Prepare for a long blog

FeedDemonChoosing my favourite piece of software would be a tricky task. TopStyle would definitely be in the top five though, if not number one. That's why I anticipate the release of anything Nick Bradbury decides to do. His latest project is a Newsreader called FeedDemon. Something Windows is lacking is a decent news reader and you can bet this fills the gap. I've been lucky enough to get my hands on an Alpha release and I love it. This is the incentive I need to get the RSS feed added back to codestore. Thankfully Mr Golding has saved me a lot of work.

Nick uses Delphi to create both applications. Hence I decided to download an eval copy of Delphi 7 last week when I was having a whimsical half hour thinking I would make a start on my very own web designer's toolbox. This wouldn't as been as hard as you might think as my computing background has its beginnings in Delphi v1.0 and hence Pascal, way back in 1996. Needless to say I've all but given up on my venture. It did revive some memories though that I will share with you now if you'll let me. So, if you want the full "How I got in to Lotus Notes" story, read on. I warn you now, it's going to be a long one!

It's 1996 and I am in my second year of university at UMIST in Manchester. I use my Student Loan to buy myself a PC. It had 16MB of RAM. I remember the guy on the phone double checking that I really needed this much. The reason I needed this much RAM was that I had developed an interest in CAD and needed to be able to run the copy of AutoCAD 12 I had got my hands on.

During the second year of the Mechanical Engineering degree you have to choose a project that you will spend most of your third and final year working on. Knowing that I wanted to do something computer-based I started applying for all those that involved CAD in some way. They were all taken and had waiting lists. The next best thing I could find was a project working on an existing program written in Turbo Pascal. Strangely I was the only applicant. Little did they know I had failed my first year course in programming Pascal with particular style. Come to think of it, I failed almost everything in my first year and had to resit the whole year. If only there were exams in partying I would have flown through.

Not having much choice, they accepted me to take on the project. At the same time, the father of my girlfriend at the time kindly gave me a copy of Delphi 1. This is when I realised I could take the existing Pascal command-line based application and really impress them with a new Windows GUI interface. Looking back I think it worked and may well be the only reason I got a second class degree rather than a third. The following year saw me develop a love of programming and endless nights were spent learning and "perfecting" the application I was working on. It's been a while since I looked at the end result as the only copy I know of is in my dad's possession. So this weekend, while I was at home, I took a copy with me. If you want to take a look feel free, just promise not to laugh. Don't worry if it makes no sense at all. Not sure what it's all about myself anymore. All you need to know is that it works out the amount of heat exchange in things like, errm, heat exchangers.

Anyway. The fact that I had done all this without any help whatsoever had me believing I had what it took to be a computer programmer. If I could do that with no training, what could I do with the right help!? My ambitions were soon quashed as I left university and started to apply for jobs. Nobody was interested in anything less than a completely IT-based degree. I felt like all the work I had done counted for nothing. I do remember one interview with a Lotus Premier Business Partner. Ironic looking back as I'd never heard of Lotus Notes at the time. It all went well until they asked me to describe a book in terms of OOP that a child could understand. Obviously they wanted me to mention methods like turnPage() and properties like PageCount or whatever. However, at the time I had no idea what they were talking about. What I needed was some serious tutoring. They obviously didn't recognise that and showed me the door.

Getting close to losing all hope I found a company based in Hastings called Mountfield Software (now FDM Group). They took anybody with a degree and the will to learn, trained them for six months and sent them out to various companies as "consultants". It wasn't perfect but it was better than no job at all and the rates they promised were pretty good. After five months of the course and a grounding in VB and SQL they "ask" what skill you would like to specialise in. My choices were PowerBuilder or Lotus Notes. No need to say which one I chose. The only reason being that I had heard we were more likely to get jobs in Notes than PowerBuilder. How right they were! I remember at the time thinking how awful Notes was though. After a few days creating forms and views and playing with @Functions, I felt a little dissapointed. This wasn't programming! Then they showed us LotusScript and I was a little happier. No sooner was I writing agents and playing with Domino (Notes 4.6 had just been released) than they had me out of the door and on my way to Ipswich. Easier said than done when you have no idea where it is.

After a few months in the role I soon found out the amazing difference between what they paid me and what companies paid them. I left and have pretty much been a freelance contractor ever since. The rest, as they say, is history...


  1. How interesting - I finished my degree in 2000 - in Computer Aded Engineering and Design.

    I also preferred computers - notes being what the company I work for uses.

    I wonder how many engineers have fallen to the dark side!!

    • avatar
    • Jaap
    • Mon 23 Jun 2003 14:44

    mmm, looks like a lot of people are doing now something they never dreamed of at school...just like me starting in Chemical Engineering and now brewing some Forms and distilling some Agents.

    at our company, Lotus Notes was introduced as a means of Laboratory Notebook and Project Management environment. This is still one of the key areas where we make use of it.

    • avatar
    • Jaap
    • Mon 23 Jun 2003 14:51

    This is where I did a part of my study

    {Link} on Polymer Chemistry just before I got into Notes 3.0 running on a "smooth" PS2 machine collapsing every 10 minutes with max 10 concurrent users ...sigh that WAS Notes...optima forma..in that time I was unlucky and desparado...

    • avatar
    • Kieren Johnson
    • Mon 23 Jun 2003 17:33

    I too studied engineering as a degree but moved into computing when I graduated. I think an engineering background is a positive for computer programmers - its a degree that teaches you problem solving, technical nous and project management. We may not be able to think in OO intuitively like a computer scientist but we do have vital skills for corporations.

  2. I remember the good old days, when a newsreader meant NNTP :)

    Okay, on the actual product page it's called a "Newsfeed Reader", I just wanted to play the "When I was a kid.." part.

    Disturbing thing is I'm not even 25.

    • avatar
    • Thomas
    • Tue 24 Jun 2003 02:38

    Okay, who can do better? I studied criminology. Never touched a PC during that time, except for writing my dissertation. Still, I became a Domino developer. I think some of us need a bit more time to figure out what they really like :-)

    • avatar
    • Erik
    • Tue 24 Jun 2003 05:19

    Maybe I can: I served in the german Air Force for four years with the rank of a Staff Sergeant. Never touched a PC except for gaming.

    Then I decided to leave the military and became a Domino(web)developer.

    • avatar
    • DW
    • Tue 24 Jun 2003 06:42

    I graduated with a degree in Meteorology. Had never heard of Notes, had no computer knowledge whatsoever but still got my first job as a Notes Admin with IBM. 9 years later I've been in an Administrator, Developer, and Consultant! Still don't know anything about computers tho :-)

    • avatar
    • Paul Edmondson
    • Wed 25 Jun 2003 09:58

    I studied Engineering Maths at Uni then went to work for Nuclear Electric PLC where they trained me up as a PCLP Domino Developer. I thought it was great at the time 'cos I was so much in demand. Now I'm more likely to get the lead role in the next Bond movie than a decent Domino job in NW England ;-)

    • avatar
    • Stephen Mitchell
    • Wed 25 Jun 2003 11:22

    Wow Pascal and Delphi

    They're the first programming languages I learnt as well.

    I wonder how many other Delphi developers ended up being Notes Developers.

  3. Need an idea for a program to create? How about a Domino Designer client for the Mac?

    I'm sure a few of us would be able to fund a new G5 to spark your development efforts!

  4. I'll try do one better - I started out as a Chartered Accountant, and specialised as a tax consultant :)

    I decided that doing something I liked, but didn't love, wasn't how I wanted to spend my life. I'd heard great things about Notes so decided it would be a good entry point into the 'developer' world. In '98 I landed a job with Lotus Consulting South Africa as an 'analyst', but started coding straight away. One year, a horror project, a couple of thousand lines of LS, and Steve McConnell's 'Code Complete' later, I was a full-blown, cocky Notes developer, and haven't looked back (I try not to, the code I wrote then was awful :)

  5. Was searching google for info on RSS and realized I had missed one of your columns. I didn't know you were doing rss feeds; now I need to find a newsreader. In that quest, another google search produced this: {Link} - a Notes-based newsreader. Haven't tried it yet, but could be interesting.

  6. I was an Army officer (29 years) - Field Artillery, and then a Chaplain. Started developing Lotus Notes apps with R3 while still in the Army. Retired in 1995, and have been developing since.

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CodeStore is all about web development. Concentrating on Lotus Domino, ASP.NET, Flex, SharePoint and all things internet.

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