Interview with Nathan Phillips, TeamDesk expert from Montana, United States

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Nathan Phillips has extensive and thorough experience designing, implementing, maintaining, and documenting TeamDesk databases for single users, small teams, and mid-size organizations (100+ users). He can develop custom external code to integrate your database with other web services and can create embedded JavaScript to provide your application with enhanced, custom interface functionality.

What inspired you to develop business-solutions?

I grew up in Silicon Valley and started doing tech work at a startup during the dotcom boom. I worked as a network admin and later programmer on the product.

I started doing contract work because I enjoy it and it’s in line with my experience. Designing a system that is actually useful to an organization, building that system, and seeing it go live are a pretty compelling experience. And since my background is IT, I have the understanding of computers necessary to achieve that.

I also became interested in contract work as a way to decouple my work from my geographical location. The way I work, I could do it from anywhere so long as I have an internet connection. So that gives me the freedom to decide where I want to live.

When did you decide to become a TeamDesk expert?

As soon as the Experts directory was created. I had been looking for some way to advertise my availability, and ForeSoft provided the perfect way.

What was the last solution you worked on?

An internal system for a medical services company.

The system tracks customer enrollments and some legal compliance information related to enrollments.

They had started using TeamDesk and brought me in a little ways into the project.

What kind of business tasks does a client try to solve due to this solution?

They found it very easy to start using TeamDesk on their own, before I came in. The main work I contributed to was finding a way to structure their data so that it could track information that wasn’t being tracked in the original set up.

The new structure had to cover everything that was already in the system plus the information that was not being captured. And it had to be something that the existing setup could be transitioned into.

I proposed a new structure, we talked it through and refined it until it was satisfactory, and then we did the transition. It all worked out very well.

What is your favorite TeamDesk feature?

Formulas. It’s a proprietary formula language. It’s used all over the system for different purposes. It’s a really great way to interact with your data. It allows accessing data in many different ways and is much simpler and easier than writing raw database queries by hand.

In most cases TeamDesk users create solutions on their own. What advices do you have for them?

Don’t Mix Meanings. This is the most common problematic thing I see new users do. They will try to use a single column to store multiple pieces of information. Don’t be afraid to use more columns rather than trying to jam multiple things into a single column.

If you think of a column as a question, then every possible value in that column should answer that question – and only that question. There should never be special values in the column that mean something else.

And there should never be values that mean “the answer is unknown”. Use blank for unknown, and other columns to mean other things.

I know it can seem counter-intuitive at first. It seems like adding more columns increases the complexity. But the motivation is actually maintaining simplicity. If you have multiple meanings in a single column, that makes it more difficult and more complex to build anything that uses that column. If you have to build something that uses 3 or 4, maybe 10 or 20 or more, columns that all have multiple meanings in them, the complexity increases exponentially.

If each column has a single meaning, then everything in the foundation of your system is as simple as it possibly can be. The entire foundation of your system is based in simplicity. Then you can use these simple building blocks to create more complex pieces of functionality that are reliable and can be maintained going forward.

If you follow this simple rule, you will save yourself grief in the future.

You can get in touch with Nathan Phillips via this form and discuss a database solution for your business needs.

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