Professionally, I’ve always been ambivalent. Database consulting has provided a bulwark of stability to counteract the shifting winds of my ever changing professional ambitions and a powerful tool for solving problems in every area of my life.
When I graduated from college with my high-priced degree in English Literature, I stayed on in Chicago with the idea that I’d be an artist, creating theater with my friends. But you can’t pay your rent with the earnings of an off-off-off loop theater artist. So, like many artists, I got a job to finance my passions.
It was a lucky break that my network connected me with Wizard Software Solutions, a software consulting company that creates FileMaker solutions for the corporate facility management and project management field. A friend (OK, it was Molly!) referred me, knowing I was comfortable working with computers and learning on the fly.
At Wizards, I laid a solid foundation of FileMaker knowledge – learning about interaction design, relational database structure, basic web application architecture, and most critically, how to communicate with users, eliciting technical requirements from non-technical conversations, observing and analyzing business processes to figure out the right database-driven solutions for tricky organizational problems. I worked directly with customers, supporting the team all the way from the sales process through needs analysis, implementation, and training as well on ongoing maintenance and support.
Wizard Software was a great place to learn – we sold pre-made tools as well as custom solutions, and would work to integrate with existing tools to make sure that the technology suite worked together in harmony. I learned by doing, by tinkering, by exploring and by biting off new technical challenges each time I mastered a new skill set. FileMaker was a great platform to use – it’s an easy tool to learn, with a low cognitive barrier to entry compared with formal structured programming, but with a powerful set of tools to decompose, automate, and streamline operational tasks.
Those skills and experiences have proven indispensable since my time at Wizard Software. I’ve careened from career to career – writing and performing in off-kilter theatrical works, dipping my toe in community organizing, planning and selling Italian travel services, designing search tools to help customers find the exact right socket head cap screw, and managing a web content team for an industrial supply distributor. Most recently, consulting has backstopped my work building my own small business devoted to food festival production (cf. BaconfestChicago.com). Every few years, I’ve dropped one industry and picked up another – and consulting has always been there to ease the transition.
I’ve been free to quit jobs when I needed to because I knew I could rely on a stream of income from freelance FileMaker development in my spare time. The risks of building a business have been mitigated by the earning potential at my disposal from freelance database work. FileMaker consultancy has freed me to take professional risks without sacrificing material comfort or the pleasures of family life.
My experience consulting has also provided a valuable model for professional problem-solving in all my careers. I approach challenges as a programmer does, looking for patterns, decomposing challenges into bite sized pieces, approaching problems with the confidence to know I can research and build my own tools. I’m glad that the winds of fate delivered me to FileMaker consulting; the unexpected result is that I’ve been able to design my own life.