After two and a half years, I’ll be leaving Headshift in the New Year. Put like that, it doesn’t seem all that long, but then again thinking about everything that I’ve worked in that period it feels like a lot longer. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredibly talented people on some utterly unique and fascinating projects, so the decision to go has not been an easy one to make.
What am I going to do? I’ve got nothing specific planned in terms of jobs at the moment, other than taking a break to pick up on some personal projects that I’ve been playing with for a while. There are fascinating times ahead - a lot of factors technological, political and societal all seem to be converging together at the moment, so it’s difficult not to get just a little bit excited about some of the possibilities out there.
In the short term, I’ve got three things that I want have a crack at. The way mobile technology has changed in the last few years is fascinating - the iPhone that I’ve got in my pocket would be almost indistinguishable from magic from the perspective of just 5 years ago. Actually building apps for the iPhone has a learning curve that’s less steep than vertical - but making the device actually do something is incredibly satisfying. Getting it to do something useful is harder, but at the moment I’m attempting to build an iPhone app for Wordr. This is a fantastic quirky little site built by Rattle - think Twitter but quicker - and it’s also the perfect use case for a mobile interface. It also means getting to grips with lots of different facets of Objective-C and the iPhone SDK, so it’s enormous fun.
Then there’s also the plumbing behind the scenes. I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the last couple of years dabbling with Ruby on Rails, and have probably go to the point where I know enough to be dangerous. It would be nice to know enough to be safe, so I’m planning to take some time to level up on some of those skills - particularly the way that you can follow a direct path from high-level user specs to low-level code testing with the speccing and testing frameworks that Rails provides. One of my hobby horses over the last few years has been how bad most software development is at delivering something that end-users actually want - and the way that Rails can be used to work seamlessly with user experience design is one of the best ways I’ve found of improving the chances of getting it right first time.
And finally, the last few months have seen a real change of attitude around public data. It used to be that the profit motive was uppermost, and data was treated as some kind of unrefined gold that could be somehow transformed by quasi-private bodies like the Ordnance Survey into something of value. What actually happened is that these organisations act as a brake on innovation. Now we’re about to be hit by a tsunami of raw Government data - the people responsible really get it. Raw data is all very well, but it’s visualisation which adds the value - and tools like Processing and the capabilities of cloud computing offer the possibility of doing interesting things with it. It’s also an excuse to indulge my strange predilection for mutilating innocent cuddly toys - I think perhaps we’re getting to the point of running out of new things to do with a screen and a keyboard, so making data and interaction visible and tangible strikes me as where the real innovation is likely to be.
In some respects, it might seem a bit mad to be doing something like this when the economy is upside down. Eventually I’m going to have to earn some money again, so obviously I’ll be keeping my eye open for interesting things to do with interesting people. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the last few years, it’s that these people pop up from the most unexpected places, so I’m not even going to try and guess where or when I might find them.