RIA, just who really builds them.
In Microsoft we have a few bets on whom are the likely candidates who build RIA (Rich Interactive Applications) and what stimulates this behavior. It's a fluid demographic to pin down to be honest as typically speaking it's so new and foreign in many ways that it's likely to change radically tomorrow.
I say this as I honestly think the software industry is about to radically evolve, in that think if you will a Zebra changing it's stripes to circles - that's how radical we are going to get. It's now important that we grow and nurture these types of RIA producers, the one's whom are likely to be the thought leaders in this space.
Here's my take on whom they are likely to be and what really stimulates them into being the...
Next Generation RIA Producers.
User Experience Developers
Typically this person is someone whom is still investigating, has a fairly solid development background and understands the basics of User Experience. One could argue they are likely candidates for becoming more mature Software Architects, but overall they are more interested in producing an interactive application rather then a detailed end to end business grade solution. In that, it's not just about solving the business related issues, it's also about ensuring sensory engagement is fulfilled.
These folks are rare, in fact next to impossible to find. They have spent years practicing their art, sometimes under the guise of graphic designer - other times - as web developers. They'd typically code in simplified server-side languages, such as Php, Coldfusion, ASP.NET, RoR, CGI, Perl and so on whilst have the capability to go quite deep with these languages should they choose.
They also understand the concept of Design Patterns and probably even own the Gang of Four's book at some point (they may even know Martin Fowler's name on sight).
They are rare and usually cannot deliver on projects as they aren't detailed developers or designers, but rather more of a Program Manager.
These folks are almost at the stage of upgrading into a RIA Developer, but still prefer a hands-on creative control. They are usually chaotic in thought, yet usually have a unique personality (fashion choice, car selection, behavior - usually regarded as immature). They are really great at thinking through an interactive problem and usually draw inspiration from others, rarely innovate on their own - yet - when they do it's actually quite unique. These folks typically can eyeball a concept, decompose it in their minds and reproduce it from end to end. They are easily a hands on developer and designer, in that they can do both but prefer to lean towards the design portion of the brain.
They produce a lot of isolated pieces, in that before they commit something to the composite project, they are likely to produce a "ball bouncing around the screen" and it's usually to road test a theory before they commit to producing it as part of an application.
I separated these types of folks from the Prototyper, as there is a level of difference between the two. They share a commonality that is similar, yet they are more focused on producing the graphical interface itself then actually seeing the behaviors attached to the GUI. They think in terms of shapes, in that they can look at a rectangle, shave the corners off so they are rounded, apply a gradient fill, take out a pencil brush and begin to carve depth into the GUI.
They can foresee the expected GUI's behavior in that "when you click this button, I expect this draw to fly out" yet, are more interested in designing the concept then working on executing the concept. They are also unique in personality, and have a similar "quirkiness" to their thinking, some would say "passionate" others would say "arty". Overall something about them usually always sticks out.
They have a strong artistic background, and are likely to branch out in their artwork in other areas, in that they typically crave a different style each time. Today it could be a Pixel-Art Interface, tomorrow it could be a vector art based approach whilst the next following year don't be surprised if they are mixed in with 3D.
They see a (UI) User Interface as being one big puzzle to present to the user, in that they want the user to typically discover elements of the GUI but are acutely aware not to make the UI complex.
Much like the Puzzler, same breed if you will but typically they aren't really focused to heavily on conjuring up a puzzle. They prefer to simply make the UI look both visually appealing and are happy that a basic emotion is derived from looking at it vs. interacting with it. These folks for example have typically come from a CSS Design background, in they are used to the browser / page paradigm and find RIA overall a lot of unnecessary work at times.
They are typically exceptional in their artwork, and are quite capable of going beyond Puzzler in most cases but are more likely to be focused on design specifics rather then interaction. They are conscious of interaction but again, it's not a constant focus in their mind and usually aren't aware of this at the time. They have limited development background and aren't likely to investigate down that path.
They can however animate and find it enjoyable to do so, and will usually compensate a lot of their interactive work with animation.
These folks are at times strong believers in standardization and usually have their house in order in terms of how things should look, assembled and produced. Theme's usually are something they produce and typically sit with a style for quite some time.
Overall these are I guess four elements of a RIA Producer that I've kind of settled on through observation over the years. I can think of so many people in my past, simply by re-reading this post and can easily separate them from one another into these style of role(s).
I need to be clear, these roles are easily mutated together at times as that's the scary part of what RIA can do. It can take a "developer" of old, someone whom has never looked at RIA and suddenly within a year spit out a RIA Producer. This is what I mean by an evolution as the tools are becoming very smart and when you teach someone how to do a specific style, animation, a way of reproducing interaction through mathematics and so on.. they in turn push themselves and the project they are working on further.
This for me is kind of what I mean by being in the middle of both "designer and developer", it's hard to allocate a spot for them as they are still trying to evolve and as each new RIA platform arises, different behaviors begin to form and choices are made.
There is a demon amongst them all though, I'd typically call them the "Zealot" or "Fanboi", watch out for these as they pick on technology and will refuse point blank to change. They aren't open to change and are usually forced into it via Project or Career prospects. We all hate change, but with these folks it's an absolute battle every step of the way.
RIA is an evolutionary response to pushing the software market today to an alternative approach to solving business related solutions. It can also begin a new path of entertainment but usually it's purpose built to produce a point of difference in solving or innovating a business process of some kind.
I love RIA.