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Looking back at 2008, Plans for 2009

2008 has been an exciting year. My company got off the ground, winning and completing a number of software development contracts for different clients, including Bid for Wine, MydecoVelocix, Microsoft Research, Imense, Bupa and Collabora.

It has always been my goal to stay flexible and work with a wide range of different skills, because I believe that a wide view and interdisciplinary abilities allow you to find insights and intelligent alternative solutions which other people cannot see. On the other hand, there is a danger that if you don’t specialise, you end up as the stereotypical consultant who can talk intelligent-sounding gibberish but can’t actually do the nitty-gritty work of getting the job done.

And I am glad to say, after the busy time and the exciting journey which was 2008, that we got the balance right. We have specialised enough that we have deep expertise and we can explain to others what we do: we are web application developers (not web designers, not user experience consultants, not desktop app developers, not system administrators, etc). But we are also generalists enough to understand the big picture and many of its important parts, and to be confident that we can tackle even very complex web application engineering projects. In the projects for the aforementioned clients we have worked (in no particular order) in project management, Ruby on Rails, Python/Django, Java EE, complex client-side Ajax and JavaScript, screen scraping and parsing, semantic web, RDF and ontologies, search technology, Facebook applications, continuous integration and automated testing, user interface design, REST API design, web application scalability, SMS/MMS gateway integration, payment gateway integration, and so on.

Along with all this technical excitement, the business has also been profitable, and has enjoyed stable cash-flow. I am pleased.

So where do we go from here?

In 2009, I am hoping to focus more on Ept’s own projects. We will continue work on projects for clients, but will also invest in developing products which a lot of people will find useful, and which will help to give us a stronger position in future. Without giving away too much detail ahead of time, these are the two main areas:

  1. I have previously mentioned how we use Selenium for automated testing of our web applications, and that I would love to use a hosted service which will run the tests for us if I could find a service which met our needs. The problem: such a service doesn’t exist. But it will soon – we’re working on it. Our automated testing service will be for web application developers like ourselves, who need to test their work in real web browsers, but have better things to do than to spend ages setting up their own grid of machines to run those tests. Our service will be a massive time-saver for web developers who want to deliver quality work. So far I’ve had enthusiastic feedback from fellow web developers, and I am really looking forward to giving you all this useful tool.
  2. Dealing with invoices and payments is going to be important for you sooner or later if you want your business to be sustainable (a.k.a. ‘have food to eat’). That’s as true for web apps as it is in most of the rest of the world. Unfortunately most developers find it an extremely un-sexy topic, and so while you get dozens of web frameworks which compete to deal with the details of HTTP session handling and object-relational mapping, I can’t find any decent framework to provide a flexible but powerful basis for an invoicing and payments system. Over the next months I will be developing a free and open source framework which anybody can use to easily create a powerful and flexible invoicing and payment system. It will be both developer-friendly and accountant-friendly and based on open standards (such as UBL, which I have explored previously). Initially it will be designed for Ruby on Rails apps, but hopefully it will get ported to other languages and frameworks later on.

The common theme: providing tools and building blocks for the people who make the applications which shape the web. I believe that web applications are already very important, and have an extremely bright future. I want to do my bit to make the web even more awesome than it is already: open, interconnected, dependable, secure, useful.

Happy new year!