Sunday, January 01, 2012

Why FoxPro Matters: Development

Every developer has a starting point. It isn't necessarily the first time they wrote a line of code or the first computer they worked with. Rather, it's the first time they "got" it - the first time, they were able to put the separate pieces (the data, the code, the interface, the entire experience) together, not just for a client but for themselves as well. It's the light-switch moment - the kindling of the passion. Some developers write code their entire life but never find a connection to data. Others become pure DBAs - they don't write application code; but rather focus on how the database interacts with others. But most applications rely on the convergence of the two, the content and the delivery, to create the final solution.

When I meet a developer for the first time, I usually ask what they like to work with, what part of the development process gets their juices flowing. This helps me identify the best method of optimizing their strengths. There are a few common responses:

a) doesn't matter - the sign of either a developer who's given up or hasn't found their true passion
b) code - best to focus on logic
c) data - great opportunity for analysis and conversion
d) both - versatile
e) setup/configuration - tweaker!!

But the responses are also dependent on the languages and tools they have worked with in the past. Some languages are natural for this. They encourage data and code to work together. FoxPro is one of those tools. I have yet to meet a FoxPro developer who doesn't fall into the d) category above. When an architect talks about metadata tools, most FoxPro developers "get" it - because they are used to the meta-data that surrounds data, be it in the DBC or third party tools.

This isn't to say FoxPro doesn't have its faults - but rather that its strengths revolve around the convergence of content and delivery. Years ago, that wasn't always the case. Programmers focused on the intricacies of the code, rather than the delivery. Today, there are many other tools and frameworks, especially in the web world (Ruby on Rails and other MVC come to mind), that focus on that same convergence.

That convergence can be what separates success from failure and the tools that help ensure and promote a strong understanding and correlation between the two are usually the right tools for the job.

For me, FoxPro has focused my attention on how data works with the solution. There's a reason why I see an application in terms of its data and how users can get to that data and turn it into valuable information. If information is currency, then understanding how data turns into information is worth its weight in gold. FoxPro's value legacy will be in the developers who have that understanding and share it with their clients and their colleagues.

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