How I got started in ColdFusion

Monday August 1, 2011

A while ago Steve Bryant came up with the excellent idea of August 1st being designated How I Got Started In ColdFusion Day, for which ColdFusion users tell their origin story. As a big fan of encouraging others to take up coding, I thought I’d bring my story to the table. Let’s start right back at the beginning…

We had computers in the house since I was young, and I’ve never felt any kind of fear or hesitation about jumping in and messing around using trial and error. I got to grips with DOS pretty fast, as was necessary in those days to launch games, and I remember some happy times using BBC computers at my primary school. The same school also had a physical ‘turtle’ device that you could put things on, program, and it would travel through the school corridors to its destination, and this concept fascinated me.

Moving on, both technology and my usage of computers were changing. In secondary school the social elements started appealing more and more, and I would head home and use messengers to chat to my friends as well as exploring the new world of online communities. I’d also spend far too much time creating terrible graphics, feeling like I was a great computer artist until I looked back at them the next day (I still do this sometimes). In school that pesky turtle came up again – this time in virtual form, I was taught about Visual Basic for Applications, and I loved finding out about easter eggs such as the flight simulator in Excel 97. Looking back, I really appreciate the exposure that I was given to programming, especially considering that I was at a girls school. A lot of this was down to a fantastic IT teacher, who sadly left, causing the program to go incredibly downhill at A-level stage, where a lot of people lost their passion due to the replacement teacher’s textbook teaching approach.

I was probably around 14 when I started getting interested in creating websites. I went through a phase of creating awful looking things that were hosted using a variety of free services, and were initially built using products like FrontPage, or even Word. I know. I don’t even want to think what the code would have looked like. It was only after getting more involved with online communities and reading blogs that I started to understand that you had so much more control over the output if you created it by hand. I bought a huge book about HTML and CSS which I have to this day, and I started using View Source to work out how things had been done. I never ripped off anyone’s site, but I learnt an awful lot from grabbing the entire source for sites and adapting it to understand how things worked.

At this point everything was static. I had a blog, and that involved editing the homepage by hand, with archives being a copy/paste job into new files. It was all very tedious. On going to university that all changed. I’d known for a while that I wanted to do a computing course, and the course I ended up on taught me C, Java, Perl, PHP, Javascript, Actionscript, and… er… Lingo. We worked with Oracle and Access, and started making little basic CRUD applications. This was better – it does stuff!

Doing a sandwich course, my third year was a year in industry. There was only one place that I wanted to work for (they’d done the Lego Star Wars site – they must be awesome!), which was Lightmaker. I went for my interview and luckily got the job. I was told at the time that I should look into ColdFusion, as that would be one of the things I’d be working with. Within a couple of weeks I had been completely thrown in at the deep end – doing some major updates to an existing site for a big client, pretty much on my own. I will always be grateful to Julian Wheaton and Chris Williams, who both gave me a lot of time and patience, and taught me a lot.

Over the next few years I was a bit of an all-rounder – I mainly worked with ColdFusion or ASP, though I did a fair bit of Actionscript work too. At the time we were doing a lot of heavy, immersive Flash work, and ColdFusion was the natural pairing for a back-end technology. In general it made things so quick and easy to get done, and it was a great way to improve my general programming knowledge without getting bogged down with an unwieldy language or difficult syntax. From my humble student beginnings I started rising up the ranks, working on some huge client accounts and sites/brands that I genuinely loved, and even winning some big awards for some of them. The wonderful CF community played a big part in my development, as there are so many great snippets of code and bits of advice out there to learn from.

My role is a bit different now, and I spend most of my time talking to people about technology rather than getting my hands dirty. That’s not to say I turned my back on development – I have an R&D element to my role, and I do a fair amount of coding outside of my day job. I like to think that I’ve simply evolved, and have been able to bring in other things that I enjoy, such as meeting people and finding solutions for their problems. I am very glad that I got started with ColdFusion, as without it I never would have got to where I am today.

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