I have no idea what I’m doing!

First off let me introduce myself to you as the newest member of the development team at Linear Blue. I am currently working here as an apprentice and my journey through that process can be found under our business blog at www.linearblue.com, which I recommend you read if you’d like a back story of where I’ve come from to be at this point. Now, with the formalities over, let’s talk about FileMaker.

 

Part 1

I decided it would be a good idea to share with you what it’s like for me, someone that’s never had any experience with FileMaker, to join the community and start using the tool. I only recently started using the program having joined Linear Blue in September of 2013, and the biggest thing for me to get over was the huge hump of having no idea what I was doing with the FileMaker system.

Like any place of work the first thing I was tasked with when I joined was learning the ropes. I had to hit the ground running and take in as much as I could as fast as I could so that I could become useful to our senior developers and to the company as a whole. As with all new FileMaker developers, my first task was to go through the FTS, FileMaker Training Series, and get a grasp on the basics. “Not a problem. I can do this!” was the first thing I thought, “I’ve done stuff like this before, I’m sure it will be easy”.  So I nose dived straight into it, thinking blasting through it wouldn’t be a problem and I should have it done by the end of the week; or maybe not as the case may be. I jumped straight into the first modules and had Modules 1 – 4 down by the end of Tuesday. Calculation Functions was next, ok new concept and something I’d never worked with before. As a whole it’s not that hard to get your head around, until you actually start trying to do things with it in real life.  I’d used Case and If before in my learning at college, so that element wasn’t hard.

What was more confusing though was when I started using intermediate or advanced functions like ExecuteSQL, where it’s like trying to use SQL from fifteen years ago where all the things like Concat, Group_Concat and Concat_WS that I’d used at my previous job, which involved a lot of SQL, were now second nature to me. What made it more difficult to me was trying to find these answers. From what I’ve experienced quite a few people that I’ve asked for help either haven’t had a lot of exposure to SQL or none as they’ve always been FileMaker people, especially in America, and even those that have been using SQL outside of FileMaker world have no idea how to use SQL inside of FileMaker. The whole thing becomes a struggle to use and understand.

Through the entire process of learning the new tools and the new scripting format, I’ve tried to relate it back to something I’ve done, or something I’ve worked with before that will help me to understand what the system needs to do, how I do it, and what the outcome should be. However with FileMaker I’ve had to abandon this entire strategy in most aspects other than scripting, as I’ve never done anything quite like it. Now, this isn’t to say I think FileMaker is bad, far from it in fact, but it does mean learning it is a step in a different direction to traditional software and programming platforms. Things that are unique to FileMaker, especially relationally, are concepts that you don’t get taught anywhere, even within the FTS.  The concept of a table in the relationship graph not actually being a table but being a place you can pull information from that table is mind boggling. Adding words to it doesn’t really help either; just because we call it a table occurrence doesn’t mean that it’s any less confusing. The best explanation of this I’ve had so far is that each table is tower, and each tower needs a bridge to get to the other towers. It kind of helped, but it still doesn’t explain what this grey box floating on my screen is.

None of these things seem to link. But there’s one key thing that links them all together, they’re all concepts you will only find here in FileMaker. And that makes them Amazing. In an age where we’re running out of new things to innovate and create, FileMaker have managed to pioneer a new way of thinking about things. To those of you that are reading this and have already been developers since FileMaker 1.0 it may seem like its second nature and there’s nothing spectacular about it. However, for those like me that have come from the lands of VB.Net, SQL, Java and the like, it’s actually all very clever and made me rethink things that I’ve made in the past, thinking it would have been so much simpler doing it in FileMaker than it would have doing it between a programming language and trying to force a Microsoft Access database to interact with it.

This doesn’t mean it has no flaws though. I’ve been using it for just over two months now and there are things that I would have thought were second nature to implement that don’t exist (One of which being the latest version of SQL’s Syntax with all it’s functions no matter how hard they are to implement…) and that I am now having to find other ways to go about doing. In a way I like it, its problem solving and enjoyable, but there are things that I see that make no sense. I was recently introduced to stacking layout elements and explained why we do it. Why? Why don’t we just implement a setting that allows you to change what is displayed, like using a two field pop-up menu, but write something else to the correct field? We can do it with Pop-up menus, why can’t we do it with drop downs? It doesn’t seem to make sense from my point of view having just started using the software.

 

Over the coming weeks I will be providing more of an insight into what it’s been like for me starting to use FileMaker, so if you’re interested, I look forward to telling you more…

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