Simon Wolf, Otter Software


Simon is the lead developer at Otter Software.

  • What do you currently do?

I am a self-employed contract developer who builds apps for other people. My work consists of about a 50/50 split between iOS and OS X development. I will also be releasing an application of my own in the next few weeks which will hopefully be the first step of me moving over to earning my living from sales of my own apps from working for other people.

  • How did you get started in Mac and/or iOS programming?

After I left university in the mid-90s I’d been developing software for Windows but in 2004 I bought my first Mac, a G4 12″ iBook to replace an ageing Psion netBook and fell in love with OS X. It wasn’t until 2008 however that I got the chance (and time) to learn objective-C and Cocoa when my employer needed a small application which we decided would be easier to write on a Mac.

  • What was the first app you created and what did it do?

The first Mac app I created was the aforementioned utility for my employer and it was a video conversion utility used to create thumbnail videos for broadcasters. I was quite lucky in that I didn’t need to worry about the user interface too much and could focus on the QTKit frameworks so the focus of my learning was pretty tight.

  • Where did you get the idea for the app?

At the time broadcasters were starting to use the Sony MXF video format and we needed a way to play MXF videos on Macs and PCs in our existing software suite. Doing the video conversion on a Mac was simpler than doing it in Windows.

  • What went well? What could have gone better?

The fact that the application worked was a great feeling, particularly since I was coming from a VB6 background to a C-based language. I even managed to wangle a trip to WWDC in 2008 as part of the learning process and so that I could talk to Apple’s QuickTime engineers in the labs.

It sounds horribly arrogant but not much really went wrong with the project. I think that the tight scope helped and very relaxed timescales and the support and freedom to teach myself Cocoa development because my boss was also a Mac fan definitely helped.

  • What is your favorite among the apps you’ve developed?

That’s a tricky one because pretty much all of my apps have been for clients so, whilst you do have an emotional bond with your work it’s not quite the same as building your own apps.

In terns of technical achievements I am very proud of Analyzr which was a tough project but it stretched my abilities at the time and it was been well received.

In terms of pure enjoyment, avTag, the application I am developing for myself, is definitely my favourite. It scratches a personal itch and I am really looking forward to releasing it and seeing what the reaction is.

  • What advice do you have for young people who want to make apps?

Never feel dumb. There are a lot of very, very clever people writing apps and you may feel intimidated by them but don’t. I’ve seen people fall flat on their faces because they tried to be too clever. There are so many ways you can approach a development problem that yours may not be the shortest, the cleverest or the most reusable but if it works and it works reliably then it’s also not wrong.

I’d also ask you all to be polite, kind and courteous to fellow developers. Most developer communities are full of fantastic people. Be one of those, not one of the few who give them a bad name.

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