How I Got Started in ColdFusion

Posted: July 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

July 2nd 2015 marked Adobe ColdFusion’s (then Allaire’s ColdFusion) 20th birthday. Starting back in 1997, I have made a living programming in ColdFusion for about 17 of those years (I took off a year while fixing computers instead).

End of Junior year in high school I decided to look for a job. I’ve worked here and there for my grandfather in the music sales industry and my father in the HVAC industry.

I was intrigued by what was BBS systems and the Internet and made some super simple web pages with what would be now considered super annoying JavaScript. I believe it was my friend Gabe Spargen who turned me on to JavaScript because I couldn’t let his website be “cooler” than mine. This turned into the counseling department to have me set up their department website which consisted of a bunch of links and information for applying to colleges. I remember the cool factor being a select box that would take you to a link upon selection. In the end though it was “too advanced” and was converted to standard links.

Even before all that back in grade school days I’d find my way onto any BBS system that I could and even learned some PC Q-Basic and Apple IIe BASIC.

Taking my tinkering I started looking through the yellow pages for potential employers. At this time I was just looking for something in the computer industry. As happen I dialed the wrong number and reached David Shaul with “Practical Computer Concepts” known as “PCC”. He had me come on in for an interview.

David explained that he had an “All Claims” system setup on a BBS. I believe it ran totally off of one or more Unix systems with a modem bank. Basically insurance companies would send in 3480 or 3490 tape cartridges of stripped down customer data. He would then load the tapes into the system, which used literally massive hard drives in the megabyte range, that weighed quite a bit.

I don’t know how I convinced him to hire me on the spot, but I’ve always been up for a challenge and I think he saw that. My new job was to convert the BBS system into an online service which ended up being called “The Fraud Defense Network” or “FDN”.

A view of the servers and my workstation

A view of the servers (center) and my workstation (right)

I got some servers up and running that communicated on a BNC network. Initially a company would have to dial in to use the service. Later on we got a 256Kb/s ISDN line installed to tie into the Internet and we converted to a 10-Base-T network using a hub. Both of us had a work station and we setup a few servers, which I think ended up being 6 a year or so down the road. I remember a Windows NT domain server and a Microsoft SQL Server 6, which got upgraded to SQL 7 pretty quick. One of the servers had a massive SCSI tape drive attached to it to read in the tape cartridges we had on hand and continued to receive.

But before anyone could access anything we had to have a way to serve that data on a website. David tasked me to do the research and present the options. The two options came down to ASP and ColdFusion 3. After considering what each had to offer I suggested ColdFusion. He bought the CD and license while I started to learn ColdFusion. I remember the concept of a database was new to me and that was my struggling point. I believe he brought in some outside help to get me rolling with database queries. I don’t even remember how we got the data into the database as that was done via Unix utilities installed on a Windows server.

51ECHYJXYRL._SX379_BO1,204,203,200_Learning ColdFusion 3 was a bit of a challenge and mostly learned it from limited documentation. At the end of 1998 Ben Forta released the ColdFusion books, one being “The ColdFusion 4.0 Web Application Construction Kit” which helped me out quite a bit.

This business couldn’t compensate all the expenses so I did other work as well. This included computer hardware support for different business around town. We also created web sites for other companies. One being “Security Jobs Network”. This client had a website done in FrontPage. I took that and learned just enough ASP to integrate into an Access database that included the job listings. To this day his website still looks the same as it did back in 1998: http://www.securityjobs.net/. I must have converted a portion of it to ColdFusion at some point because the preview page and the members section is ColdFusion: http://www.securityjobs.net/Current%20Database.cfm

View of the PCC office during some downtime

View of the PCC office during some downtime

David ended up hiring one of my friends John Manhart. He was good with front-end aspects while I focused more on back-end aspects. I think he used a lot of Paint Shop Pro if I remember right. We also had some other more part-time employees, one that I can’t remember and Jimmy Winter. In addition he hired a sales woman and an assistant. His wife did the billing and such, so we were at around 7 people strong at one point.

Between 1998 and 2000 David was pretty innovative and I made it happen. He came up with the idea to make vertical websites expanding beyond the “All Claims” service. I don’t remember all the websites but for example one website was a community for private investigators. There was another community for the Insurance Companies. And somewhere the state fraud departments had interaction. Later on we would develop fishing supply websites based upon the same concept.

Keep in mind that the insurance companies worked with mainframes and dumb terminals. We actually rented out and maintained a PC with a dial-up modem at multiple insurance companies. A specific person would use that computer to specially access the Internet and head directly to our sites. David had to do a lot of convincing to get them to move from BBS access to Internet access as it was very new. You can pretty much assume access these days.

In 1998 we started making our way into publications such as the Midlands Business Journal and Forbes Magazine. Consider that the sites were designed for 800px X 600px screens. It was a bit of a struggle to get past 640px X 480px. Nearer to 2000 I think we started to be able to use 1024px X 768px. (My current resolution is 1366px X 768px). Consider most Windows users were just upgrading from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 and then maybe Windows 98.

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This caught the attention of ChoicePoint in Alpharetta, GA which is now LexisNexis. Basically if you had your background checked, lets say by an employer, your data probably came from ChoicePoint. They were a spin-off from Equifax. They ended up buying out the company in 2000 and David and myself moved to Georgia. We moved the servers by putting them on an airplane after dropping them off at the airport. They then picked them up at the airport and brought them online. Unfortunately it ended up being a competitive buy-out and working there was pretty boring after all the perks wore off. After a year, they let us go. They have recently revived the product. Their video looks exciting, but I’m not sure about anything past that.

I struggled with startups and moving back to Omaha, NE until I found my current position with CF Webtools about 7 years ago. Now I focus on using ColdFusion technology to build and/or maintain client websites. I love where I’m at now and it was a great experience getting here.

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