On Leaving Sencha
June 27, 2012 11 Comments
As some of you may know, I left Sencha last week to move to another startup just up the road in San Mateo. Leaving the company was a hugely difficult thing to do for lots of reasons, some obvious, some less so. I’d like to share a few thoughts on my time there and look forward a little to the future.
I didn’t really intend to join the company. I was having fun writing components and exploring the framework from the outside already, but a chance meeting in San Francisco with the team changed all that. What I found was a small but immensely talented group of people who loved what they did – writing awesome frameworks all day. Underqualified though I felt, being invited into that group was an honor I couldn’t really refuse.
When I started back in late 2009, Ext JS 3.1 was just being wrapped up for release so I leapt straight into creating 3.2. Having only ever consumed the framework before, making the leap to creating brand new components was quite a challenge. Thankfully Sencha can count many veterans in its ranks, and Jamie in particular demonstrated his saintly patience in bringing me up to speed.
Ext JS 3.2 saw the addition of animated DataView transitions, composite fields and a few Toolbar plugins. It also required some upgrades to Store, which was a horrifying enough experience that I’d spend a few weeks rewriting the entire data package for Sencha Touch and Ext JS 4. 3.2 also saw the first of my allegedly bombastic blog posts (I’m just enthusiastic…)!
All this time we were a very small group working out of a picturesque little office on University Avenue in Palo Alto. During that first year we grew to maybe 25 people and all fit happily into the one big open plan room, descending en masse upon one of the many restaurants along the strip or bringing food back to eat in the sunny courtyard outside the office.
I think of that time as the happiest part of my Sencha experience. Somehow I’d found myself in the heart of Silicon Valley surrounded by unbelievably talented people, creating groundbreaking products – some of which we were even allowed to give away for free! We worked like crazy, often well into the early hours of the morning, but it was a lot of fun and I think we created a lot we can be proud of in that time.
Creating Sencha Touch, Learning how to Conference
Not long after Ext JS 3.2 went final, and in parallel with Ext JS 3.3, we started creating Sencha Touch. The initial work was all from Tommy and Dave, before I got a chance to jump in and start writing the new data package. Over time most of the team got a chance to put their name on Touch as we raced to create the world’s first HTML5 mobile app framework. Creating a new product from scratch like that was an awesome experience, and the final product was pretty good (though nowhere near as good as we’d get it with 2.0).
SenchaCon 2010 was scheduled for mid-November and we’d decided we wanted to make a big splash by releasing Sencha Touch – for free. Naturally, this meant a lot of work in a very short period of time in the months running up to the conference. I have vivid memories of a particular evening (read: 3am) in the office just before an imminent release. That can be stressful enough at the best of times but this particular evening our fire alarm would not stop going off. I don’t know whether it was the people, the project or the pressure, but what should have been a dreadful night was a really fun experience. And I think it paid off – we shipped on time at the conference, but only just.
This would be a pattern we’d repeat more than once – working night and day to create both products and presentations that have an immovable deadline. Once more it amazes me how talented my friends at Sencha really are: how many developers do you know who can write great code and deliver world-class conference presentations? That all came from a lot of hard work but it’s one more reason why it was so hard to leave that group of people behind.
Later on, our time was dominated first by Ext JS 4, then by Sencha Touch 2. I was able to make a couple of contributions to Ext JS 4 – chiefly the new data package plus an evolution of the MVC architecture that debuted in Sencha Touch 1. I probably spent as much time writing documentation as I did writing code though, which is a pattern I’d later repeat on Sencha Touch 2. For whatever reason there’s a misalignment in my brain that makes me pretty passionate about docs, so if you’re reading the guides and class docs from those projects and none of it makes sense, well, sorry! (but you should see how it was before…)
By this time we’d outgrown our little office in Palo Alto and moved to a much bigger space in Redwood City. With 5x the floor space at our disposal the company started growing like crazy, easily expanding by a factor of 10 during the time I was there. That transition was harder than I expected – at 10 people it was like a large family, at 100 it was definitely a Company. I think a lot of that is down to Sencha’s success, but it still caught me off guard having never been through that before.
I think the thing I’m proudest of during my time at Sencha was the release of Sencha Touch 2. This was the first release where we got (almost) everything right – the quality was high, the performance was great, and we finally cracked MVC. We even launched with relatively good docs and examples from day one, though I’ve learned by now that you can never have enough of that stuff.
As well as getting to work with so many talented people inside the company, I’ve also been lucky enough to meet a huge number of people from the Sencha community. If anything you guys seem even more passionate about our stuff than we are. Until SenchaCon I could honestly say I’d never been mobbed but for those few days a year you make us all feel like rockstars. We may not say it at the time but I know everyone involves gets a huge high from those interactions, so thanks.
While I’m at a new company now I expect to stay active in the Sencha community, I’m far too attached to what we created together to leave that behind any time soon. I’ll stay active on the forums and maybe even blog once a while – if you want to get in touch feel free to reach out here, on twitter or linkedin, or if you’re near Palo Alto maybe I’ll buy you a beer.
Sencha’s best days are ahead of it and they have a great team there to deliver on the mission. I remain a big fan of the company, its people, its products and especially its community and can’t wait to see what happens next.