Interview with Franky
In the scene, Franky used to be a member of the demo groups Riot and Kolor. The Austrian coder is best known for the sound programming in the 4k intro Void 3. Nowadays he, who in real life is called Frank Baumgartner, is self-employed with his company www.active-web.cc. I've talked to him about the shift from scene coding to commercial development.
You're a coder who is mainly known for 4k intros such as Void 3 and Space Attack. How did you actually get to programming?
It all started with the PC of the father of a friend of mine. I think it was a 8086 (or an 80x8186??) with a monochrome display. We started programming this PC using GW-BASIC. In late 1989 my father acquired a PC of his own. It didn't take long until I got to see the first Soundblaster demos, and I was fascinated: I wanted to program such things myself, too!
After GW-BASIC, Power Basic, Pascal, Assembler, C, C++ I got to Java (due to university) and due to my self-employedness I also learned ASP, PHP etc.
You've been active in the demo scene since about 1995. In retrospect, how do you rate your commitment for the scene? What experiences have you made in the scene that have been valuable for your life?
Well, I certainly learned a lot about programming, and I am happy about the (scene-)contacts which I made in the course of the years. In retrospect I'd perhaps say that I've not released enough because I always wanted to create something special but needed too much time in order to become good enough to create something special. ;-)
But I believe that at long last I fulfilled my aim with void 3, thanks to the active support of shiva^kolor (an excellent programmer, btw!).
What's the current development of the demo scene like in your opinion?
That's a very good, but also a very difficult question. I'm not following the scene as closely as I used to, but I enjoy visiting demo parties. In any case I'm happy that the scene has recently managed to be noticed outside the scene, even if some sceners are not too enthusiastic about this. - The scene isn't everything life has to offer, people get older, need jobs and so on. Therefore it's certainly helpful if ordinary people don't think of environment freaks throwing stones when they hear the term "demo scene". ;-)
When did you decide to make your hobby your profession?
Well, actually I've always wanted to do so. I've always wanted to become a game programmer. - But when I was ready to become one, I no longer wanted it. ;-) Now I'm self-employed with www.active-web.cc and do "sophisticated" online programming. That's mainly dynamic Flash / XML solutions and sometimes a little application.
Why did you decide to become self-employed?
I've always wanted to be "free" and regarded self-employedness as attractive. Probably that's also because some relatives of mine are also self-employed. That's why I learned at an early age what the advantages and disadvantages of self-employedness are, and so I could decide what's best for myself.
What projects have you conducted so far? Who have been your customers?
The current list of references is located at www.active-web.cc. Getting orders is a matter of various things, ranging from coincidence to advertising. I've not found a general recipe yet. But the most important factor for success definitely is personal contact.
And how do you get these contacts?
Well, like always in life: by accident, by friends, by the Internet. - There are a lot of possibilities?
What experiences have you made at work?
The first thing I learned was how enormously inefficient my life as demo coder had been. ;-))) (Being a 4k coder, I was even inefficient in scene-terms.) - But this changes very fast as you have to avoid potential problems in commercial development. Apart from that, commercial products have to be much more flawless than what's common for demos.
Besides, there are simply different laws in the commercial world. What's regarded as "cool" in the scene might be absolutely uninteresting from a commercial point of view, and vice versa.
4k coding. :)
What's the difference between professional software development and democoding?
In short: I'd prefer Assembler for demo coding and Java or C# for commercial software, as these programming languages make memleaks impossible.
Another important aspect is planning: Most of the time I created demos without a lot of planning. - I've never been too enthusiastic about planning, but I've learned that in the commercial world, you can save an enormous lot of time and money if you plan correctly.
What about the book-keeping, how do you get along with that?
I spent five years of my life at business school and I know very well why my business partner does the book-keeping instead of me. ;-)
I know enough of the materia in order to supervise it, but I don't consider myself an awefully good book-keeper. ;-)
Are you satisfied with your financial situation?
We've been in business for two years. At the beginning it was quite uninteresting from an financial point of view, especially because I got self-employed right after school, without any professional experience. But by now I'm satisfied and considering the current growth rate I have to state that I've definitely made the right decision.
Would you give other sceners the advice to become self-employed, too?
I think this depends very much on the individual human being. Somebody who is sensible and capable of tasking risks and assuming responsibility might be better off as a self-employed. But it's highly dependent on what you've already done, what your skills are and what contacts you have.
Is the life of an entrepreneur really a full-time job or do you also have enough time for activities not related to business?
Basically it depends on what you want to do. You have to allocate time for activities for which you like to sacrifice time. Nowadays I no longer invest so much time in demo programming, my motivations have simply shifted. While in the early days cool releases made my happy, it's now a growth or even doubling of my turnover that makes me happy.
Adok/Hugi - 08 June 2002