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Old Fashioned Development

Thinking about the early days of PowerBuilder when dBase, Clipper, Clarion, SQLWindows ran supreme

 The other day I was thinking about the early days of PowerBuilder when dBase, Clipper, Clarion, SQLWindows, etc., development tools ran supreme. In November of 1989 I came across a small Massachusetts company working on a revolutionary product.

 They had just decided to call it PowerBuilder and they had made their first two sales: one to the Australian Air force and, surprisingly, the other to Microsoft! I was doing research for a Canadian government agency named Treasury Board that wanted recommendations on graphic user interface development tools that interfaced with relational database management systems. This recommendation would become a standard for all other federal government agencies.

 I had received a great recommendation from a Microsoft engineer from New Hampshire who gave me the name of a person to talk to at Redmond and mentioned that as far as he was concerned I should be talking to PowerSoft and "get my hands on PowerBuilder ASAP." I had already made a short list of about five GUI development tools and had a team already benchmarking some of these products. Not all the development tools could be checked, as most vendors wanted you to purchase the product (even for trial purposes). I was very intrigued by the SE's recommendation and gave PowerSoft a call. I happened to speak to a salesperson who understood what I was working on and that I was already well versed in GUI development tools. He passed me on directly to the project manager - Dave Litwack (who later on became president).

 Dave went through why he believed PowerBuilder was heads-and-tails above the other development tools and even guaranteed me a copy of the product the next day by FedEx. Then Dave expounded on this new feature called the "DataWindow" and passed me over to its creator - Kim Sheffield. Kim was a super nice guy who spoke to me about PowerBuilder's architecture, the DataWindow and why PB was going to be the next market leader in the GUI development tool arena. Needless to say, the product arrived on my desk the next day. After a brief tutorial it was evident that this tool was a serious contender and I passed it to my development team and mentioned the tool to my director. He was impressed that any company would extend itself like that and offer to help beyond normal limits this stranger who just called looking for information.

 Because of the helpfulness, commitment, and enthusiasm by the product vendor they convinced us to give PowerBuilder a chance. My entire testing team's thoughts were unanimous - PowerBuilder was exceptional, especially the DataWindow's SQL prowess. The recommendation was adopted by the Treasury Board and today when you obtain a Canadian passport or firearm license, apply for security clearance, process a GST tax claim, check your case file at the Supreme Court of Canada, review the parts and maintenance for all Hercules Aircraft, get help from the RCMP (911), etc., it's all done in PowerBuilder!

 This type of encounter rarely happens a second time. However, in my case it did when I was recommended to call an ambitious product manager and team lead for a new product called PocketBuilder. Again, I picked up the phone and spoke to a very enthusiastic gentleman by the name of Martyn Mallick of iAnywhere Solutions in Waterloo, Ontario. He told me about a new development tool for the mobile/wireless market. He also recommended that I get in touch with the lead developer - Reed Shilts. Martyn and Reed were a "breath of fresh air" after seeing the demise of the PowerSoft "spirit" after being bought by Sybase. Sybase's mentality normally seems to be to wait for a potential developer to come knocking at their door. PowerSoft used to host live seminars and give away free copies of PowerBuilder - Sybase stopped all that. Not only that but the entire PowerBuilder development team disappeared below radar.

 However, Martyn and Reed have proven that "old fashioned development" with personal contact is the way to win developers over to your product. Sending out free product copies, heavily participating on the PocketBuilder newsgroups, listening to developers needs (not waiting for some international user group for feedback), calling key people to participate in early beta releases, etc., is really paying off. This "synergy" has rubbed off on other TeamSybase members and the wireless community in general. I can easily send an e-mail or pick up the phone and talk to Reed or other key members of the development team (like John Griffin). It reminds me of the old PowerSoft days.

 Maybe this should be a wake-up call to other Sybase development teams (you never see them calling actual developers, participating on the PowerBuilder, PowerDesigner, etc., newsgroups) - to get involved with your development community. Maybe this "old fashioned development" is not too bad after all.

More Stories By Chris Pollach

Chris Pollach is a Senior Consultant with over 30 years experience in Systems and Software Analysis, Development, Maintenance and Technical Support, mainly in the areas of GUI Design, MS-Windows Programming, Java / .NET Programming, Wireless, Application / Web Server Design & Programming, Object Oriented Development Tools and Methodologies, Data Base, Data Communications and Network application development. He has participated in numerous technical, planning and management roles, as well as consulted and educated in these fields for a diverse clientele. He is also the owner of “Software Tool & Die Inc.” a company dedicated to provide custom software and education solutions on Object Oriented business systems.

As an educator, Chris is certified to teach PowerBuilder (first in Canada), MS-SQLServer, Sybase’s Enterprise Application Studio and EAServer integrated application/web development environment. He is former Certified SilverStream developer (CSSD) and current Certified PowerBuilder Developer – Associate / Professional (CPD-P) as well as a Certified Sybase Tools Instructor (CSI).

Chris has written numerous articles in various popular personal computer magazines, newsletters and is the author of the PowerGuide and PowerExpert products as well as the STD Foundation Classes. Currently, Chris has developed a Foundation Class library for Sybase's PocketBuilder, SAP's PowerBulder and EAServer products and now Appeon Web & mobile products that integrates JSP or ASP web development, Section 508 / CLF web standards and mobile applications. A new Web Service framework has also been released for IIs to support PowerBuilder based web service NVUO's!

Chris recently became a 2nd Degree Black in the TaeKwonDo martial art and has developed a Martial Art multimedia study guide using the Component-One “Doc2Help” and Sybase PowerBuilder products. Since the fall of 2004 he became a TaeKwonDo instructor for the City of Ottawa’s Goulbourn program. He has also been certified with the World TaeKwonDo Federation (February 2005 - 1st Dan and October 2008 - 2nd Dan).

Chris was awarded the Sybase “Innovation and Achievement” award for 2005 as voted for by the International Sybase User Group (ISUG). This award was presented for innovations to the PocketBuilder mobile development product, contributions to the PowerBuilder News groups and support of the Ottawa Sybase User Group.

To round his management and leadership skills, Chris is the former president of the Kiwanis Club of Goulbourn and still volunteers his time with the service clubs in his area. He is also the coordinator of the Ottawa Sybase User group and a certified NAUI scuba instructor. For the last three years, Chris has been voted onto the ISUG Board of Directors and holds the position of "Director - North American User Groups".

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