, the cards came out every time. For me, it’s not just a gimmick either. I never remember everything that I want to ask, so I keep it written down. It works for me. It also gives your nervous nilly fingers something to fumble with.


4. Dress appropriately.

This point is important, but not really anything to worry too much about. The goal going in is to show that you have respect for the company, showing your personality, while also being aware of the company’s culture. Again, it’s not worth worrying yourself too much about it.  It’s easy to freak out about what to wear for an interview, but in the end, the interviewer won’t remember what your goofy shoes looked like (unless that’s what you’re going for) or that the crease in your pants was too crisp. As long as your clothes are clean and you gave ironing the good ol’ college try, you should be good. I also tend to think that overdressing is as big of a mistake as underdressing. My default “outfit” is decent jeans, ironed button down shirt, blazer (sometimes), and black shoes. Also, don’t be afraid to give the interviewer a peak of what you’re about. Showing them that you have a personality is a plus.


5. Don’t lie (outright).

During the interview, there’s a good chance that you’ll be asked a question that you just don’t have an answer for. The best thing to do is to just be honest about it and not start lying. This is also another opportunity to learn something so that you’re prepared for your next interview. Take note of the question asked and make sure you have an answer next time Problem solved. If you’re passionate about what you do, you’ll do that anyway. There’s nothing worse than barely surviving a tough question by lying (thinking that you were giving them the answer that they were looking for) only to be asked a follow up question. The other thing you can do is start asking questions back in order to learn about the question being asked. You might just get the answer from them that they were looking for.

At the same time, I think it’s OK to exaggerate a little. If you’re asked about a specific framework, technique, or software that you’re aware of but don’t know it well or used it extensively, but at the same time know it will possibly help get the job, I think it’s alright to say that you know it. The caveat is that you should go home and try to get to know it better so that if you do get hired and asked to do some Papervision 3D or something for them that you can pull it off and not look like a big dummy.


6. Remember to write a thank-you letter.

This is pretty self explanatory. It’s just another opportunity to let the interviewer know that you’re excited about the opportunity of working with them and that you’re really into what they do. The problem I always have is remembering everybody’s name if you met multiple people in my interview. In that instance, I usually end up writing directly to the person that I set up the interview with and telling them something like “it was great to meet you and your team”. Who doesn’t like a team-oriented candidate?


7. Link In
After an interview, especially if it went well, I like to look the interviewer up on Linked In and request to connect to them. I usually save this move until I’ve had more than one conversation with them and or after I’ve been offered a position (regardless of if I accept or not). This can be a bit of a ballsy move, so only do that if you’re certain that it went well and that they are truly someone that you would like to work with later on in your career. You don’t want to be too presumptuous. In addition, it could be good for a future employer to see that you’re linked in with other “important” people in the industry.


8. Leave on a good note
I’ve had good interviews and I’ve had shitty interviews. The one thing that I made sure to do was to leave on a good note though. I’ve even had job offers fall though (as a result of poor communication on their end) and gotten completely screwed, but kept my emails cordial and up beat. The industry is small enough and you never know who you’ll work with in the future, so it’s best not to burn bridges before they even exist.


9.  Don’t beat yourself up after the interview.

It’s easy to pick apart the entire interview after it’s over, but when it comes down to it, what’s done is done. If you feel like you answered questions poorly, call it a learning experience and be sure that you have a better answer next time it’s asked. Though there’s also a good chance that the answer wasn’t as dreadful as you made it out to be in your head. It’s really not worth losing sleep over. I’ve lost sleep over what I though was a bad interview and was offered the job the following week. As long as you’ve showed them what you’re about and that you’re capable to do the job well and wasn’t a dick, then you’ve got nothing to worry about. If they don’t pick you, then it might not be a job that you want in the end anyway. There are always other jobs in this industry.

That’s it for now. If you missed it, Check out Part 1 to for tips on getting the interview. Part 3 will about other random aspects of flash dev job hunting such as what to put together for Code Samples and rejecting a job offer. If you have any questions or anything to add, let me know in the comments below. Good luck.

Getting a Flash Dev Job in NYC (Part 1)

April 30, 2010

Interviewing for a new job is a scary thing and nothing I write here will take that all away, but hopefully some of these tips will help you be OK with being scared. It’s part of the process. Since I’ve been on both sides of the table, I might be able to provide a unique insight into both being chosen for a job as well as choosing to take the right job for you. This post will be broken up into multiple parts, starting with just getting the interview.

Before I begin though, there are a few disclaimers. No company names will be used here as I don’t think it would be fair to divulge anyone’s process. I’ll just note that every company does it differently and the process depends a lot on the company and the people involved in the recruiting process. Everything written here is based solely on my experiences and all opinions are based on me and not any company that I worked for or interviewed with. My experiences and tips are based on someone looking for a job specifically as a flash developer in New York City where there is a plethora of companies that you could work for as a flash developer, so I have no idea what it’s like to find a job in a different field here or elsewhere in the world.


Getting the Interview



1.  Know what you want to do.

It’s tough to find a good job as a designer AND developer. From an employer’s point of view, it’s hard to trust that someone will be amazing at both. If that’s your goal, then you might have to go in as one primarily and prove that you are capable of the other. That being said, if you want to do both, it’s not impossible to find, just be prepared that a lot of companies that you will want to work for will expect you to be great at one of the two and may see your multi-talent as indecisiveness. Also, as a developer or designer, you will be expected to be curious and willing to explore every aspect of your discipline. It’s tough to be familiar with every aspect of design AND development. As a result, I decided to look for a job that was more on the development side of things. The decision was based on knowing that it was going to be tough finding a job at a company that I wanted to work for where I would be responsible for both as well as figuring out that I’m stronger in development than I am in design. It was a tough decision to come to, but so far it’s not one that I regret. In a way it actually helped. it helped me decide that I wanted to develop for a visual output and set me on the track of finding a job where that’s what the employer was looking for as well. They say that it’s tough to find a person that can code, but also has an eye for design. Thanks RIT.

2. Linked In is your best friend

Linked In has been an amazing resource for researching the companies that I want to work for, researching the actual people that I could be working for and researching the work and background of the people that are doing the job I want. One thing that I would often do is find out who built a website that I really admire (usually through the FWA or Communication Arts) and then immediately go to Linked In to see first where the company is located, see if I know anyone there, see if I’m linked to anyone there, and then check out the individual’s profiles that are currently there as Flash or Interactive developers. If I can get that far, I start checking out those other developer’s websites and see what their capabilities are.

This bit of stalking accomplishes a few things. I can see if the company is located in NYC, I can see what companies people came from and where they went after being employed at that company (if that kind of thing matters to you), and I can determine if the stalked individuals have a similar skill set or background as myself. For me, that’s the most useful part of this. If there is something that I should know or be on top of, it will be listed on the developer’s profile or website and it’s something that I can either check off as something that I can do or potentially add to my list of things to learn or at least look in to. Another great thing that Linked In has done for me is provide a way to connect to people whose work you admire. On multiple occasions, I’ve written messages to other developers letting them know that I’m into what they do and ask if their company is hiring. I haven’t come across anyone that was dick and they’ve always given me the name of someone to contact directly that is involved with recruiting for their company. It’s even led to a few interviews. People like to be admired. Even if you don’t get an interview right away, making initial contact could lead to a friendship or professional working relationship later on.

3. Work your connections

Talk to old professors, friends, ex-coworkers, alumni job placement people, everyone (except for anyone that might still be connected to your current employer if that’s an issue). Companies like to recruit people that are recommended by someone that they know. I personally have had at least 5 potential opportunities begin because I was either recommended or because I had some sort of connection to one of their current employees, whether I’ve ever met them personally or not. And I was offered jobs by half of them. If you went to school with someone that works at a company you like, send a message through Linked In.

4. Monitor your Online Presence

When looking for a job, make sure that you are aware of what comes up when you’re googled. Whether it’s legal or not, anyone can google you. Try it yourself. If something comes up that you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see, do something about it if you can. Most of the times its just wacky facebook images that someone tagged, but luckily you have some control over that. The other side of this is to make try to make yourself more visible in your field. Tweets, blog entries, and message board postings that reflect your involvement in the community can definitely have a good impact in the mind of an employer. It shows that you are dedicated, thoughtful, have communication skills, and  have passion for what you do and what they will be hopefully paying you to do. A lot of studios have company blogs that they like to have their employees blog on, so it might also be something that they are looking for.

5. Be Persistent

On delicious, I have all the companies that I would want to work for bookmarked and I made it my duty to check every site every day. It got to the point that I could tell when there was even the slightest update. Over the months, I actually witnessed many sites go through a redesign. Besides keeping me up to date as to if those companies were hiring, it helped me learn more about the companies and the projects that they were outputting. Even now that I have a new job, I still check many of them out on a regular basis.

In addition, below are some resources that I consulted regularly to find the right job

  • craigslist – Most of the time, the jobs were duds, but every once in a while I found some amazing companies post there.
  • indeed – Updated frequently and syndicates job postings from all over the web. It also helps give you an idea of salary expectations.
  • The FWA – This had the most relevant jobs since a lot of the companies that posted were fwa winners and will continue to be once I get in there.
  • Krop – A lot of creative companies said that if they’re hiring, then it’ll be on Krop. You can also have relevant postings emailed to you when there is something new.
  • Twitter – Following your agency crushes on twitter allows you to see when they are hiring right away if they tweet it. It worked for me.
  • delicious – This was where I kept a list of companies whose websites I looked at daily to check their individual job postings.

The next part of the series will be about the interview process itself. Stay tuned and let me know if these help any of you out there.