From Firefighter to FileMaker

Everyone has a journey into the world of Claris FileMaker. At my first developers’ conference, some of the most compelling presentations spoke about this subject – various speakers from widely different backgrounds, all telling their stories about how they came to FileMaker.

So here I was – this firefighter who had only been exposed to FileMaker only a short six months prior, now armed with a laptop, a handful of demo files that I had been constructing for work, and a front-row seat. One couldn’t help but think about their own journey.

My journey.

Technology has always had a place in my world – dating back to the early 1980s and a school-supplied TRS-80 that a few of us were allowed to use during certain times of the day to learn how to code in BASIC. While it appeared to my parents that technology would play a significant role in my life, they would have to wait a little longer before that would fully develop.

A youth filled with a combination of sports and coding would turn into a 180-degree turn as I went to school to study Anthropology (with a focus in Archaeology). A degree trying to understand humankind was about as far from my technically savvy youth as I could imagine at that time.

Shortly after school, my life as the next Indiana Jones pivoted once again as I joined the fire service (like my father and brother before me). Because I joined my local fire department, many of the older firefighters knew me from running around the fire station as a little brat and would jokingly say, “Ya know kid, ‘can’t put that fire out with a laptop.”

What that laptop could do was help create a better way of tracking those pesky fires (& other emergencies), though…and like that, some old skills began to breathe in new air. Applying my computer background would not only help my local fire department but also open doors beyond that. Soon I found myself in the position of Database Manager for the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois (AFFI), a labor union advocating for professional firefighters across the state.

Here is probably where my story blurs into many others…the path of an in-house developer, managing a database solution, looking for a “better mouse trap” and stumbling upon FileMaker. Kinda.

I was at a conference in Chicago, at the Knickerbocker Hotel, speaking to labor leaders across the country and demonstrating the power of our solution, built on the back of MS Access, but able to create analyses of labor contracts, quantify wages and other economics amongst comparable communities, and much more – all within minutes (with the proper data pre-loaded, of course). I was proud of myself and what we created.

Afterward, a little bit of handshakes and chat with the audience as we broke for lunch and with a handful of business cards from other states who were interested in learning more about how they might do something similar, I made my way to grab a plate and a bite to eat myself. However, before I could, I was approached by one last person…a member from the east coast who, while not doing the same exact work, still was employing unique-looking software to manage their membership database.


To be fair, this isn’t my first exposure to FileMaker. While I sat in line on iPad Day (when my local mall’s Apple Store would be releasing the first generation), I began to think about how I could employ this new miraculous device to handle the work we were doing at the AFFI. Dreams of pulling up comparable data after comparable data on my new device, helping out firefighters at the bargaining table, and frankly, the countless number of trees who would now live long and amazing lives due to the printing of pages and pages of exhibits would be no longer needed – these were the thoughts on my mind.

Soon thereafter, I would stumble across Bento, and while try as I did, I couldn’t fit the square peg (our system) into the round hole (Bento/FM). A free 30-day trial later, and nope, still couldn’t do the magic that we were doing; FileMaker went to the wayside until that fateful moment back at the Knickerbocker hotel. A few clicks of the membership database on the iPad and I made a mental note to revisit this software and an internal promise to not let a mere 30-day trial beat me as there had to be a way to replicate our workflow on this platform.

Sleeves rolled up, freshly purchased FileMaker 13 Pro book at my side, and a fresh trial subscription in tow, and I was ready.

Seven days later and I was able to duplicate our workflows in the trial, and not long after that, our organization committed to switching our entire operations over to FileMaker. In a few months from then, I would be on my way to Las Vegas to my first DevCon!

Lucky for me, I took the pre-conf training event, and our instructor was Sara from Soliant Consulting. My event got off on the right foot as all of us in the audience soaked up the knowledge and enthusiasm our instructor was dishing out. Yes, I was green as could be – not necessarily about FileMaker but about the whole event: the instructors, the event setup, the vendors, etc. But the fire had been lit, and I returned a little smarter and with contacts in the industry to partner with our organization back home to allow us to make better solutions.

Flash forward six years, and as my fire service career began to wind down, questions began popping up….” what’s next?”

Here I was, retiring from the fire service after twenty-five years and with eyes looking forward to that next adventure, and all I could think about were those stories from Vegas and how this person or that person found themselves in the FileMaker community. And those stories became the foundation to explore what my story was, or more importantly, what it could become.

Now I’m happy to say that I am an application developer in the FileMaker sandbox, getting to be a part of that great community, and doing it for the folks I first met at that first conference…they were my instructor, my coach as I developed, and now they are my employer.

How cool is that?

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