From Struggling with Data Entry to Automating with FileMaker
This is me back in 2013.
I was a junior factory manager in Hong Kong who is frustrated with my data workload.
See that spreadsheet on my desk? That was burning 2 hours of my time each day, which also lead me to discover FileMaker.
To understand better, let me explain to you my responsibility at the time.
Repetitive Data Workload
For a factory line to run smoothly, we need to make sure there is enough raw material to satisfy customer orders. My duty as a junior manager was to keep an updated inventory record and arrange resupply at the right time.
Each day, factory line workers will write down the raw material consumption using pen and paper.
At the end of the day, I will have to collect all the papers from the production lines. Bring them back to my desk and manually type those handwritten data into an excel file. So I can know what our current inventory is.
Then, I will open another excel file with upcoming customer orders. Go through each order and breakdown the raw material requirement. For example, if a customer orders 100 toy cars, we will need 400 wheels, 200 headlights and 100 car shell as raw material.
Then, I will have to open yet another excel file. Setup formulas and try to compare raw material requirement against current inventory, so that I know if we have enough supply to satisfy upcoming orders.
As you can probably tell, it is a manual process with a ton of repetitive data entry, information lookup, and excel cell formula crunching.
Each day I have to spend 2 hours working through these data. Often making me work overtime. It was a very overwhelming period in my life.
So when I first learn about FileMaker. I was hyped.
I was impressed by its ability to create a custom database app so easily, it seems like this is the tool I needed all along to solve my problem.
It was during an Apple store presentation. I remember seeing how the presenter created a FileMaker app with just a few drag and drop, it looks like even for me, someone who does not have programming experience can make good use of it.
So I brought a copy, went home, and started playing with it.
Making the first database was easy: Create a table, create a layout, drag a field and I am good to go! It excites me seeing how I just built a database from scratch in less than 15 minutes.
But after that, this is where things start to become really difficult.
Difficulty of Learning as a Beginner
It didn’t take long for me to realize that building a demo app for fun, is a different thing than building an app for real business.
When it comes to creating a practical database, a ton of questions pop up. For example, how do I set up a portal to display related data? or how do I set up a button to do calculation quickly? What is script and how do I start using it?
There are so many things I felt like I needed to learn, but finding beginner friendly resources was incredibly difficult.
Most FileMaker tutorials out there seems to be written by 10+ year veteran that couldn’t empathise well with how it feels to be a beginner.
They often took what they know for granted, paced very fast, uses technical jargon, and skip through important steps as if they are mere common sense.
As a beginner, it was hard to learn from those resources. I brought books, courses, and watched online tutorials. None of them really helped.
At one point I even felt like maybe FileMaker is not for a guy like me, someone who doesn’t have a programming degree.
But I was determined to work it through, and I did it the hard way - by sheer force of trial & error, plus a ton of reverse engineering on every sample file I can get my hands on.
It took a long time, but at some point, I clicked. I didn’t know at the time. But by luck, I happen to stumble upon learning the most essential 20% of FileMaker that gives 80% of the results. And everything starts to make sense.
From there, I was able to complete my first working database. I was so proud of the result that I even took a picture of it.
It was an inventory tracking app. Production line workers can enter data directly into an iPad, and sync back to the office computer. Eliminating the need to re-enter them manually.
With the data inside the system. I can do a single click of a button, trigger the script that I created, and generate a report that calculates what material I need to reorder, and in what quantity.
The app was definitely not perfect. Looking back at it now as a full-time FileMaker developer, I feel cringe just remembering about how bad my technique was back then. But that is not important.
What’s important is that with the app being built, I freed myself from 2 hours of unnecessary data work every day. Opening me up to other more high level, rewarding work. Such as building another app to eliminate more manual processes.
I was not a FileMaker expert, but I was just good enough to be dangerous.
And I think this is where FileMaker truly shines. To allow business users to build apps and automate their work, without having to spend a lifetime learning programming.
This is my first taste of database automation. And it was a major success for me that ignited my interest in FileMaker.
Start of FM Beginner
Fast forward to 2016. I am a much more experienced FileMaker developer, and I notice there are still very few tutorials out there that are truly catering for beginners.
So I thought, why not do it myself? This is when FMBeginner was born.
This site is not about teaching 10+ years veteran developers on deep stuff like how to build a rocket or a sentient AI with FileMaker. I think there are already plenty of resources for that.
The mission of this site is to help other beginners, who are in the same shoes as I was back in 2013. And help them kickstart their FileMaker learning through easy to understand tutorials that empathise with beginner’s mindset.
Hopefully, it can help you too in your journey to become good enough to be dangerous and start building FileMaker apps for your business.