Today, developers across the web answer "How I Got Started In ColdFusion". Each tale is unique, and this one is mine. My discovery of ColdFusion was a blessing, leading to a great life and fulfilling career of fantastic experiences with outstanding friends, acquaintances, and mentors. Here's how it started for me....

In the early nineties I was stationed at Ft. Meade, MD, working for the National Security Agency. Professional Development is a key thing in the military. We were expected to constantly learn and foster new skills that might help us do our jobs better. Being interested in computers at an early age, I started taking classes on computer systems and, having a background in linguistics, once again became fascinated with computer programming, taking classes in C and C++.

This new thing called "the internet" was becoming a big deal around the office. On my first PC, in the barracks, I was becoming a junky of Prodigy (then AOL, then my first ISP...) and learning to master 'search' through Alta Vista. At work someone asked me to create a 'web page' for our department on our local intranet. NCSA Mosaic was rapidly being replaced with Netscape Navigator, and updates to HTML had introduced new tags, like TABLE and IMG. Things were changing rapidly.

I started teaching myself HTML. Compared to 'programming languages', HTML was a walk in the park, though a bit frustrating in it's layout limitations. The internet was really becoming a big thing, and I thought I was ahead of the curve. I could make a living doing this? Wow, that would be cool! I had been in the Army for almost a decade. Still young, and single, with no kids, I had been thinking it was time to move on in the world. The Army had been good to me, but I thought I could do more, be more, back in the civilian world. (Mental Note: kick self later for being young and dumb)

I became friends with a guy who owned a screenprinting and advertising specialties company in southern Delaware. I created a quick web site for them, which helped them get some state funding for growth and expansion. They offered me a job, leading me to believe that my new skills could help them augment their corporate branding offerings to another level. After a brief assignment overseas, I put in paperwork to get out of the Army, packed up my stuff, and moved to the Eastern Shore to start a new life and career.

Things didn't quite work out as planned. The company really wanted someone to sell product to the military, develop paperwork automation processes in the office, and help out with 'production' (printing T-Shirts and stuff). Transitioning from military life to civilian life isn't always easy, and I had trapped myself in a strange place, with no real friends, in a job that wasn't going anywhere. I did this for three years, working 18+ hour days for next-to-nothing, becoming more and more disillusioned and watching myself slide behind the curve again. I had taught myself Visual Basic for Applications, tying together workflow between different MS Office applications, but my web development advancement had grown stale, being relegated to maintaining the company website with MS FrontPage (shiver). Then the best thing happened, I was layed off. The company decided they really needed a salesman more than a computer guru.

Unemployment has the fortunate by-product of forcing one to do the things they need to do. I knew that I loved computers, and had a talent for languages. I needed to get back to those things. For two months I called Manpower everyday, hauling stuff around warehouses or working in a buddies garage changing oil and tires, while scanning the want ads. Finally, I saw an ad for a Corporate Support Specialist with a regional Internet Service Provider. I went in for the interview, they gave me a test (on ColdFusion), and I failed. I didn't know the language, didn't have much for reference, and bombed it.

Luckily, the interviewer saw some potential. They referred me up to the manager of the Tech Support team. He was a retired Army guy himself, and had an open position in his department. The thought was, bring me in, learn the ropes and the business, and work on increasing my skills until I could transition to development. Now we're talking! I didn't make much, but it was more than the screenprinting company, better than being unemployed doing odd jobs, and it was getting back on track. I jumped on it.

I was a good Tech Support rep. We talked 70 year old ladies through manually creating a Windows Dialer to dial into our service. We talked 80 year old men through setting up and using email. Yes, that TV looking thing in front of you is called a 'monitor' and, no, that is not a cupholder (seriously). Things were pretty smooth, and I wasn't on the phone all the time, so I started brushing back up on web dev skills. I got on a mailing list to learn JavaScript (which had passed me by til then). I started playing with DHTML, and this new thing called CSS (Layout! Hot Damn!) To make it worthwhile, I created the first real FAQ for the ISP; a set of interactive, online tutorials for the basic tasks we always talked about on the phone (setting up email programs, configuring browser settings, etc.)

This was all good, but wasn't getting me moved to Corporate Support. I took on a real challenge on my own. I got a copy of Visual Studio from the college, and began to create a dialer application for the company. I had already gotten up to speed on the changes in HTML, picked up better than passable skills in JavaScript, and was fairly good with CSS. Now I needed to dig in deeper into programming, so I started learning Visual Basic (not a big jump from VBA), then InstallShield scripting, which in turn led to diving back in to C++. Four months later the ISP was pressing it's own CD's of the dialer app for distribution to new clients. And, they were hiring again in the Corporate Support department.

Delmarva Online was a small regional Internet Service Provider, with about 14,000 dialup clients, that also ran a small hosting business. They hosted roughly 600 corporate sites for everything from churches to school districts to car dealerships and small manufacturing companies. In it's earliest days they had used a server-side technology called IHTML, and by the time I moved into Corporate Support they still had one or two clients on that platform. But the majority of their clients were on something called ColdFusion, a server-side technology built on C++ by a company called Allaire. Coming in to Corporate Support, my job was similar to that of Tech Support; walking clients through email configuration and stuff. But, I also got the responsibility of taking on minor coding tasks to hosted sites, slowly learning ColdFusion.

Having started on-line classes for Computer Science, with the University of Maryland University College, I was really getting in to Object Oriented Programming. .NET was in beta at this point, and I was thinking that it was going to be 'the thing', but I was getting better and better everyday with ColdFusion. Our lead programmer, Joel Firestone, had taken his hobby site for guitar (Guitarists.net) to a new level, getting it mentioned in Guitar Player magazine. Pretty cool for a site that had taken a few months of "spare time" to develop in ColdFusion (Joel moved to PHP later in life, and has since moved his site to that as well, but that's another story). We had one or two sites on ASP that had taken me forever to implement easy stuff, like mail, that took me seconds in ColdFusion. I really started to pick it up, combining ColdFusion with JavaScript, CSS and XHTML. They started giving me small apps to write, then full site rewrites. ColdFusion 5 was released, and UDF's were the new rage, then Blackstone started talking about CFC's, and I quickly started seeing full Object Oriented web development on the horizon. ColdFusion was moving to a Java EE server, and the changes were awesome!

Jump ahead a decade. Wow, how times have changed! ColdFusion has changed hands twice (from Allaire to Macromedia to Adobe), and has gotten better and better with each iteration. I've watched ColdFusion grow with the web, and continually been amazed by the things that have been done. I've had the opportunity to play with close to a dozen server-side technologies in that time, and always come back to ColdFusion for the core of my work. It does far more than just pay the bills, and I'm never short of work, and thank God every day for the opportunities that have come my way this past decade. ColdFusion development (and developers) change and grow every day. Millions of sites with outdated code are being upgraded, or rewritten, to more modern development standards. ColdFusion is an incredibly easy language to learn and use, which also makes it easy to write bad code as well. Today we see developers apply new skills and standards towards writing scalable and efficient code, which highlights the ROI of ColdFusion development in that those upgrades and rewrites are accomplished in a fraction of the time (and cost, and resources) than it would take in many competing technologies. The web's first web application server platform and language has proven itself as an enterprise ready rapid application development platform, and modern developers are proving it, time and again, as a real world solution toward answering real business needs rapidly and effectively.

I've seen great frameworks come about, outstanding public (and private) sites, Web Services enter the fray and change and grow, ColdFusion developers (historically server-side people) embrace JavaScript and Ajax, mobile become the new hotness, Open Source projects multiply and grow and grow and grow... It's an exciting time to work on the web, and just as exciting to work with such a dynamic technology as ColdFusion. I can't wait to see what comes next!