Saturday, May 14, 2005

Code, Code News….

Old Friend… New challenges…

A long time friend and business associate of mine (Ken Sheldon) and I are in the initial stages of discussion for a little ‘Joint Venture’. To say I’m excited about this possibility would be a gross understatement.

You see Ken is one of the few ‘other’ programmers (coders, geeks, etc.) that I actually ever called if there was an issue, several ways to solve it, and wanted to get the opinion of someone whose logical thought I valued.

Ken and I met, a little over 15 years ago when I started a job at a small development house in Syracuse, NY. The company was called Application Programming Associates (APA) and had some fairly impressive clients, like West Coast Life, a large local Real Estate Company and a farm cooperative called ‘Agway’.

Ken first got my attention shortly after a design meeting. In that meeting I’d explained my ideas for a ‘File Folder’ to allow the user to ‘flip’ through tabs on the screen as they looked for a particular customer or prospect. Then, once the user had the ‘file’ they wanted, they’d press the enter key and the folder would ‘open up’ on their screen.

(I should mention here, that this was in 1987 folks, Windows was still a gleam in Bill Gates’ eye, it was a DOS, character based environment. The concept was solid, but it would be a hand crafted deal, no ‘graphics’ handlers in place back then.)

That meeting was at 10:00am… as I was heading out to lunch at about Noon, Ken asked if I’d take a look at something. That something was exactly what I’d described in the meeting! It was at that moment I was sure of two things; 1) Ken was what we liked to call back then, a ‘Monster’ coder, able to quickly throw together conceptual models (that worked), and, 2) He was just enough ‘off center’ to be able to see my vision, with out hours of detailed explanation… to this day, he remains unique in that respect.

Unfortunately, my tenure at APA was to be brief at best. The owner, Chuck Gronsbell, and I were just too much alike, and on far too differing agendas for it to work. I was hired to be the Director of Development, but, Chuck was used to pulling members of the programming team(s) off a project to go to a client site for a, as he called it, “show of force”. In and of itself, doing that has merit, however, Chuck would make these decisions over the weekend, not tell anyone else, put the folks he’d selected on a plane and Monday morning I’d find myself with “half-a-staff” and product deliverable promises to keep, with no one there to knock the work out.

So I left APA, and went back to working on my own, losing touch with Ken in the process.

Several years later after I’d sold my company to one of my clients, and in the process of ramping up for an increasing customer base, I’d placed an ad for a programmer in the local paper. Who was the first person to call? You guessed it, Ken. Without hesitation I simply told him to come on in, he was hired!

He and I reconnected then (which I believe was 1989) and worked very closely together, through several economic ups and downs, until about 1993, when I closed the local consulting business and began my US ‘tour’ as a contractor. We had some good runs in those years, many of our applications being sold by other computer resellers throughout the US. He and I also gained a nice (well earned) reputation as two of the most innovative FoxPro developers at the time. Unfortunately, the business ‘nature’ was changing and once again it was time to adapt, for both of us.

Ken and I stayed in touch this time however, the occasional phone call, email, etc. keeping each other ‘in the loop’ on our professional and personal lives, exchanging job opportunities, ideas, tricks, tips and so on. In 2003, after a promotion at the 'job', I was asked to bring in another ‘me’ to pick up much of the FoxPro development I would no longer have time for. I only knew one other 'me'.

I called Ken. To make a long story short, after a bit of negotiating Ken agreed to come on board. He moved his family from Upstate NY to here in North Carolina and once again we were working together.

As expected, Ken did an outstanding job. He began cleaning up many ‘unfinished’ components in the systems, resolving old design issues, adding new features and became instrumental in our efforts to prepare the system for a port to the latest version of FoxPro. It was in this time frame that he and I spec’d out and began developing (but never actually finished) a core component of what I hope will soon be one of our new products, a true conversion tool to take older FPW 2.6 applications and port them to Visual FoxPro 6.0 or above.

In what was to be the beginning of a radical shift in operational strategy by our employer, in early 2004, Ken became the first casualty of an outsourcing process. Of course he quickly landed on his feet, was working and making an impact for another company in very short order! Several months later, I and another programmer, were also gone.

Fast forward another eight months and you have Ken and I having one of our usual ‘check out what I did this week’ kind of talks. In the process he mentions “I really like writing utilities and tools”.

I’d been thinking for the prior week, that I needed to do a complete review of my code ‘toolbox’ and package up the more useful pieces and offer them for sale to other developers. As usual, Ken and I were on the same wavelength.

So here we are, 15 years away from our first meeting, he and I are still in tune and still writing software. We’ve been through feast, and famine, highs and lows, times when he’d slip ahead of me or me in front of him… but through it all we’ve maintained a personal and professional respect for one another.

I don’t know what the outcome of our little venture may be. What I do know, is that what ever Ken and I do, we’ll be proud to put our names, and our reputations, on it. More importantly though, we’ll have fun in the process!

So stay tuned, especially if you’re a FoxPro, Visual FoxPro, or .Net (DotNet) developer, we’ll have some interesting, powerful and unique tools for your “Code Chest” soon.

The interesting thing to me is, that while I’d love for us to make some money (Ok, a lot of money) in our little venture, truly “the life I love is making software with my friends” (to paraphrase Willie Nelson), and Ken is a good friend and we write great software together! So regardless of the financial gain, or lack of it, I know we’ll have fun in the process!

I think I've actually finally figured out at least one of the reasons that working with Ken is really so much fun for me. He makes me a better programmer, he challenges my thinking, my logic, causes me to look at things in a slightly different manner. Which then causes me to respond and essentially do the same to him… in the end; we have a product that not only works, but works better than if either of us had developed it alone. To me, that’s synergy!!

If you develop in Visual FoxPro, VB.Net, .Net (DotNet) and are a reader here, I’d like to hear from you. We’re looking to establish a core group of folks to evaluate the products we’ll be assembling and provide us with some feedback. Our goal is to build you a toolkit you won’t want to live (develop) without!

4 comments:

Cylithria™ said...

Okay I have to admit, I have no clue what your speaking about code wise, but Ken sounds like an incredible man and you sound so excited about this!!! I'll keep my non geek fingers crossed for you guys so you make gobs of money and have tons of fun while doing it!!!!

Bill said...

Well... you're a writer, think about having the chance to collaborate on a new writing project with another author, whose skills you admire... pretty much the same thing

greg said...

That Dr. S....one fine guy!

Bill said...

Greg, glad to see you're still stopping by :)

Yeah, I neglected to mention we often called Ken "Dr. Sheldon", he sure has the skills of a PhD... if not the paperwork!

Good to see your pixels bro!