Interviews With
The FileMaker Community

Paul Jansen
APJ Ltd. Computing Solutions

How did you get started with FileMaker?

Short answer - by accident.

In summer 1994, I was made redundant after a merger from a Computational Fluid Dynamics software support role (software used to analyse dynamic events, like a bird strike on a jet engine's turbine blades, and automotive airbag deployment). The boss of the new company asked if I would like to take a look at a sales database that had arrived as part of the merger. It was on a Mac and in FileMaker 2.1! At this point I had zero database experience and had never seen a Mac, but thought I might as well take a look; after all how hard could it be...

My plan was to start a business providing general Windows PC services and hardware; adding FileMaker to the mix couldn't hurt so I bought 2.1 for my Windows 3.1 PC. I don't remember much about that first project now, except how long the 'Today' function took to update when the first person opened the database each day. The following year I went to the Windows show in London for the first and only time, and won a copy of the newly released FileMaker Pro 3.0 and that was it I was hooked. (Relationships were the thing.)

Over the next 5 years, the FileMaker work increased with one project for a German customer being done via email (no broadband - only dialup) and a monster CDML (Claris Dynamic Markup Language) Web quoting solution with FileMaker 5.5 Unlimited, amongst the invoicing and scheduling solutions. I realised that there was more money in the FileMaker work and it was much more fun than crawling under desks to rebuild a dust-filled PC.

Where do you work? And how do you use FileMaker there?

Mostly at home in my office. I write that with some satisfaction as until 6 years ago my office was only mine during the day, as it doubled as a baby's bedroom at night. Now I only have to deal with the kitten messing about on my desk.

I spend most of my time developing for my customers; about half have their own servers that I connect to remotely and the others are hosted on the servers of (a full service hosting business in which I am a partner with Crispin Hodges of MoleSoft).

I am convinced that bespoke database solutions have the potential to transform a business. It has been a privilege to have long term relationships with a number of customers where the FileMaker solutions have contributed to significant business growth and continue to evolve as the business needs change.

I do quite a lot of work on live solutions (with the necessary safeguards) and my customers seem to appreciate how quickly small changes can be made.

What do you like best about your job?

For me, each FileMaker development project is a series of problems to be solved:
• How do I fit all this information on a layout in a way that's useful?
• What's the most efficient way of automating this process?
• How should I structure the data for best performance?

Solving each problem is what excites me and the more I can break down a project into bite size problems the happier I am. I really enjoy getting under the skin of a business and understanding where software like FileMaker can make a real difference. Most of all though, FileMaker is just fun to work with. It's inherently fast to develop with so you can get results quickly, which is very satisfying.

What do you like least?

Sales & Marketing and the admin side of business. I'd much rather be solving problems for my customers.

If you were to do something else for a living, what would it be?

That's easy, I'd be a horse whisperer.

If you have a degree, what field is it in?

I have a BSC in Engineering Materials, which I did use for a few years before getting into IT.

Are you FileMaker Certified? If so, how important is your certification?

No. It never seemed important to me and I've never been asked about. My customers seem more interested in the results and their impact. I realise that potential customers for whom this is important will never call, but I have plenty of work, so I don't really miss them. Every now and then I think I ought to do it, but it never makes it to the top of the list.

Do you have any advice for people that are just getting started with FileMaker?

Remember you're building a solution to enhance the customer's business, not to showcase clever techniques. I am often surprised at just how unimportant most customers think the 'elegant niceties' are. What's really important is genuine increases to productivity and stuff that enables your customer to provide a better and more distinct service to his or her customers. If it doesn't earn its keep its just a vanity project.

What are your favorite new features of FileMaker 13?

I really like popovers and hide object, but Perform Script on Server has huge potential. The new theme based design surface is very cool.

What's on your "FileMaker wish list?"

That's a tricky one. It changes depending on what I am working on. I would like to get rid of the remaining modal dialogs - 3 stacked dialogs to edit a script parameter is a bit ridiculous and adding support for insert, update and delete to ExecuteSQL() would be brilliant.

Really, we have so many more tools in the box than when I started that sometimes I have too much choice. If FileMaker keeps on evolving as it has so far, I'll be happy. It's quite nice to get a few new toys to play with at each release as it allows time to really get to grips with them. (Whilst still leaving time for fee paying work.)

Tell us what you think of FileMaker WebDirect. Are you using it? And if so, how?

I think it will be great for certain applications, but, I think the current resource requirements (memory and cpu cores) combined with the pricing model severely restrict its potential. I am hopeful the performance will improve and the resource requirements reduce in future versions, but I'd really like to see this accompanied by price breaks for volume as with the current desktop VLAs. That said I have a project starting in the autumn for which WebDirect will be ideal.

You played a huge role in beta testing EasySync. How are things going with the project that you are using it on?

That's a dangerous question, Tim. Generally its going really well. I have had to make a number of 'additions' to fit the workflow, but overall it's been great. I love the fact I can add a table to the sync just by adding it to the relationship graph in the mobile and hosted files. The windows mobile app we are replacing was losing data and so the transactional nature of EasySync is essential - either all the data gets through or none of it does! The biggest issue has been the overhead of actually opening the hosted file which often takes as long as the sync itself. We could do with better tools to evaluate the quality of the network before attempting to connect to a FileMaker Server hosted database.

I think EasySync has enormous potential and look forward to sharing my ideas for version 2...

Any thoughts on FileMaker Go? What would you like to see in future releases of it?

More speed, faster/better refresh. I still get situations where bits of the screen don't redraw unless I rotate the device. And better memory management. It's too easy to overload the memory and crash the app right now.

What's your favorite FileMaker tool, plugin, or development technique?

I try to avoid plugins these days now that we have FMGo, but wouldn't be without the Dracoventions Developer Assistant. Having been bitten once, I am reluctant to make my customers businesses dependent on a plugin that may or may not be supported in the next FileMaker release, so I try to use native functionality wherever possible.

Are there any technologies or gadgets that you simply couldn't survive without? If so, what are they, and why?

Since switching to Mac after 20 years a PC user, I love my MBP - most of the time. My iPhone 4S is great, although I use it less now that I have an iPad Mini. Personally I'd love a smaller iPhone to go with the mini which is the same size as the notebooks I use to take notes with my 20 year old Waterman fountain pen -- which is probably my favourite gadget of all.

Do you participate in any of the FileMaker Pro User Groups?

I attend the FMDA in London whenever I can, and try to get to UK TechNet meetings as well. I went to DevCon a couple of times, but from the UK its a really expensive trip and I find it hard to justify. I plan to attend .FMP in Berlin next year.

What are your favorite things to do that don't involve work?

Getting outside - walking, rock climbing, cycling sailing. Anything that doesn't involve technology of any kind. But not on my own. Spending time with family or friends whilst out in the mountains or by the lake is my idea of heaven. (Note to self: spend less time working and more outside.)

If you have a favorite quote, what is it?

There are loads, but I can never remember them! However there is one quote from Randy Pausch that I always come back to: "People are more important than things." Once again, relationships are the thing...

Recently I've been listening to a song by Paul Field which puts this another way.

"The love in you and the love in me is all that matters
All the rest is vanity, that time will shatter
The only treasure in the lives we live
is the measure of the love we give
All that matters in the end will be
The love in you and the love in me
Oh Oh that's all that matters"

It's much better with the music; you can listen here.

What (or who) inspires you?

Whilst I have great respect and admiration for people who set themselves huge challenges, I find myself inspired by people who rise to the challenges imposed upon them by circumstance, and also by those who sacrifice their own desires and comfort to help others. In amidst all the chaos and conflict around the world, it is an inspiration to see individuals rising above their circumstances and demonstrating that, at its best, humanity is absolutely awesome.


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