Although I’ve been going to DevCon for Lo These Many Years, and even had a role in shaping how Training Day has evolved, I’ve never had the chance to assist with a Training Day session, or for that matter even attend one. This year I had the opportunity to join my Soliant team-members assisting Bob Bowers with his advanced session, and I’d like to share a few observations from that.
First I want to say that I wish I could have attended all the Training Day sessions, especially the one on User Experience, but sadly I’ve never learned to be in more than one place at a given time. Instead, I’ve accosted a couple of the presenters in the hallway to ask them how things went. I hope to speak with the rest of the presenters before the week is over and write another post sharing what I hear from them.
Advanced 1 – Techniques & Advanced – Integration
I’ll start with my report on the advanced session:
Bob does a great job of taking complex topics and reducing them to their essentials, providing a foundation for exploring them in greater depth. Among other things, he guided people through:
- the ExecuteSQL function
- setting up ODBC connectivity, both with FileMaker pulling data from another data source and acting as a data source itself
- the structure of JSON data objects and how to use FileMaker Pro’s JSON functions
- the basics of cURL commands and how to incorporate them into FileMaker Pro’s Insert From URL script step
- connecting to APIs using the above and parsing the resulting JSON
It was a lot of material, but as promised, he stripped it down to concepts that were easy to understand and put into practice. That said, when we came back from lunch, he announced that his strategy for staying on track would be to start talking faster. And so he did.
I love helping people understand new concepts, so it was a treat to work as an assistant. My only disappointment was that generally, Bob made things so clear that people didn’t need me much. I learned a few things along the way myself, including an approach to looping through grouped data that involves looking at the first record in a sorted (grouped) record set, working with that record, then calculating the number of records that belong to the group and jumping past them to the next unique record. It’s simple, but I’ve always accomplished the same thing in a different way and was happy to be offered an alternative.
Next, here’s what Jim Medema told me about his beginner session.
“My goal was to create a training such that brand-new people – we had people who had been introduced to FileMaker one or two weeks ago – could, by the end of the day, have built an app they could walk away and put into production. And it happened! We were inches away from the point where they could actually sell it.
We had a woman come up really happy with the team of assistants – we had great people, Lee Lukeheart, Matthew Dahlquist, and Bill Nienaber – and she said, ‘Any time anybody raised their hand, they were attended to within moments. Whatever problems they ran into, they got solved.
One of the assistants told me afterward, ‘You were pushing the class pretty hard. I was working on a technical problem with somebody for a while. When I was done, I wondered how the group was doing. When I looked up, and there were people building charts, charging ahead, they were all with you.’
We also had some experienced engineers. One guy said, ‘I don’t know if I belong here, I might be kind of bored so don’t be offended if I walk out.’ But he stayed all day and told me at the end, ‘You have laid the complete groundwork for everything that I need to know to get started.’ He’d inherited a legacy system built in FileMaker 6 that finally needed to be rebuilt after running for 18 years. 18 years! Can you imagine? And he feels ready to go off and do that now.”
I’d like to congratulate Jim for his skilled work as a trainer, and his commitment to helping new users get immediate success on the platform.
User Experience 1 – Research, Mapping, and Validation
Today I also talked to Matt O’Dell about his User Experience session. Matt was my team lead at FileMaker when I started in the Marketing department, and we’ve become good friends. A couple of years back, we ran off to Denver together to attend a design thinking training put on by Adaptive Path. He’s continued to charge ahead learning more about design and is committed to making it the focus of his work.
I had a wonderful time helping out Bob and working with my Soliant colleagues, but my second choice would have been to spend the day with Matt. He has so much passion for user experience design. Here’s what he said to me today:
“The full-day training involved following the design process to solve an actual problem. We pretended that we’d hired by FileMaker to improve the process of purchasing a DevCon registration. We started with research and followed all the way through to creating a prototype at the end. We had people build paper prototypes, which was a new experience for most people in the group. After they built them, we said, ‘OK, now take that prototype and go out and find someone, just randomly find a DevCon attendee and test your prototype with them.’ We taught them the basis of usability testing first and then just sent them out. People were asking, ‘Is this going to work? Are people going to trust us? Will they interact with us?’ — but you know DevCon people, they’re a helpful bunch. When the trainees came back they said, ‘It was surprising! You just put the paper down in front of them, you tell them what you want them to try, and they just start tapping with their finger. Then you throw the next piece of paper down, and they pretend to type, it was crazy how well that works.’
You got all that feedback after building a prototype in only 30 minutes. The idea was not to prototype in FileMaker or any other software – not to get too invested in a given design – but to make it easy to throw away and try something else.
Some people even managed to test more than once. They identified problems with their prototype, drew up new screens, and went out and found someone else to test with again. That’s how you do it! That was the a-ha moment for people. This isn’t just a fun little art project — it actually works.”
Hearing about all this from Matt, I especially liked how he got people on their feet and moving. They never touched their computers, so there was no opportunity to zone out and check their email. They stayed engaged every minute.
He had some great assistants too – Alexis Allen, a brilliant design-focused developer, Steve Gleason, who has an advertising background, Karen Craig, who has an industrial design background, and Laramie Erickson, a project manager at iSolutions. I’m sure they made an amazing team. I hope I get the chance to help out in the future myself.
Unfortunately, it sounds like the workshop wasn’t as well attended as Matt had hoped. That disappoints me since I strongly believe that a design-centered process really works. Right now I’m working with a pro-bono client through Soliant’s wonderful Philanthropy Program, and I’m incorporating design activities into our work together during the foundation. In the first few meetings, I was getting disjointed requirements that I couldn’t assemble into a clear narrative. But when we switched to a design-centered approach, everything immediately started coming into focus. We also started having a lot more fun.
So that’s my report so far. Please stay tuned for another post once I’ve had the chance to talk with the other three trainers: Jeremy Brown, Matt Petrowsky, and Cris Ippolite. Happy DevCon!