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Getting Started as a FileMaker Developer – FileMaker Today

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Over the past few months we have had many questions on getting started as a FileMaker Developer, so without further hot air…here is some advice from our affiliate Bob Patin at Longterm Solutions in Brentwood Tennessee…Like a lot of the folks in the FileMaker community, I started from scratch; I moved from a 30-year career in the music business, and took my hobby (programming) and turned it into a my 2nd career.

I’ve talked with my nephews about exactly what many people ask—how to get started as a programmer—and here’s what I always tell them:

Get Trained

Get as much training as you can. Several ways come to mind:

Study and learn FileMaker to the point that you can take and pass the certification test. This does 2 things: it forces you to stretch into those areas where your FileMaker knowledge may not be as strong, and b) you end up with a credential that may help you to find new clients.

The other way to get proficient in FileMaker is to read any (or all) of the great reference books relating to FileMaker. Even though some were written for earlier versions, they’re still relevant and will help to teach both the fundamentals and the advanced techniques that are indispensable to FileMaker programmers.

Start writing some databases; write one for yourself and try to use the techniques that you may have read about. Take on a non-profit or a friend’s project and write something for them, and let them be the guinea pig while you hone your skills.

Get a Project

Get yourself a project to work on, even if it’s for less money than you may hope to make. Doing this will accomplish a couple of things: it’ll give you experience in working a project from start to finish, with all the twists and turns that it usually entails; plus, it’ll give you a reference, someone who may come back to you for more work, or refer you to one of their colleagues.


Nashville doesn’t have a user’s group, and my couple of attempts to start one weren’t very successful. I do go to Devcon every year, and have been to several Pause On Error unconferences; it’s great to meet really excellent FileMaker developers and learn from them, and has inspired me to improve my own skill set just so I can hold an intelligent conversation with them. 🙂

Some will perhaps say that Devcon is too expensive and that the payoff isn’t worth it, but that hasn’t been my personal experience. I got a client in 2009 who hired me to redesign their systems, and have been working for them now for going on the 6th year. She heard me talking to someone in the hall before a Devcon presentation, and had her company contact me within a few months. Just the act of standing in the hall at Devcon and running my mouth led to my current work with them, and pays for more Devcons than I’ll see in my lifetime… so I highly recommend Devcon.

Add to your Arsenal

Learn other technologies surrounding FileMaker; I would recommend these:

PHP for use in writing web applications, either with the FileMaker API or FX.php

Bootstrap – I doubt I’ll ever write another website without it

Javascript – I’m a big fan of JQuery and would highly recommend it as well

MySQL or ODBC – I don’t use it a lot, but having a working knowledge definitely comes in handy

None of these are *required* for someone to be a successful FileMaker consultant, but it’s a bit like a car dealership who sells one make of car, versus one who sells 4; you can do well selling one brand, but if you sell 4 you’ll get lots more traffic, and probably lots more business as a result.

Be Willing to Stretch

This one is a little scary perhaps, but it’s served me well: be willing to stretch just a little bit. If someone asks you if you can do A and B, but you don’t really know how to do B yet–but think you can learn–take the project, do what you have to do to reach the project goals, and you’ll be rewarded with new skills that you can use for the next project.

Very recently I took on a new client, was asked if I could do something that I had no experience with; I told him that I would learn the necessary skills on my own–didn’t charge the client for the time involved–and finished his project using techniques that I had never used before. Since that project I’ve gone on to use the new skills several times; not only did I make the client happy, but I was forced to stretch beyond my skill set and gained some valuable new tools.

TCOB (Take Care of Business)

Last, I would comment on the dos and don’ts of dealing with clients. a) Answer the phone! Too often I hear from clients about developers who never answered their phone calls in a timely manner; b) Keep the customer informed. Let them know the status of the project–let them see that progress is being made. c) Be clear about your fees; set your price in whatever manner you choose, whether it’s a flat fee or hourly, but be sure that your client and you are clear on what the goals and expectations are for the project. Seems simple, but it can really bite you in the rear if you don’t keep things clear (personal experience talking here).

Getting There from Here

It seems a little daunting at first; how does one get a paying client when starting out? One step at a time. Hopefully a small step, then another, then another, then more work than you can possibly imagine. Visit Bob’s FileMaker websiteTap or Click here

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