I started my career as a cabinet maker. I’d always wanted to work with wood – tree surgeon and musical instrument making were the other professions I’d considered as a teenager. I still love wood and spend whatever time I can in my workshop ‘creating.’ My wife will tell you I am also obsessed with tools. Top of my wish list right now is an adze.
My journey from timber mills and upholstery workshops to running my own software development business has been interesting and varied. I won’t bore you with that now but it is interesting to reflect on where I started and how that relates to what I do now.
Use the right tool for the job
The tool obsession is significant. I believe you have to have the right tool for the job to get the best results. For example the right sized chisel to get into those awkward spots. Or an adze to give you a ‘roughed’ surface finish. It’s the same with software. You have to have the right tool to enable you to get the job done quickly, efficiently and to a standard. This may mean a custom built tool like the one we built for Renaissance Easy Claim – to automate production of their client documentation from Act!, formatted and populated with legally compliant content, as required by their regulator, the Ministry of Justice.
Select the right material for the job
Selecting the right timber for the job is also key. You have to know its properties – how it can be worked and then how it will perform? Burr walnut chair legs might look very decorative but the first time you sit down you will probably end up on the floor because the ‘burrs’ or knots are weak spots in the wood caused by growths. This is like writing variables into the code of a program as static information – what happens when you need to update it? The system fails you. I recently inherited a system for some Act! and Sage integration development which had the taxation rate hard coded in!
Form follows function
One of my guiding principals when making furniture, and now software, is “Form ever follows function” (Louis Sullivan, Architect, ‘The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered’1896). By designing systems with the user at the forefront of your mind you can produce systems with the layout and workflow to meet their requirements that deliver accuracy, efficiency and ease of use. Using separate programs is a good example. They’re great in terms of adding functionality but users have to flip in and out of them constantly. That’s why we have embedded our new quotation add-on, Seamless Opportunities, into Act! So it works in Act! and with Act!. No separate programs to navigate. And we plan to make as many of our products as possible work seamlessly with Act! like this.
I guess what I’m saying is I’m a craftsman. I make things for people to use. And I’m happy whether I’m working in wood or code. Wood is more decorative and tactile than code but well crafted software is as worthwhile and satisfying in terms of its potential impact on businesses and people.