What happens when you survey 100 FileMaker developers? The first-ever FileMaker Feud, hosted by MightyData, at the 2011 FileMaker Developer Conference. Two teams competed for the title of FileMaker Feud Champion (and cool prizes like the iPad 2 and MightyCoach) by choosing the most popular answer to questions about layouts, calculations and scripts. In this video (first of three), learn who is the Northern-most FileMaker developer, why Martha thinks FileMaker is “pretty”, and which team advances to the second round.
This blog article isn’t about giving you homework before class starts. Well, at least not really. When you jump into any FileMaker training class, the amount of technological knowledge can be overwhelming. It helps if you step into the classroom with the right mentality. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Picture Your Rainbow
It’s hard to learn something if you don’t know why you need it. Building a database for the sake of just building one won’t get you very far. Instead, think about a business need, or even a personal need, for a database. Some common examples include: contact management system, invoicing system, recipe database, inventory, etc. Think of a database as doing something the “easy” way. Imagine having to write all of your business’ receipts on carbon copy paper! A database could remove the paper from the process, allow you to email receipts to customers, and keep a history of all items purchased.
Know Your Business (aka Think Like a Human)
FileMaker solutions, like any other software, work as well as you build them. The key to building a successful database is to know your business process and your business needs. Before you even get into the FileMaker jargon, think about your business as a flowchart and what it takes to complete the process. It even helps to come to class with those ideas written out, as you’ll have something to reference as you learn new FileMaker skills.
Think Like a Computer
Knowing your business is all about understanding people, flow, and processes (and even a little bit of office politics). Once you have that information, you’ll want to start thinking about your process in “computer speak.” While this is something you’ll learn throughout your FileMaker training, it helps to be prepared for it. “Computer speak” simply means that you’ll have to think logically, rigidly, and in pattern-form. A good example of this is in my article about Parsing Like a Pro – in order to get FileMaker to do something, you have to TELL FileMaker what to do, how to do it, and what to look for. Being a developer is mostly about being an interpreter/translator from humans to computers.
Think In Analogies
It’s nearly impossible to build a curriculum that covers the needs of every student in the class, unless it’s a class of one. With that said, be prepared to use analogies or examples to tie the material taught in class to your example. If the trainer talks about Customers and Invoices, think about these compared to Students and Grades. Don’t get stuck in the objects or items. Take it to the next level and think about what the items represent and how they relate and/or function together. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Trainers want you to walk away with material you can apply. If something just isn’t clicking, ask for another example or ask how it would apply to your scenario.
Prepare for Mental Overload
Don’t come into the class with the expectation of walking out and knowing all there is to know about FileMaker. As a trainer, my goal is to teach you what I can and expose you to things that might be out of your initial skill’s reach so that you can attempt it later. My goal is to tell you that anything can be done, whether it’s just through FileMaker or with the help of other technologies. Regardless, know that you’ll walk out of the class feeling a bit overwhelmed with knowledge and possibilities.
Set Your Expectations
My advice is that when you’re thinking up your ideal database, put things into 3 categories: Can’t function without this, Important but not required, Nice to have. By prioritizing functionality, you don’t get bogged down with the details. You’ll also find yourself building something that will be functional enough for actual use, so that you can start using your system and continue growing and building the database.
If you keep the above in mind, you’re preparing yourself for FileMaker success! Learning a new technology, or even learning more about an existing technology, is far from easy and takes a lot of work and practice. However, being organized and prepared will lead to a successful outcome as you venture onto your new FileMaker journey.
We live in the future. Ideas and gadgets featured in science fiction books and movies decades ago remain fantastic, but no longer seem unreal. The phone in our pocket is far more powerful than any computer a few years ago. Lightweight electronic tablets that store thousands of books have led to some virtual books outselling physical books at Amazon.com. FileMaker Pro is no exception. With the release of FileMaker Go for the iPhone and iPad, we have live instant access to records in our FileMaker databases.
FileMaker Go is available exclusively through Apple’s App Store for either $19.95 (iPhone/iPod Touch or $39.95 (iPad). Once downloaded, you have instant access to FileMaker files over the network just like any other desktop user of the FileMaker Pro Mac or Windows application. You can also load databases on the device, either through iTunes or a web site. FileMaker Go functions very much like a thin client — the user cannot certain developer features like Manage Scripts or Layout mode, only Browse and Find. Yet imagine the ease and portability: carrying a lightweight iPad throughout the office or a hospital and being able to access database records. Or a sales person on the road quickly able to pull up contact records or product listings via a iPhone.
Developers considering FileMaker Go as part of their repertoire need to take the size of the device into consideration when designing layouts. Certain script steps may not work the same way on Go and will need to be tested on the device as part of the development process. The primary use of “touch” as the input method may change certain user interface design ideas, as users will demand quick and intuitive responses from their application. While the desktop version of FileMaker continues as the core market (and only developer platform), the arrival of its smaller sibling signals an exciting new future for FileMaker, one that both business and personal users of database applications greet with excitement.
MightyData now offers a FileMaker Go training class, designed to help understand the differences between FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Go, and how to develop applications for the use on mobile devices. This two-day class covers key elements such as designing for the different layout sizes and behavior on the iPhone and iPad, dealing with interrupted processes in your scripting and record modification, and network latency. The second day will cover advanced scripting techniques such as scanning barcodes, image handling, electronic signature capture, charting, and more.
I advocate accomplishment, whether it’s through development of a database solution for a customer or training a student on becoming a better developer. While the former requires attention to detail, knowledge of the FileMaker product line, and the agility to solve problems, what does it take to advocate accomplishment from the perspective of a trainer? Step into to my world…
Training isn’t about standing in front of an audience. It’s not about teaching out of a book. Training is all about understanding student needs, interacting with the students, and being a flexible trainer. Ah yes – and patience. Lots and lots of patience. As developers, we fall into the trap of thinking “this stuff is easy,” especially when covering the basics. I mean, we do this stuff day in and day out. As a trainer, we have to remember what it’s like to know little to nothing about FileMaker. We have to remember that terms like “modes,” “views,” and “scripts” are not part of our students’ everyday vocabulary. It’s our job as a trainer to walk developers through, what can be, a steep learning curve.
With patience comes flexibility. There have been many times where my class outline goes flying out the window when I realize the class could get more out of a different topic. Even if I keep to my outline, my examples and/or approach will change depending on my students. If I’m teaching a finance group, I use transactions and accounts as my real world example. If I’m teaching schoolteachers, the student/teacher model becomes the focus. When teaching a group from different organizations, I do my best to use at least one example from each person’s work background. Not only does it help the student learn, but also it makes the class feel customized and tailored. Who doesn’t love that feeling?
The one technique that holds true to being a good trainer is to always wear your excitement and passion for FileMaker on your sleeve. Students have come up to me and said, “Your excitement is contagious!” and that may be one of the best compliments ever paid. I teach others about the powers of FileMaker and ease their fears of creating databases by letting them know that I’ve been there, that I will help them through it, and that my classes are meant to help them move forward with the development.
So what is the art of training in a nutshell? Remember what it’s like to be new to FileMaker, take the time to understand what your students want and need, and remind your students (and yourself!) that you do what you do because you love it.
New York City welcomed us with good weather for Pause On Error on February 17 and 18. Over 100 FileMaker developers, including two MightyData speakers, milled around the Ace Hotel, attending sessions packed with great topics and even better group discussions. As in past years, POE excelled at bringing a part of the community into one hotel and allowing developers to talk about all the things that bring us together, regardless if it’s FileMaker, business, sports, or music.
Here are a few highlights:
- The Art of Value – In this session, our own Kirk Bowman described his steps toward value pricing. This wasn’t about quoting sources or using jargon: No sir. These were real world examples of how to implement value pricing and how Kirk’s experiences have molded MightyData. The attendants focused on the “how” and quite a few people had their own positive experiences to share.
- Building Something James Bond Would Use – I, Martha Zink, presented this one! Developers packed the room to see examples of real world interface issues that people face. From alarm clocks to restaurants, I showed how affected we are by our experience and interactions, regardless of the “true” functionality. The discussion was lively, as we talked about the status bar, logos, color schemes, and much more. It was great to have Matt Petrowsky, maker of Theme Studio, in the room to discuss his take on interface guidelines and rules
- Building a Better Horse – As developers, we need to wrap our minds around a design process in order to come up with solutions for our customers’ needs. Don Levan took us through a condensed version of the process, allowing us to better understand our customer and their perspective.
- Beyond Anchor Buoy – So many developers preach anchor buoy as a great way to organize the relationships graph (me included!). Corn Walker challenged the idea and asked a fundamentally important question: How can we make this easier? While he wasn’t there to give us an answer, he did allow the community to discuss how other programming languages handle this issue and what we would like to see come from FileMaker, Inc.
- WordPress FileMaker Sync – If you’re using WordPress to its fullest capabilities and are interested in integrating with FileMaker, Lauren Kuhlman’s plug-in is a worthy purchase. She demonstrated her product, showing how seamless the plug-in is for both internal use, as well as communication with customers. We know how to take FileMaker to the next level, now it’s time to use it to take WordPress there, too.
- FileMaker User Experience – Put a room of developers in a room and you’ll get twice as many opinions as people. This came through at Vince Menanno’s presentation on our experience of FileMaker interface. It was nice to have Heather Winkle in the room, speedily taking notes on what developers want, need, and beg for. Not only did she listen, but she even probed the “why” for features, really challenging us to understand why we wanted certain things. It was an interesting dichotomy between the needs of new/amateur FileMaker developers versus seasoned professionals.
Half of the POE experience involves the session. The other half is the ability to socialize and enjoy time with other members of the community. After the sessions, it was no surprise to see computer keyboards in developer hands replaced with guitars for strummin’, cameras for photographin’, and forks for eatin’. And of course, POE would be incomplete without the after-party. As the sessions ended, we all opened a few drinks and cheered to a successful event and a fantastic experience. With something as enriching as POE, I wish there had been seven of me at any given time, but alas, I was stuck being one Martha. There is no doubt the event was a success, giving developers the chance to walk away with cool ideas, new approaches, and great memories.
POE is a chance for FileMaker developers to spend time talking about their passions, interests, and findings. And that’s exactly what happened. A big thank you to the steering committee: Ernest Koe, John Sindelar, Molly Connolly, and Andy Gaunt!