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CFUG ChampionsA conversation with Steve Rittler, Manager of the Philadelphia area CFUG and Philadelphia area MMUG

CFUG ChampionsA conversation with Steve Rittler, Manager of the Philadelphia area CFUG and Philadelphia area MMUG

Hello to everyone in the ColdFusion community. In this column, I’d like to spotlight User Group managers, Team Macromedia volunteers, community leaders, and other enthusiasts who champion ColdFusion and related technologies. These are people like many of you who spend hours – and even days – a week giving back to the ColdFusion and Macromedia communities. Today I’m speaking with Steve Rittler, manager of the Philadelphia area CFUG and founder of the new Philadelphia area MMUG. Brendan O’Hara: Steve tell us how you became involved with the Philadelphia Area CFUG, and eventually became the manager?
Steve Rittler: Well, Chris Swanson, an employee of a local consulting company, founded the Philadelphia area ColdFusion User Group in late 1999. Chris did a wonderful job organizing the group and evangelizing for ColdFusion, but he eventually left in early 2001. He approached me and asked if I’d be interested in running the group. After helping him to prepare for a couple of meetings, I took over for him and have been the manager ever since. Nobody’s offered to replace me, so I continue to do the best I can! O’Hara: How large is your user group and what cross-section of developers do you appeal to?
Rittler: Our mailing list has been fairly steady at about 400 subscribers. As far as meeting attendance goes, we peaked out at over 100 people in the audience for a Ben Forta presentation in 2000. We have since settled in at an average attendance of 40–50 per meeting. We have been pleasantly surprised by the diversity of talent that shows up at our meetings. We’ve had people drop in to find out more about ColdFusion as a platform and other people who are trying to solve a tricky LDAP issue they’ve been dealing with all week. As far as the companies they represent, we’re evenly distributed across the spectrum – representatives of very prestigious local companies, university Web developers, government employees, and sole proprietors. O’Hara: How do you decide what kinds of presentations to do?
Rittler: It’s a fairly scientific process involving post-its, a #2 pencil, and darts. But seriously, I try to plan two topics per meeting, one of which is geared toward a beginner CF person and a more advanced one for the more senior developers. Last month’s meeting started with a presentation on generating ColdFusion code in Dreamweaver MX 2004. We were very lucky to have Sue Hove, director of instructor readiness for Macromedia, as the presenter. This type of topic is great because it’s just as applicable to new developers as to those who are more experienced, but simply new to Dreamweaver. As a counterpart we had a fairly advanced presentation dealing with using ColdFusion, and the underlying Java Application Server, to create PDF documents using XSL-FO. This way everybody has the opportunity to learn something. I try to stay at least tangentially tied to ColdFusion, but there have been times we’ve focused purely on tools or development practices that can apply to any technology. Presentations on topics like database design or application architecture or coding for security advance the developer without advocating any specific platform. That kind of knowledge is portable, and since the user group is in the business of education, we aim to give away as much knowledge as we can. O’Hara: Do you see yourself as an evangelist for ColdFusion or Macromedia?
Rittler: Yes I do. As user group managers our role is primarily to educate and inform, but there is also a healthy degree of advocacy. However, I don’t think anyone is looking to create a horde of ColdFusion drones. Developers know that no language or development tool is the panacea for all of their programming problems. ColdFusion is one tool, one fantastically powerful and easy-to-use tool, out of many that developers need to carry with them in this day and age. Clearly ColdFusion MX makes Java almost as applicable to our users so I try to advocate for Java and JRun as well. O’Hara: How do you view the role of the Philadelphia area CFUG in the developer community?
Rittler: What I personally hope is that all of our user group members are able to learn something at every meeting. Sometimes this is the knowledge of how to best utilize ColdFusion along with all complementary technologies. Other times it is best practices for developing CFCs in Dreamweaver or using ColdFusion with Flash. Then our members can take this knowledge and use it to champion ColdFusion and other Macromedia products like Flash and Dreamweaver in their respective businesses. O’Hara: How do you plan to make that happen?
Rittler: We try to get our members engaged in the learning process. We try to connect developers with each other and the user group, engage them in interesting presentations, discussions, and most recently in certification study groups. We involve them in the organization and direction of the group. If our members continue to participate and continue to learn, then the user group is a success. O’Hara: You mentioned certification study groups. What are those?
Rittler: Since our CFUG has been around for quite a while, it became evident that of the relatively large number of ColdFusion developers in the area, comparatively few were certified. I had just recently taken the CFMX certification test and thought that a goal of our group should be to help our members follow the same path. The initial response to the proposal for a certification study group was surprisingly very strong. We picked up copies of Ben Forta’s CFMX Study Guide and went through it, five chapters at a time, together. I think I probably learned about as much as the six folks who survived the five months that it took to get all the way through! Now Philadelphia has six more enthusiastic ColdFusion promoters who really know their stuff, and that’s great for the developers, their employers/clients, the user group, and Macromedia. Everybody wins, including the bar we met in! O’Hara: What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve faced with the user group?
Rittler: Surprisingly enough, it’s never been funding! We’ve enjoyed consistent financial support for a number of sources (thank you, sponsors!) since the very beginning. I would have to say that our biggest challenge has been locating the meetings in a facility easily reached by as many people as possible and at the right time of day. Philadelphia’s corporate center isn’t in the city anymore. The suburbs, which form an arc starting north of the city around to the west, are not only gaining in population but in office parks as well. No single location in the suburbs is convenient for everybody. Hosting our meetings in one area automatically excludes people. Hopefully we’ll be able to address that by expanding the meeting schedule and moving around a bit. O’Hara: How do you find sponsors for the user group?
Rittler: Sometimes it’s dumb luck or information sharing among all the MMUG managers. One local company has generously provided funds since the beginning. We’ve managed to secure donations from two others as well. We signed with user group programs run by technical publishing companies like New Riders, O’Reilly, Peachpit, and Macromedia Press who have always provided us with plenty of giveaways in exchange for book reviews. Amy Brooks and Ed Sullivan at Macromedia deserve significant thanks as well. They work tirelessly to promote all of the user groups worldwide, keep us well informed of what’s going on inside the mothership, and stock us up with goodies twice a year. Without them, none of the user groups would be as strong as they are. O’Hara: What’s next for the Philadelphia Area CFUG?
Rittler: We have several things planned for the upcoming year in addition to our usual meeting schedule. The study group was a bit of a surprise success and I will have to figure out how to support additional sessions. We’re starting a more general Philadelphia MMUG which we would like to do in conjunction with the Philadelphia Flash MMUG. This will cover the “tools side” in more detail and more regularly than either one of our groups can really afford to do. The Philly MMUG will also provide some small “hands-on” introductory lessons for ColdFusion, Flash, Fireworks, and Central. We have a great opportunity to meet and involve people who wouldn’t usually be exposed to ColdFusion. I think that will be plenty to do in 2004! Thanks to Steve Rittler for speaking with us and thanks to all of you who champion ColdFusion in your everyday lives. If you are in the Philadelphia area and wish to attend a meeting you can visit the Philadelphia CFUG’s Web site at www.phillycfug.org for more information. Or to find a Macromedia ColdFusion User Group in your area, please visit Macromedia’s Web site at www.macromedia.com/cfusion/usergroups.

More Stories By Brendan O'Hara

Brendan O'Hara is a software architect and CEO of Exos Technology LLC, a software consulting firm in the Philadelphia suburbs.
He co-authored the Advanced Macromedia ColdFusion MX Application Development, published by Macromedia Press, and was
technical reviewer for Programming ColdFusion MX by O'Reilly. Brendan is a Team Macromedia volunteer for
ColdFusion and chairman and founder of the Philadelphia Developers Network. bohara@exostechnology.com

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