As a web application developer working in a company full of mobile app developers with a mobile focus and as a full time Android user, there’s a natural gravity in my universe toward mobile apps and the power of the app plus server backend paradigm. Naturally, I wanted to build my own app and really see what it is like on the other side of the API.

{% img left /images/android_first/car_icon.webp 150 150 Car Payment Calculaor %} As with any new platform, language or environment, I read up extensively on the Android ecosystem, poured over countless resources on design princiles and best practices–NOT. I jumped right in. Since I was shopping for a new car at the time, I whipped up a quick and dirty [Car Payment Calculator][6]. I mostly wanted to see the whole process of building an app and deploying it to the Anroid market. I must say the process is extremely simple and straightforward. However, the car payment app doesn’t really do anything…

A few form fields, a button and some quick math. No networking, no server-side, no authorization, no fun. So, I set out on my second app: a push notification service; something like [Boxcar][7] or [Notify My Android][9]. As an Android user with a tablet and a phone, it’s really annoying to get all my notifications twice. I could also scratch my own itch with some home automation notifications as well as external services. But most importantly, I knew this was something that I could actually build. This post isn’t about Push Something (that will come later), so enough about that.

I followed the [Google+ Sign-in for Android tutorial][8] and then the [GCM setup tutorial][5] and finally a great [ListView tutorial][4]. Now I know that each of these tutorials are meant to get you started and intentionally limit the scope to only the topic at hand, but I must admit the app I ended up with, while functional, seemed like a giant pile of spaghetti. I wasn’t sure why certain pieces of code went where, what purpose different arguments provided to many methods (is it the class context variable, getApplicationContext(), or am I passing the Activity with this?). And even at two activities, debugging was becoming a game of pick a file and scroll, scroll, scroll looking for the correct group of statements.

{% img right /images/android_first/uh_oh_android.jpg 400 200 Uh Oh Android %} Now, I am not complaining or blaming the tutorials here. This is exactly what my beloved Rails community does to new develoeprs as well. Dump all business logic into the controller. No No. Move it into the model. NO NO. Service objects or concerns and so on. Having been through that process and been at many stages simultaneously, I am familiar and comfortable with the evolution of a Rails app. However, being new to Android, I must admit I felt a bit lost and even considered the possibility that Android apps were forever doomed to be a mess of deeply nested ifs and try/catch blocks, 200+ character lines of code and methods with a staggaring list of arguments.

Thankfully, I am the only developer on my little side project and I had to take a break from Android land to do a little catchup work on the server side. As a budding Rails app itself, I found myself being able to see further ahead than ever before in my Rails code and allow myself the luxury of writing code which doesn’t make large design decisions too soon. Through experience, I am building a solid and extensible base on which to build the rest of the app. Whoopty doo. That’s my job 5 days a week. Then I thought, why not be able to utilize some basic OOP principles in my Java code too? These tutorials were (as most are) a starting point; a launch pad to get the juices flowing and enable the reader to build something truly awesome.

And that bings me to where I am at today, not rebuilding but refactoring. In the same way I would enfore single responsibility and avoid “just throw that code anywhere” in my Ruby code, I should do so in Java code as well. When I sat down to write this post, I meant to document some frustration with my first Android experiences and document my plan moving forward. But after getting this far in, I think I’m seeing something else and one of the reasons I started loving programming to begin with: there are always other ways to acheive the desired results. [Give 10 developers the same requirements][3] and you’ll get at least 10 different programs. Some good, some not as good. And that is the reality of software development. It’s easy to blame the language, or the documentation, or the framework for your bad code, but at the end of the day it’s YOUR code. Own it. Be proud of it. Don’t let language or framework limitations bring down your work. You can be as awesome as you choose to be. So don’t settle for ‘it works’; rest when ‘it’s aweosme!’ Your future self with thank your current self; instead of swearing at him. ;)

{% img /images/android_first/The-Time-to-Be-Awesome-is-Now-Kid-President1.jpg %}

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Christopher R Marshall


Enjoys programming web applications; especially in Go and Ruby. Also enjoys playing ice hockey as a goalie and playing the guitar.