Becoming a Professional Developer - File Maker

I’ve been doing FileMaker Pro–based database development almost exclusively for going on seven years, and I’ve found the FileMaker development community to be one of the closest, most giving communities there is.

There’s never been a time when I was stumped by a funky FileMaker issue that I could not pick up the phone and call a colleague or post a question to one of the online discussion lists where this problem went unsolved. When I can, I also post solutions to the problems of other folks and never grow tired of explaining a basic FileMaker feature to a “newbie.” At FileMaker conferences and at numerous Web sites, some of the world’s top developers also give away tons of open source code in the form of downloadable examples showing the most powerful and useful techniques you can implement in your solutions. In truth, I’ve probably absorbed much of the knowledge shared here from these sources. Here’s what’s available to you in the wonderful world of your fellow FileMaker developers.

Introducing the FileMaker Solutions Alliance (FSA)
Once you’re adept at building powerful FileMaker-based solutions, why not become an “official” member of the FileMaker Solutions Alliance (FSA)? The FSA is a partnership between FileMaker, Inc. and FileMaker developers. The benefits include free copies of prerelease FileMaker software, admission to a private FSA-member only mailing list, email based technical support, discounts on FileMaker products, and a listing on FileMaker’s developer Web site so potential clients can look you up.

The intangible benefits are even better. Once you start to get to know the other FileMaker developers you’ll start to learn the best development techniques and undocumented features, and you’ll have a terrific support network. Developers often call on each for help with projects. And, once the FileMaker, Inc. staff starts to get to know you, they’ll even throw potential clients your way.

Being Part of a Development Team
FileMaker coding doesn’t really lend itself well to shared development, using version control software like Microsoft’s Visual SourceSafe. The reason is that it’s almost impossible to chop up bits of a FileMaker databases and portion them out to various developers to work on. This is especially true considering that most professional developers centralize scripts, global fields, and other code in the main menu database.

So how do you work on a FileMaker-based solution with many developers at once? There are several ways.

  • Host the development databases using FileMaker Server and allow the server to host single-user databases. Now every developer can log in at once and work on their parts. There’s not a lot that you can’t do on shared databases except defining fields and reordering layouts, and if one developer needs that option they can send a message to everyone else via FileMaker Server.
  • (“Hey, everyone, get out of WalnutTracker.fp5 for five minutes . . . I need to add some fields.”) This is a great way to do it, and developers will rarely run into one another. This is also a great way to stress-test a database system with many developers logging on and hammering on the system at the same time; it inevitably uncovers at least one record-locking problem to deal with.

  • Put one person in charge of determining who is working on what so that the work can be divided up, in a sense. Give every developer a complete set of databases but only allow them to make changes to the databases they’ve been assigned. If a change needs to be made to someone else’s database, the “change-needing developer” makes the change in his or her copy of that database and then immediately communicates the change to the “owner developer” to make the same change in their copy.
  • Of course, you risk losing control of versions of a database if one developer forgets to tell the owner developer to make the change in their copy, but when managed properly, it can work.

  • Or, you could have your developers work on several projects at once, then pass the solution along as pieces are finished. Once one person finishes working on their part, they send it to the next developer, who works on their part. This is the safest but probably the slowest way to have developers work together.

Whichever method you choose for collaboration with other developers, be sure to have regular meetings with all the developers to make sure that each part of the project is on track, every developer’s modules play nice with everyone else’s, and what is being developed is providing the functionality the client wants. The last thing you want to have to do is rework or undo a bunch of costly development.

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