Our Access

As i’m writing this, i’m sitting in the back of theroom of the united kingdom’s national access user group’s seminar. I wasinvited over to give the keynote address of the conference, along with twotechnical talks (“scenario-based design” and “service oriented access”). Atthis point, i’ve already given my keynote speech and one of my talks (my secondpresentation is scheduled for after lunch). To say that i was pleased to beinvited is an understatement. It would also be an understatement to say thateveryone has been unbelievably friendly. I managed to get my schedule mixed upat the start of the day, for instance, and gave my second technical talk first,but everyone seemed to roll with the change. The conference organizers (robgordon and margaret chamberlain) were unfailingly supportive. If the rest ofthe attendees end up reading this in a few months: thanks for a great time!

The only downside to the conference: at the start ofthe day, rob got up and said, “we wanted to get the most well-known person inthe access community for our keynote speaker…” I was really pleased. That is,until i learned that last year they had ken getz as their keynote speaker. So igather that the group is working its way down the list and i was, at best, the“second most well known person.” I’d like to argue with them but i have toadmit that if i could get ken to speak at my conference, i’d get him first,too.

Since the conference’s theme is “our access,” for thekeynote i just asked people how they got started in access. I heard a number ofdifferent stories. As we each told our different stories, it became obvious howmuch we had in common: there are, i think, about a half dozen different “how igot started in access” stories (i heard my own “how i got started” story from awoman in the third row on the left). There was the engineer/accountant who hadto get an application built; a professional developer in some language with alimited future (pascal, usually) who needed to build a database application;the person with no programming background who had to take over an applicationsomeone else had built; the person looking for a change of career who figuredthat software development was a good choice, with access being the tool to use.

Our careers shared experiences also. Many of us havewhat i call “charity clients,” for instance. These are the clients who hire usto do stuff that we don’t really know how to do. They don’t pay much (oftennothing) but they give us the chance to work on developing the access skills weneed. Often they really are charities (i think that we could start a separate,worldwide chapter just for access programmers whose first major client was achurch).

We also had a shared body of access applications thatwe’d built seven or eight or 10 years ago that were still running and stillbeing useful, though not necessarily for the original users. Those members whowere new to access were depressed to discover that they’d have to be supportingtheir current applications for many years.

We shared a common understanding of access as aproduct. For instance, we all agreed that the one member who started on access95 and stuck with access, despite that experience, was the hero of theconference.

We also talked about why, after all these years andall the different development tools available to us, we continue to buildapplications with access. I don’t think that, among all the reasons that cameup, we agreed on any. However, i can say why i keep coming back to access.

As my book on visual basic 6 attests and my upcomingbook on asp.net 2.0 testifies, i don’t work only in access. I play the field.In fact, for all of 2003 and the start of 2004, i didn’t really touch access.But toward the middle of 2004 i got a major access consulting contract. Comingback to access after being away for so long highlighted to me the two reasonsthat i keep working with access. What’s important about my insight, i think, isthat no one (not even the people at microsoft) realizes what access means tothe people who use it on a regular basis.

The first reason i like access is that i’m soproductive in the environment. Normally, when someone brings me in to work withthem, we’re all working at the bleeding edge of technology. This involves acertain amount of pain and agony on everyone’s part. It sometimes feels like ispend more time setting up and configuring systems in order to get started onthe project than i do actually working on the project. But, coming back to accessfor the project in 2004, i just sat down and started creating functionality. Iwas delivering at least three or four forms every week. The change was soobvious that my wife commented on it: “you just came home from the designsession and started working.” It was great. And there’s no other tool that ican use to deliver so much in so little time. I’m back working in asp.net rightnow (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but i look a little wistfullyat that last access app. The second reason i like access is because it’s fun:

I can build real applications, working closely withthe actual end users, and deliver something genuinely useful to them in arelatively short period of time—usually months. While there are an infinitenumber of applications that shouldn’t be built with access, there are anequally infinite number that work just fine as access applications. And thechief characteristic of these applications is that they’re delivered to a smallgroup of people i can get to know personally. More importantly, the applicationthat i deliver is regarded by them as actually useful and makes a realdifference in their lives.

And what could be better than that?

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