Jul
8

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Troy Malone, Chief Evangelist for Pelotonics, an online project management and collaboration tool. Troy and I discussed how the Dealerskins development team uses Pelotonics to manage projects, how we discovered Pelotonics and how it compares to similar tools like Basecamp. The interview lasted about half an hour but the Pelotonics crew have distilled it to 3 minutes of audio snippets of just my answers to Troy's questions. To listen to the interview press play in the embedded video at the bottom of this post.

If you are interested in what Pelotonics is and how one company (Dealerskins) finds it useful the interview is a good start. For more detail on the product and how you might benefit from using it check out the additional links below.

Why Pelotonics?
Pelotonics Tour
Pelotonics Info for Basecamp Users

An Interview with Aaron West from Troy Malone on Vimeo.

May
9

New Dealerskins Web Site Launched

Posted by Aaron West at 10:00 AM in Dealerskins, Flash

We've launched a new dealerskins.com Web site and I'm curious what you think! The new site has been live for about two weeks after a few select folks in the office slaved over building it for a month or so. Personally, I really like the new site. During my four and half years at Dealerskins I've seen five different versions of our site (four of which are shown below). It's always difficult to get the right mix of marketing, content, and design that demonstrates the skills of our staff. The latest iteration of our site does a good job communicating our message and detailing features of our product offering. Kudos to our marketing team, designers and developers who put together the best Dealerskins site yet! Check it out and leave a comment letting me know what you think.

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Mar
11

One of the most important resources for a Web developer are their tools. If I asked you to name a few of your most used tools, you'd more than likely talk about your programming tools - things such as your IDE of choice, unit testing and debugging tools, SQL tools, FTP software, your browser, and source control software.

In fact, I asked the developers on my team at Dealerskins this very question and most named all or some of the above. Other tools incredibly important to a Web Developer are load testing and performance monitoring tools. These types of tools are most often used by systems administrators or QA engineers, but our senior development staff are just as likely to wire up DAO's as they are to check our overall ColdFusion platform performance. Which brings me to the point of this post.

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Jan
22

Heading to the Big Easy

Posted by Aaron West at 10:50 AM in Dealerskins, ColdFusion, Personal

I'm attending the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) conference for the third time this year. Dealerskins has had a booth at NADA since before I started with the company and I've been able to work the booth three out of five NADAs over the years. This years conference is in New Orleans. I've only been to New Orleans once (Macromedia MAX conference, 2004) so it'll be good to go back and see the city again. I'm looking forward to talking with current and potential customers and getting to see all my colleagues from Dominion Enterprises. I'm also looking forward to showing off the results of all the hard work my team has been putting in over the last 12 months. We have some really awesome things to share that will energize current customers and entice new ones. If anyone is going to be at the conference, we'll be in Hall B, at booth #1021.

I'm gathering a few essentials this morning and packing my bags for an afternoon flight. I'll be in town from tonight until Monday morning. If anyone in the area wants to meet up leave a comment here, call my cell (you can call right from this page using the widget to the right), or hit me up on Twitter.

Jan
6

Sometimes when I'm sitting at my desk working, or driving around town, or doing something mindless like mowing the lawn, I think about things happening that would really suck. Sort of a deja vu kind of thing. I'm willing to bet you do this too. Perhaps you've seen misfortune thrust upon someone and you think: "Wow, glad that didn't happen to me." Well, one of those really sucky, really horrific things (to me) that I hoped would never happen, did.

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Dec
31

In just a few hours 2008 will come to a close and I'll ring in 2009 with my wife, son, and inlaws. This past year has brought some real challenges into my life many of which were unexpected. Fortunately, most of those challenges were met head on, were turned into opportunities, and then accomplishments. I played a major role in a very large datacenter migration project, one that involved months of planning and careful execution. That project, which migrated several thousand Web sites we host at Dealerskins was one of the most detailed, scary, and involved projects I've ever worked on. In the end it went very smooth. As they say, spend 80% of your time planning and 20% executing. Well, something like that anyhow.

There were several other major projects at work, some that took a matter of weeks and some that took over four months. During one part of the year I was managing over seven simultaneous projects involving four full-time Web developers, one DBA, two SQL Programmers, and one designer. It was super hard and I'm still learning while making a ton of mistakes. Many many thanks to the great folks that work with me at Dealerskins! It's been a pleasure working through the obstacles and challenges (and easy stuff).

Outside the office I was able to work on a few small consulting projects and create two new Web sites. The Nashville ColdFusion User Group site was a reincarnation of our previous site, and my wife and I launched a family blog at aaronandlindy.com. I continued to function as the user group manager for the NCFUG for the third full year.

During the last half of the year I had the pleasure of speaking at the BFlex conference in Bloomington Indiana, I wrote one article for the Fusion Authority Quarterly, and one article for the new magazine Flex Authority. Lastly, I served as an Adobe Community Expert for ColdFusion (Team Macromedia back in the day) for the sixth straight year.

I traveled to nine different cities spanning the east and west coasts of the United States including San Francisco, Cancun Mexico, and Norfolk VA. The year seemed incredibly busy to me but not when I compare it to other friends and developers (some who are both).

When I peer into my crystal ball I see 2009 being much the same as 2008. My travel kick starts again in a few weeks when I head to New Orleans for the NADA conference. Projects at work are more numerous than I've seen in a long time and we have plans to do some really great things for our customers (some of which have launched in the last two weeks).

On a personal front I plan to blog more, continue writing for magazines, and I hope to speak at more conferences next year. I also want to launch a new personal Web site, one that will replace trajiklyhip.com and trajiklyhip.com/blog. It's shaping up to be a fun and busy year.

To everyone who reads this I wish you and your family all the happiness and success you can stand. Happy New Year!!!

Dec
4

For the past three years I've had the pleasure of working with Steve "Cutter" Blades at Dealerskins. I hired Cutter in November of 2005 as a Web developer. He came to Dealerskins with a huge passion for programming and a desire to contribute to a small company with a very big vision. He's helped us realize that vision over the years but recently he's realized a vision of his own.

Cutter has always been interested in growing his own developer skillset and he's very good about giving back to the Web community too. He's recently contributed to the community by writing chapters for the Learning ExtJS book by Packt publishing. The book is available from several places (online and offline) including the publishers site and Amazon.

Dealerskins created a press release around Cutter's accomplishment which so far has been picked up by the following sites:

http://www.prweb.com/releases/2008/12/prweb1695404.htm

http://www.informationengineer.org/2008/12/03/dealerskins-developer-makes-a-mark-in-the-tech-community.html

http://www.pay-per-click-ppc.com/index.php/2008/12/04/dealerskins-developer-makes-a-mark-in-the-tech-community/

http://www.webdevelopmentlive.com/web-development-classes/dealerskins-developer-makes-a-mark-in-the-tech-community.html

More info about Cutter's accomplishment is on his blog:
http://blog.cutterscrossing.com/index.cfm/2008/11/11/Upcoming-Book-Learning-ExtJS

Oct
17

Next week, J.J. Merrick will be presenting an introduction to jQuery to the Nashville ColdFusion User Group. The presentation is geared towards ColdFusion developers who are interested in learning jQuery but don't know where to start.

The meeting is sponsored by my employer Dealerskins, and Nashville-based Vaco Technology. In addition to our normal Adobe schwag we are giving away two jQuery books, Learning jQuery and jQuery Reference Guide, both by Karl Swedberg.

Vaco Technology is also giving away a pair of tickets to the Nine Inch Nails concert going down in Nashville on Halloween!! The winner and one guest will be in a luxury suite directly above the stage. The suite includes an open bar, food, flat screen TV, private restroom etc. This is quite an awesome giveaway so be sure and show up in person to be eligible to win!

Full meeting details are on the brand new NCFUG site!
http://www.ncfug.com/go/meeting/meetingID/E2471CC4%2D908C%2DDFB9%2DE4CA9EA53B0577A9/

Sep
25

Tonight, Ben Greenbaum (Senior Research Manager, Symantec) will be presenting to the Nashville ColdFusion User Group. Ben will be discussing how he and Symantec track important changes in attack trends, and how various kinds of software vulnerabilities are being leveraged en masse and to what ends. Folks local to Nashville are encouraged to attend in person at Dealerskins (address below) while remote attendees can join via Adobe Connect (URL below).

All attendees (unless more than 20 or so show up) will walk away with the following:

  • Exclusive ColdFusion 8 poster
  • First issue of Flex Authority (lots of great info in this edition)
  • Brand new ActionScript Reference Guide from Adobe
  • Free training certificate from Total Training
WHEN:
September 25, 2008 at 6:30pm CDT

WHERE:
Dealerskins
404 BNA Dr. Building 200
Suite 600
Nashville, TN 37217

ADOBE ACROBAT CONNECT:
http://mmusergroup.adobe.acrobat.com/ncfug/

Aug
9

Tenets of Effective Leadership

Posted by Aaron West at 12:36 PM in Dealerskins, Personal

My first "real" job after graduating college with a Computer Science degree was at HealthStream based in Nashville, TN. I was hired by the vice president, Steve Clemens, as an applications content developer which is a really horrible title for a Web developer. About a year or so after starting the job Steve left the company for other opportunities. Before leaving he sent me and several others an e-mail about leadership. Having just started my career I was humbled that Steve saw potential leadership qualities in me and since that day I have kept his e-mail printed and in a safe place. What he shared with me planted a seed that I have nourished over the last 8 years while developing my career. Once or twice a year I realign myself with Steve's tenets of effective leadership. I recently shared these with the General Manager of Dealerskins and decided to share them with the world at large on my blog. I'm listing them below along with my own thoughts on each one. I hope you find as much value in these as I have, especially if you are in a position of leadership in any aspect of your life.

If you're in a leadership position...

1. Always view your job as one of service to those that report to you.
You are in a leadership position so you can help others do their jobs effectively, not the other way around. Enable those around you with useful resources, communicate clear expectations, and then get out of their way. Look at Andy Stanley, Jim Lawson, and John Lewis for outstanding examples.

2. Always criticize in private and praise in public.
Don't wait for "praise opportunities" to present themselves, look for them. If you've recently started leading a group of people you think is intimidated by you, seize every opportunity to show you're wrong and someone else in the group is right. This will show you have enough confidence in yourself not to be threatened by someone's ability. Ensure that you only criticize in private. Mistakes happen and that's okay. How you react to mistakes is more important than what went wrong. As people make mistakes, pull them aside to learn what happened, create a plan to avoid the same mistake in the future, and move on. (see number 4 for more on this).

3. NEVER take responsibility for good work that someone who works for you did. ALWAYS take responsibility for bad work they did.
During the last 14 years I've seen many unfortunate situations where managers took credit for something someone on their team did. These managers were often ineffective at creating results for themselves and their team and needed to steal credit from others to make themselves look good. It's at the opposite end of this viewpoint where effective leaders reside. If something goes wrong, you as the leader of the team are responsible. Period. If something goes right, elevate that event publicly and ensure the proper team member(s) are praised.

4. Let people make mistakes.
As a perfectionist (which at times I believe is a character flaw) I struggle with this one. When looking back over my career however, I realize its my mistakes that have shaped the positive nature of my growth. Don't work yourself to death avoiding mistakes. Let them happen naturally as it is the only way people learn.

5. Fight for your people.
This is one of the most important lessons, but also one of the hardest to learn. You can't walk around broadcasting how you fight for your team and announcing the sacrifices you make on their behalf. But even though they don't know what you're doing, you should fight for them anyway.

6. Always do your best to be fair.
Fair may not make someone happy, but people can live with disappointment if they feel they've been treated fairly.

7. NEVER allow the company to break it's word to an employee.
Trust is difficult to hold onto and the most important asset a company can have (other than its people). If your company makes a promise to someone on your team (even on another team) ensure that promise is kept. Loyalty, job satisfaction, and workplace passion are all affected by trust between the company and it's employees.

8. Don't promote too quickly.
Don't just think about someone's next job, but instead consider what they'll be doing 3 jobs down the road. Career development is not about attaining the "next" position, it's about paving a road of success for years to come.

9. Have a life of your own that doesn't involve business.
This one is difficult for many people including myself. I don't consider myself a workaholic, but all too often my "work life" bleeds into my "non-work life" in a way that creates negative outcomes for me and my family. As I'm learning, you will either create a healthy, fun life outside of the office or you'll be consumed by it. Find things you enjoy that don't involve business and do them regularly. It could be playing with your children in the back yard or traveling with your spouse. It doesn't really matter what you do just that you do it regularly.

If you do these things consistently, people will want to follow you because they'll know they can trust you, they'll know you know what you're doing, and they'll know they will be successful simply by being around you. Ultimately, leaders are judged not by what they accomplish themselves, but by what they are able to get others to accomplish around them.

Jul
31

For those that may not know, I manage the development department at Nashville-based Dealerskins, a leading provider of Internet solutions to the automotive space. We've been working on something very exciting that until today has not been public knowledge: we've been named the preferred Web site provider for Mazda North America. This means Mazda North America has chosen us to create and host Web sites for nearly 700 dealers. We're incredibly excited by the opportunity to serve Mazda in this capacity and we look forward to working with Mazda North America and their dealers. The full press release is included below.

NASHVILLE, Tenn., July 30, 2008 Dealerskins, (www.dealerskins.com) a division of Dominion Enterprises and a leading provider of automotive dealer web solutions, has announced that it has partnered with Mazda North American Operations to create uniquely-branded, independent websites for Mazda dealerships.

"Mazda has a great reputation for performance and excellence, and we are honored they have entrusted us with such a critical web marketing initiative. We are committed to earning that trust each and every day by providing outstanding support," said Kerry Cave, Dealerskins national sales director.

As the preferred provider of web solutions for Mazda dealers, Dealerskins will create custom, expertly designed websites for each dealer, and will provide training and support. Mazda dealers also will receive Dealerskins' proprietary sales tools including its Ups! search engine optimization and keyword report, Redline Configurator, Autobahn Inventory, and CarFax vehicle history check. Dealers may choose from three packages, each offering a variety of tools that maximize site traffic and leads, and convert those leads into more sales and service opportunities.

"We are excited about this partnership with Dealerskins, as it will give many of our dealers an interactive edge in the digital space. With more and more consumers researching automotive brands online it is important that our dealers have a strong web presence," said Rudolph V. Privitelli, group manager, Relationship Marketing of Mazda North American Operations. "In many cases, a consumer decision on whether they visit a dealership is made from their experience online. Our dealers invest a significant amount of money, time, and care into their facilities to deliver the Mazda brand promise of Zoom-Zoom. In this new shopping reality, that same care and attention must go into the design of their website - their virtual showroom."

Jul
30

Tomorrow night (7/31/2008) Mark Mandel will be presenting Introduction to Building Applications with Transfer ORM. Here's the description of Mark's presentation as reported on the NCFUG Web site.

When developing an Object Oriented web based application, it is normal to have a database with relational tables and a series of objects that represent that data. Often, the amount of time and effort it takes to manually map these objects back and forth from a database is large, and can be very costly. Object Relational Mappers (ORM) were developed to cut down the amount of time this process takes, and automate the translation between a relational database and an Object Oriented system. Transfer ORM's main focus is to automate the repetitive tasks of creating the SQL and custom CFCs that are often required when developing a ColdFusion application. Through a central configuration file Transfer knows how to generate objects, and how to manage them and their relationships back to the database. This presentation will outline the basics of what an Object Relational Mapper is, the use case for using one within web application development, as well as taking a code centric, step by step view of how to install, configure and use the basic functionality of Transfer ORM.

WHEN:
July 31, 2008 at 6:30pm CDT

WHERE:
Dealerskins
404 BNA Dr. Building 200
Suite 600
Nashville, TN 37217

ADOBE ACROBAT CONNECT:
http://mmusergroup.adobe.acrobat.com/ncfug/

Jun
17

Next week the Nashville ColdFusion User Group will host a presentation by Andy Matthews on integrating ColdFusion 8 and BlazeDS to create messaging services. If you're one of the many who've been searching for useful information on BlazeDS but haven't found anything, or if you've been wondering what role ColdFusion 8 plays in providing back-end functionality to BlazeDS, you need to attend this meeting.

WHEN:
June 26, 2008 at 6:30pm CDT

WHERE:
Dealerskins
404 BNA Dr. Building 200
Suite 600
Nashville, TN 37217

ADOBE ACROBAT CONNECT:
http://mmusergroup.adobe.acrobat.com/r86703034/

May
21

I'm hanging out at Webmaniacs this week and there's been a lot of confusion surrounding BlazeDS and push messaging. This confusion has been rooted in Adobe's marketing of BlazeDS including several presenters saying BlazeDS has the ability to push messages to a client just like LifeCycle Data Services (LCDS). Even this week at Webmaniacs presentations have been given talking about the differences between LCDS and BlazeDS. In a small grid of features including Flash Remoting, Messaging, and Data Management/Synchronization, the only missing check mark on the BlazeDS side was for data management and synchronization. Developers have taken this to mean BlazeDS includes the full spectrum of messaging that is included in LCDS.

Just after the introduction of BlazeDS in February, at Dealerskins we began creating a BlazeDS/HTML/Ajax/AIR application with the intent to push messages from a ColdFusion interface to an AIR application running on several dozen remote computers. After trudging our own path with BlazeDS (there is VERY little documentation and info online) we discovered you simply can't do push messaging without purchasing the full featured LifeCycle Data Services.

This week I was finally able to confirm with Adobe you cannot do push messaging in BlazeDS. Some folks have been quick to argue "push messaging" is a matter of definition or context. There are definitely different flavors of push messaging most of which are defined by whether the client is actively listening to the server or if it even knows it is in a position to receive a message from the server. Putting definitions aside, LCDS brings true push messaging to the table because it uses Adobe's proprietary Real Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) to create a constant connection between itself and the client. BlazeDS is open source, and since RTMP isn't (incidentally, Adobe's AMF binary protocol _is_ now open source) it is not available as a channel in the BlazeDS configuration files. Your only option for implementing messaging is to create a channel for AMF polling, configure some settings for polling, and then define your message producers and consumers.

In the application we built at Dealerskins, ColdFusion was a message Producer and AIR on the desktop was a message Consumer. In other words, a ColdFusion application produced a message that was sent to a CFC which then talked to BlazeDS, which then waited for AIR clients to request/consume new messages. While this worked fine, it is in my opinion overkill as we could've written the AIR application such that it connected to ColdFusion directly (CFC) in order to get new messages.

I hope this clears up some differences in features between BlazeDS and LifeCycle DS.

Feb
24

As you may have heard, Adobe has announced the release of Adobe Flex 3 and Adobe AIR 1.0.

Flex 3 is a feature-packed release, adding new UI components like the advanced datagrid and improved CSS capabilities; powerful tooling additions like refactoring; and extensive testing tools including memory and performance profiling, plus the addition of the automated testing framework to Flex Builder. Adobe AIR is game-changing in so many ways, delivering rich applications on the desktop, enabling access to the local file system, system tray, notifications and much more. Now you can write RIAs on the desktop using the same skills that you've been already using to create great web apps including both Flex and AJAX.

For a more in-depth look at Flex 3 and AIR 1.0, come out to our special meeting tonight at Dealerskins! Adobe is sponsoring this meeting with food, giveaways and a raffle copy of Adobe Flex Professional. We'll also be giving away some special goodies that won't be announced until tonight.

Links you should check out:

AIR Showcase
http://labs.adobe.com/showcase/air/

AIR Marketplace
http://www.adobe.com/go/marketplace

Adobe Open Source
http://opensource.adobe.com/wiki/display/site/home

Sample AIR apps
Adobe Sample Apps: http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/air/samples/
Digimix: http://www.digimix.com/
AOL Top 100: http://music.aol.com/help/syndication/desktop-widgets
eBay Desktop: http://desktop.ebay.com/
Google Analytics: http://www.aboutnico.be/index.php/google-analytics-air-beta-sign-up/
Parleys.com: http://www.parleys.com/display/PARLEYS/Parleys.com+V2+BETA+Program
twitterAIR: http://www.aaronwest.net/blog/index.cfm/2008/2/25/twitterAIR-v120-for-AIR-10-Released

Opensource BlazeDS
http://opensource.adobe.com/blazeds/

30onAIR
http://www.30onair.com/

Flex Showcase
http://flex.org/showcase/