Database Awakenings

I started my information technology career after earning a degree in Economics in 1982, primarily by earning A’s in Econometrics.  I just found statistics to be simple to understand and focused my curriculum on a variety of Liberal Arts courses.  Near the end I had more Economics credits than any other college, so a B.A. in Economics set me free.  The Personal Computer revolution was just beginning and the cost of computing was becoming affordable for small businesses.  An Apple II with a C/PM card would get you VisiCalc, WordStar, and dBase II which could easily justify the expense.

My first freelance gig amounted to teaching myself Applesoft Basic so I could deliver a Quality Control application to Northridge Hospital in southern California.  The Surgical Unit nurses who reviewed the medical records wanted to show physicians the rate of failure (death, relapse) grouped by surgical procedure used, and of course, by physician.  So I started to read, and read, and read, about data normalization and relational concepts.  E.F. Codd’s work had been continued by C.J. Date in several volumes of papers collected in books.  My comfort with reading academic journals was honed by my Econometrics professors.  Currently this important work is continued by Fabian Pascal, whose website is my all time favorite: dbdebunk.com.

Soon after that I took a regular job for the leading marketing research firm in the exploding computer services business, INPUT.  At that time, INPUT was the Gartner Group of its day.  All large and most small computer services firms subscribed to INPUT’s regular reports on the future of particular markets and technologies.  I was a Research Analyst, but soon became proficient in advanced forecasting spreadsheets and sifting through the media hype for indicators of future success.  In 1984, I authored an INPUT report on the commercial potential of “Artificial Intelligence,” which at the time was mostly experimental–except for those seeking venture funding.

Soon I began to “Awaken”, as Henri Bergson puts it, to my “spiritual immune system.”  My “journey is made by … choosing knowledge over the veils of ignorance.”  Like religion, beliefs are learned and earned in software technology through intense study.  Unfortunately, most public commentary about data normalization makes no sense, have no academic merit, and are vigorously defended by those graduate students trying to free themselves into the world of consulting.  Fabian Pascal nails these commentaries to his wall every week and responds with robust defensible academic criticism.  I thank him and C.J. Date  for saving me from wasting any part of my life learning stupid or regressive technologies that regularly come into and out of favor.  For instance, the “relational” vs. “object” debate finally came to reconciliation with “The Third Manifesto.”   But not many people know that.

I eventually left INPUT and started a consulting practice developing and selling software for reinforcing steel fabricators.  That market was short-lived, so back to a job I went.  Having spent several years developing database applications for, among others, Travelers, GE Capital, and Hewlett-Packard, I came to the realization that by separating the business logic from the presentation logic I could improve code reuse.   So I created a system that uses database metadata to drive the presentation for any database table structure and dynamically creates user interface controls for displaying related data.    Soon thereafter, HTML became the preferred presentation layer descriptive language for business applications, and Transaction Editor was born.

The owner’s of small brick and mortar businesses who use Transaction Editor for their unique database applications remind me every month how glad they are to have met me.  For them, I solve the application backlog permanently.  They don’t have to worry about losing the resource who wrote their application, finding another developer able to understand the language/framework/components and willing to study the business logic encapsulated in their application.  I am devoted to serving small businesses by giving them enterprise-class functionality at an affordable price.  My challenge to growth is to rise above the crowd of freelancers and have a long enough conversation with potential clients to demonstrate my capabilities with the Transaction Editor service model.

I have used guru.com for years and more recently added freelancer.com and upwork.com (formerly elance.com and odesk.com).  But browsing projects on these sites is a time consuming task mostly for their lacking search capabilities.  So in searching again for other channels to reach small businesses, I came across the latest entrant into the world of recruiter disintermediation, Toptal Software programmers network.  I’ve had a long career of recruiter-led on-site engagements.  But recruiters, like their Human Resources counterparts, are focused on finding experience in particular technologies.  In my case it was SQL Server expertise.

The types of small businesses that Transaction Editor helps do not use recruiters.  They may ask their accountant or desktop support person for an application developer referral, but their accountants are not typically versed in software enough to provide a recommendation.  I have had some success networking with desktop support and network engineering firms.  Younger small businesses seem comfortable searching the Internet, only to be inundated with questions about language and platform and framework, choices that they could not care less about.  Oftentimes I use Transaction Editor to replace a power-user home-grown spreadsheet or MS Access database application that has grown beyond their capabilities to support.  On occasion, they will have a 20-year-old custom application written in some long-ago lost technology whose support has been sunset.

So Toptal Software programmers network, I hope you can help me reach the people who need my services.  Because they are unique businesses with no technical staff looking for a solution to a business process problem, they may not find me with a limited vocabulary of languages, platforms, and frameworks they do not understand.  The service I offer DOES eliminate the application backlog, is readily adopted by most brick and mortar businesses, and continues to provide me with multiple micro-streams of income.  Save them from the pain of re-writing their applications every 3-5 years by recommending me as their solution provider.  They and I will be glad you did.