How did you get started in IT?
I worked for Digital Equipment Corporation for 8 years as a Systems Analyst/Manager for a large Unigraphics CAD/CAM installation in Massachusetts. I learned Digital's proprietary VMS operating system and composed command files to assist in redundant tasks. I learned MS Access along the way and used it as a data repository and reporting system for capital equipment monitoring.
In 1995 I joined Watson Wyatt Worldwide and worked more closely with two database solutions; one was a flat file database, which I used to create IRA loans for our clients' employees and the other was a hybrid FoxPro solution, which was used for large (over 16K employees) national clients' medical and life insurance enrollments. The FoxPro system was used to generate enrollment forms, capture employee health elections, create confirmation statements and run election reports for multiple health maintenance organizations (HMOs).
My fascination with the various aspects and capabilities of databases grew and I subsequently sought out internal opportunities to strengthen my experience however possible during my eight years with Wyatt. I subsequently was involved in testing other enrollment systems such as VRS (voice response system), WEB-based enrollments, and Client Self-Service solutions.
In 2004 I moved to Keene, New Hampshire and joined Liberty Mutual Group in the Personal Lines division as a Rate File Analyst. I worked with an extremely complex flat file database for nearly a year until a web-based personal lines quoting system was developed. I learned and tested the quoting systems for ease of use and rate calculation accuracy.
In 2006 I moved to Pennsylvania, was hired by the MidAtlantic Trade Adjustment Assistance Center (MATAAC) and was reunited with Access! We subsequently migrated to FileMaker in 2007 and that's why I'm here (doing this interview).
How did you get involved in FileMaker development?
When I first came to MATAAC in 2006 I was a temp filling in for the Financial Manager. We were on Dell PCs and worked with an Access database that was developed externally. The database was password protected and did not lend itself to manipulation or enhancements easily. When I mentioned to our Director (Bill Bujalos) that I knew a fair amount of Access, we obtained a password from our software consultant and I began revamping the database to better accommodate our needs.
I was formally hired as a full-time employee by MATAAC in January 2007. My duties were to maintain and develop the Access database, provide administrative assistance for projects, which included web research and documentation services for our project managers as well as fill in for the financial manager as needed.
In July 2007 our office migrated to an all Mac environment. We purchased FileMaker Pro 9 and our Director asked me to move our data into it. I had never heard of FileMaker prior to installing it and was a bit apprehensive about learning it on my own, but that was the task at hand.
In terms of your FileMaker skills, you have come a very long way in a short amount of time. What resources did you find to be the most valuable to you as you learned FileMaker?
Initially I purchased FileMaker Pro 8 The Missing Manual because we were planning to buy FileMaker Pro 8.5 but FileMaker Pro 9 was available at the time of purchase. Alas, learning from a manual was not my cup of tea, so I found out about Lynda.com and this is hands down the absolute best resource I found and I highly recommend it to everyone I meet! I could not have achieved much of the success I have had without Cris Ippolite's tutorials on all of the modules in FMP.
I was given a free copy of The Everything Reference at one of the FileMaker Philadelphia User Group (FMPUG) meetings and most recently purchased Ray Cologon's FileMakerPro 9 Bible. Of the three books, I use the Bible most as well as the On-Line Help files in FileMaker.
In addition, I attend as many webinars as I am invited to, even if I am not using the featured material right away. I find it is easier to learn something after you have had exposure to it. Many of the webinars are saved on the web and can be viewed at a later time to refresh one's memory. Webinar providers are FMWebSchool.com and Filemaker.com's site.
Tell us about the work that you are doing for the MidAtlantic Trade Adjustment Assistance Center (MATAAC).
Other than FMP database administration and development my tasks here at MATAAC include:
- Automating/streamlining our processes of corresponding with our clients using the Email function within FMP wherever possible. Tasks like generating contracts and invoices are accomplished by populating specific layouts in FMP, then creating PDF files and sending them via email through FMP directly. We also send out satisfaction surveys and general informational notices to our active client base through FMP's email function.
- Creating interactive PDF Forms for our clients to use for sending us required information relating to Petition submittal.
- Remotely updating our company website (www.mataac.org) by using Adobe Contribute (CS3).
- Submitting various documents via PDF format to the Economic Development Administration (EDA) in DC for approval, certification and filing. This is done outside of FMP.
- Performing liaison duties amongst various external associations such as our website developer; the US Department of Labor who sponsors our sister program Trade Adjustment Assistance for Labor; our marketing communications company; and various other entities to exchange and update information for optimum mutual workflow.
What can you tell us about your plans to Web-enable the solution that you've developed?
We are overly excited about offering our clients access to the database to see their balances, check on project(s) progress and payment information, and give them the ability to search our Consultant database for referrals. We are also exploring the feasibility of a merger and acquisition bulletin board.
You've had the opportunity to work with an Access-based solution, and now a FileMaker-based solution as well. What are your thoughts regarding these two technologies? And do you have a preference as to which one you'd like to work with in the future?
I miss the familiarity of Access and its query-based methodology of data manipulation, including incorporating SQL statements into the queries. I liked the reporting features in Access better in that they were more flexible.
I don't especially like filling up the FMP tables with multiple fields and layouts rather than performing queries and reports like Access allows. Doing this has cluttered up the database to say the least and I'd prefer working with a more efficient and concise application. Some of my issues with FMP have been addressed in the new release.
I particularly like the Portal feature in FMP so the layouts can actively display data from other tables on the same layout. I like having the capability of naming objects and working with scripts to jump effortlessly between layouts and streamline redundant tasks. The ability to send data to Excel, Word and PDF is remarkably easy, as is the email utility, which we use frequently. I like working with multiple windows in FMP, too.
As I delve deeper, and learn the various capabilities of FMP I am sure I will much prefer FileMaker over Access.
If you could add a few features to the next version of FileMaker, what would they be, and why?
First and foremost, I would like the addition of a flexible querying tool for pulling datasets and comparing tables. The FMP Find utility can go just so far and if you accidently leave Find mode, you lose valuable query data and need to begin from scratch. I know I can create a script for redundant Finds, but most often the criteria changes on the fly and I'm not fully up to speed on writing scripts. Perhaps things will change when I am more versed at writing complex interactive scripts.
Secondly, I would like to get away from creating new fields every time I need a calculation or summary.
What aspects of FileMaker have you found to be the most difficult to grasp?
Scripting has been a tad cumbersome for me, mostly due to the syntax and canned selections to choose from. I believe once I truly get the scripting techniques down, many other aspects of FileMaker will magically become easier to produce.
Are you involved in your local FileMaker Pro User Group (FMPug)? If so, how has being involved helped you.
Yes, I joined the Philadelphia FileMaker User Group, which is the Philadelphia chapter of the international FileMaker Pro User Group (FMPug) and have been regularly attending meetings. We have guest speakers both on-line and in person and these presentations have exposed us to new techniques and warned us of certain pitfalls to avoid or work around.
I have picked up some tidbits of useful things such as password protecting a multi-user FMP environment; using color on the relationship graph and using multiple Table Occurrences (TOs), which I had not been using.
FM Enhancements and plug-ins are discussed at the meetings in addition to Operating System and application upgrade recommendations.
Just being in the proper forum allows one to ask questions and get a better understanding of how others are using FileMaker, what they are experiencing and how they work around or deal with challenging situations. The group is diverse and quite helpful, not to mention their enthusiasm for FileMaker is infectious!
Networking is key to this type of work no matter how long you've been in the business - it is forever changing and rather quickly at that!
What advice would you give to someone who is new to FileMaker and looking to become proficient with it?
- Go directly to Lynda.com and get a subscription to it, you will not be sorry!!
- Join your local FMPug group attend the meetings and ask questions of them whenever you're road blocked.
- Get into the habit of trying things and practice, practice, practice. Use a development database and move successful layouts, scripts, etc. into the Production database. Make frequent backups of both the Production and Development databases, especially prior to making any significant changes to layouts or relationships.
- Take any webinars offered by FMWebSchool and FileMaker, Inc. that interest you. Join FileMaker's TechNet forum.
- In general, submerse yourself in FileMaker, but if something becomes overwhelming leave it for a while and come back to it later. Sometimes we get too close to the problem and thus create blockages. By stepping back a bit things can manifest themselves in a new light, which is good, because it's usually around 2 a.m. when a resolution hits you!
What are your favorite things to do that don't involve work?
In addition to spending time with my brother, sister-in-law, two nieces and nephew, I enjoy the outdoors: biking, hiking, walking, and taking pictures. When I first moved to Northwest Philly I found a magnificent network of walking/biking/jogging parks and trails. I quickly found my favorite footpaths in Horsham and Lower Salford and my favorite all-around park is Peace Valley Park in Doylestown where I walk, jog, bike and kayak (and once I just sat and read a book)!
I joined LA Fitness and the racquetball league. I met some new friends and talented racquetball players.
In February 2008 I bought a Cannondale road bike and joined two local biking clubs - SCU (Suburban Cyclists Unlimited out of Horsham, PA) and BCP (Bicycle Club of Philadelphia). The members are friendly, love to eat, are quite verbose and energetic, and best of all, fun!
I also had a part time job doing picture framing for Michaels Arts and Crafts. This allowed me to produce tangible, finished projects, quite opposite to the on-going, never-ending task of developing a database! I have since left this job to allow time to enjoy life instead of working all the time!
To learn more about MATAAC, please visit: http://mataac.org/