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ColdFusion: Article

Showing Commitment to the CF Community

"I've written a lot lately about the growing strength of the ColdFusion development community..."

Simon Horwith, Editor-in-Chief of SYS-CON Media's ColdFusion Developer's Journal (latest issue pictured), writes: I've written a lot lately about the growing strength of the ColdFusion development community - shown by the onslaught of frameworks and the rapid adoption and support for these frameworks, the growing number of bloggers, new conferences and the great success of the CFUnited conference, and by the commitment to the community being shown by Adobe.

Adobe has shown their support in so many ways including Adobe Labs, the CFEclipse RDS support and wizards, and the easy-to-use new Flex/CF integration, to name a few. This is in addition to the fact that at least one, if not several, of the members of the ColdFusion Server Team is in attendance at nearly every CF event throughout the year. This month, I thought I'd talk about some things that every developer can do to help support the community, and about what we at SYS-CON are also doing to help out.

Not too long ago, Ray Camden wrote in a blog entry that "you don't have to be a guru to contribute code to the community." I'll be honest; my first reaction was to rebut. Code that is written for the purpose of being reused by the community and that is made publicly available should be well written. The idea of novice developers opening files that are freely available in order to read the code and learn from it, mistakenly using this poorly written code as an example to learn from, makes me nervous. For that reason I do disagree with Ray: if a developer is going to write an application, API, or other complex bit of code for others to reuse, they should not only be confident but competent as well. However, this does not mean that they cannot contribute.

As the community grows and the number of open source projects continues to increase, I envision some of these applications not only having a significantly large code base, but to be developed and managed in such a way that it is relatively easy for any somewhat decent developer to contribute to the project code base in some way. Some of the projects are organized this way, but not nearly as many as those with a single file that are really only editable by one person (presumably the original author) at a time. Whether this idea of many large projects that anyone should be able to contribute to comes to fruition or not, I suggest that writing and distributing project code should be the last form of contribution to the community on a developer's path from "newbie" to "guru." What then can a developer do to contribute no matter what their level of expertise?

First, I suggest every novice developer do two things: absorb the wealth of information that's publicly available and practice, practice, practice! Absorbing information is best accomplished by subscribing to a popular e-mail list server such as CF-Talk and reading the posts, reading/subscribing to many of the excellent ColdFusion blogs that are out there, and by reading the ColdFusion documentation (available free on the Adobe site), ColdFusion Developer's Journal, and the articles and tech notes published on the adobe.com Website. Practicing is just that: spend free time or time in the office (if you can) figuring out how to do things with ColdFusion that you don't already know how to do. Most developers learn more through trial and error than any other medium. Start with built-in tags and functions that you don't know or don't know well, and then move on to practicing writing custom tags and ColdFusion components. ColdFusion is not rocket science and the more you read and practice, the better you will become at your trade... and in a very short amount of time, if you put effort into it, enjoy what you do.

As you begin to feel more confident in your skills, don't only read e-mail list server posts but also begin replying to them. If there are less knowledgeable developers in your office and you have the opportunity, let them know that you're available to help and mentor them whenever you have the chance. Begin reading other people's code and critiquing it - so much can be learned by looking at what others have written. Attend conferences and user group meetings (I'm sure there's a user group near you - if not, start one!) - you will learn so much from the speakers you encounter and will make many valuable connections by socializing at these events. If you are comfortable doing so, offer to present at an upcoming user group meeting. If you have given several user group presentations and feel ready for it, begin submitting topics to conferences. Send me an e-mail with a topic proposal for an article. Don't worry about grammar or content - our editors will clean up grammar and Ray or I will help with content suggestions. With a little effort, most if not all of these things can be accomplished within one year - even if it's your first year as a ColdFusion developer. Then, when the time is right, I suggest volunteering code to the community in the form of an open source project, if that's what you want to do.

Is all of this necessary in order to contribute code to the community? Certainly not at all... but I receive a lot of e-mails and meet a lot of developers who want to get involved but clearly don't know where to begin. There are so many ways you can get involved in the community; I suggest starting slow by exploring them all from a safe distance and getting more involved in the means that best suit you. We don't all enjoy having our code analyzed, or standing in front of a crowded room to which we must educate and entertain for an hour or more, but we can each contribute in our own way.

At SYS-CON, we are constantly looking to improve our offerings to the community. We do this via enhancements to the SYS-CON and magazine Websites, by improving existing and adding new magazines, and by sponsoring and organizing events. In fact, I am writing this editorial from a train on my way to New York City for the SOA Web Services Edge Conference (organized and run by SYS-CON) where I am speaking on rapidly developing SOA-driven Web 2.0 applications with Flex 2.0 and ColdFusion MX. Not too long ago, in response to the AJAX and Web 2.0 craze, SYS-CON launched AJAXWorld Magazine, which is an excellent magazine (Rob Gonda, long time CF developer and AJAX nut, is the deputy editor-in-chief). Most recently, MX Developer's Journal was renamed and somewhat refocused. Beginning last month, the magazine formerly known as MXDJ is now known as Web Developer's & Designer's Journal. The magazine is more focused on rich application development - particularly using the Flash, Flex, and Dreamweaver products from Adobe. "But what about our beloved CFDJ?"... I'm glad you asked.

ColdFusion Developer's Journal is now in its sixth year and going strong. Over the past couple of years, since assuming the role of editor-in-chief, we've experimented with several ideas about content and format, and have sought feedback from our readers. We have recently been making decisions about the future of the magazine and have found the feedback to be invaluable in the decision-making process. I thought I'd briefly share the decisions we've made so far, as well as some of the feedback that helped in making these decisions.

The deep focus issues that we ran for the first eight or nine months after CFMX 7 was released were very well received, as were some of the other focus issues (CFPetmarket in particular). It's difficult having the right content for a deep focus issue every month, so that will not be the regular monthly format moving forward. Due to the response we did get though, we will run a deep focus issue from time to time when it makes sense to do so, and we intend to follow every major release of ColdFusion with a series of issues that get our readers up to speed with the ins and outs of what's new immediately following each.

Over the past few months, I've written from time to time about wanting to give CFDJ significant Flex focus as well as the attention to CF. At one point I even went so far as to say the magazine might even be 50% CF and 50% Flex. Reader response to this was mixed - enough so that we've decided that CFDJ will indeed stay firmly rooted as the best printed resource for ColdFusion developers. Next issue will focus on Flex, since it is an important new product for CF developers, but after that Flex will receive occasional coverage, most likely closer to one article per month, based on our decision to move to a "repeated column" format. Our goal is to begin reaching out to meet the community's needs that, though often times silent, are certainly legitimate.

The idea behind the repeated column format is that, in addition to special features on a variety of topics each month, CFDJ will run more regular monthly columns and multi-part articles. We will continue to offer the regular monthly columns already offered and will add to that. I can't get into specifics, but our goal is to achieve monthly blog coverage, CF Server optimization and troubleshooting advice, Q&A with a resident expert, Web 2.0 topics (Flex 2.0, Spry, and many other technologies), more attention to OOP and framework topics, and more tips/tricks/best practices articles pertaining to code and IDEs... each in a dedicated monthly column. Like I said, from time to time when appropriate, we'll diverge from this format and reintroduce the deep focus format in order to deliver intense coverage of special topics, but expect a more regular and more rounded issue each month going forward.

Expect to see this new format implemented over the next several months. I hope that you will find the new format and focus both informative and enjoyable. As always, now more than ever in fact, I am counting on our readers for feedback, advice, and of course for article submissions. You can e-mail me at [email protected].

More Stories By Simon Horwith

Simon Horwith is the CIO at AboutWeb, LLC, a Washington, DC based company specializing in staff augmentation, consulting, and training. Simon is a Macromedia Certified Master Instructor and is a member of Team Macromedia. He has been using ColdFusion since version 1.5 and specializes in ColdFusion application architecture, including architecting applications that integrate with Java, Flash, Flex, and a myriad of other technologies. In addition to presenting at CFUGs and conferences around the world, he has also been a contributing author of several books and technical papers.

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