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ColdFusion: Article

What Kind of ColdFusion Developer Are You?

How CF 8 can change your profile

My editorial last month was a high-level overview of all the new features in ColdFusion 8. Many of these features were generally divided into one of two categories: features that address developer productivity and those that focus on integrating with other products and technologies.

Categorizing all of the new features into one of two categories is a high-level generalization but necessary when attempting to explain such a long list of features and enhancements in only two pages of text. This month I'm going to talk about ColdFusion developers and how CF 8 can change the landscape of the developer profile - and I'm going to generalize again because there's a lot to say on the matter.

The days of one developer or another having complete mastery over everything that can be done in a CF app appears to be fading quickly. There are far too many server features and technologies for one developer to be expert in every one. As I see it, developers will most likely specialize in one (or more) of five areas.

UI Experts - ColdFusion 8 now supports creating Flash, HTML, and AJAX interfaces, generating output as Flash, PDF, and HTML, and creating/manipulating images. In addition to supporting output in different formats and reporting with the report builder, there's a powerful charting/graphing engine built into CF. Coupled with the fact that Web browser CSS and JavaScript support is more consistent and robust and that good CSS layout and skinning has become the norm, we have a unique class of CF developers who specialize in creating user interfaces and other output for the Web.

Business Logic Experts - CFML has decent support for object orientation, XML, server events, conditional logic, threading, and so many more server-side features that are transparent to end users. The need for developers who specialize in architecture and in server-side logic and processes is unlikely to ever go away - in fact, more complex Web applications are being built today than ever before, and there's a strong demand for developers that can do these tasks.

Integration Experts - ColdFusion has long had support for communication/integration with external technologies and products such as Verity, Java/COM/CORBA, mail servers, LDAP servers, and RDBMS (databases). Between ColdFusion 7 and 8 support for several new databases were added as has integration/communication support for .NET, lifecycle data services, SMS gateways, Flash Communication Server, and Exchange servers. In fact, event gateways allow integration/communication with external applications/technologies via pretty much any protocol supported by Java, so integration with anything is possible. As more companies choose to make CF the middle tier in their organization, a need for integration experts will arise.

Configuration Experts - Since ColdFusion moved onto the J2EE platform with the release of CF MX, only a handful of us felt comfortable rolling up our sleeves and configuring/optimizing the underlying Java Application Server or even the EAR/WAR settings for the CF server itself. The demand for developers competent in troubleshooting and optimizing CF and its underlying engine is definitely growing. With the release of ColdFusion 8, there is now a very robust server monitor built into CF, which gives administrators access to server metrics and allows for more accurate and quicker performance/stability troubleshooting to be done. ColdFusion 8 also lets CF run on much more current JVM versions, and with new JVM versions comes changes in how to optimize the underlying engine. CF 8 also introduces some new CF admin features for optimizing threading and request performance. More and more developers will have serious expertise in fine-tuning and troubleshooting CF servers in the near future.

RIA Experts - The last category of developers who use CF and specialize in a specific field doesn't actually specialize much in ColdFusion itself. They specialize in creating Rich Internet Applications with Flex/Flash/AJAX, and/or specialize in developing Web-enabled desktop applications using technologies such as Java, .NET, or more likely, AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime - formerly known as Apollo). These developers spend most of their time building slick, smart clients but use ColdFusion to provide services - server-side logic, database, mail server, and other product/technology integration. Though they don't specialize in CF per se, these developers will be familiar with ColdFusion Component syntax and most likely with how to configure the communication channels between Flex and CF using lifecycle data services, event gateways, and/or the Flex 2 gateway. They will also know enough ColdFusion to do what they need in the CFCs to leverage their applications - I'd imagine that, if nothing else, they'll be familiar with how to query databases and send e-mail.

Missing Categories - When I put this list together, I was torn over whether or not specialists in reporting and charting should be considered a sixth category of specialized developers, since there's definitely potential for such a group of developers. So far it appears that true specialization in reporting/charting doesn't appear to be widespread but I'm seeing demand more and more for people who specialize in this, and it wouldn't surprise me if such a class of developer did arise. Besides developers who specialize in CF server features, there's another category of specialist: frameworks specialists. Whether they choose to specialize in one framework or several of them, many developers are now focusing much of their attention on gaining expertise with CFML-based frameworks. This trend will likely grow, as more frameworks are released - and the CF developer community becomes more mature - the market for framework experts grows.

It's important to keep in mind that ColdFusion makes it easy for developers to achieve results, so most CF developers will be fairly comfortable moving around between the various areas of expertise whenever they need to, but personalities and business requirements combined will encourage them to specialize to some degree. Many developers will specialize in several of these areas, but it's unlikely that anyone will have time to become a true "expert" in all, given the diversity of these categories and the rate at which features are introduces as well as the rate at which the industry is evolving. While well-roundedness is never a bad thing, also remember that specialization can often make you more marketable and a better developer, so don't be afraid to ask yourself what type of developer you are, but perhaps set your sights on becoming a specialist in an area where you're currently not.

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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Most Recent Comments
Saikat 10/03/07 05:30:57 AM EDT

It's good to know about the charting/graphing component of CF. However, FusionCharts, the Flash based charting solution, is also a simple yet powerful tool to create attractive and interactive charts using CF. FusionCharts online documentation has a separate section for CF developers. You can get more info at: [http://www.fusioncharts.com/]

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