I remember consulting for a company — let’s call them Waldo’s Widgets. We’d been working on modernizing WW’s ColdFusion infrastructure. Easy enough, for almost every measure.
The CIO called me to check our progress. I told him things were going great.
“My team should be able to do this themselves,” he said, sounding annoyed. “They’ve been slacking off for a long time.”
I get this a lot. People, especially CIOs and staffers, often see consultants as an invasive species. Or worse, an admission of defeat that their staff could not do their job.
I needed to talk the Waldo’s Widgets CIO back. I assured him the code TeraTech was migrating seemed to be written by some top-notch developers over the years. (The fact that they were using such an outdated version of CF for years wasn’t their fault.)
Consultants occupy a specific niche in the development world — a critical one that staffers often can’t cover themselves. But they’re critical in specific ways, and under certain circumstances. A consultant could be the difference between a missed deadline and high costs, or a top-notch app delivered early.
Here are the four reasons Adobe ColdFusion consultants are indispensable to your company’s operations:
- You get specialists and generalists — all in one.
- We’ll tell you if your CF app is total crap.
- Experienced consultants have seen it all.
- ColdFusion expert freelancers Vs. ColdFusion consulting companies offer different services and values.
It’s worth looking at each role and seeing what my job as a ColdFusion consultant looks like.
You get ColdFusion expert and generalists — all in one
Consultants are a bit of a fickle bunch. They like to work on challenging novel projects the most. But the more we do this job, the harder it is to come across something new.
Bad news for us, yet good news for you and your company.
ColdFusion consultants know how to switch roles rapidly — from generalists to specialists and back again. They help one client modernize to the latest version of CF (generalists) and then help another untangle on a jumble of inefficient code, cleaning it up line-for-line to make sure it’s secure (specialists).
Odds are an experienced ColdFusion consultant has seen whatever problem your company is facing. The longer they’ve been doing this line of work, the greater the odds your “novel problem” is pretty common for them. You can’t help but discover the intricacies of a development platform after having worked with it for years — some even decades. (Use this to your advantage.)
This wide breadth of experience means we can draw connections between previous work, combining previous work to build new solutions for your company.
Here are just some ways ColdFusion consultants can use years of experience to help your company:
- We’re masters at helping companies switch from other languages, like Java or PHP, to ColdFusion. (We’ve all helped clients absolutely fed up with their current programming language and looking to switch to CF.)
- Well-versed consultants can also help clients modernize their ColdFusion to the most-recent version. This may sound easy, but you’d be amazed how many people screw it up.
- We’re often asked, “Can we do [blank] with ColdFusion?” The answer is almost always “Yes!” — with caveats. An experienced consultant will know how to make your idea happen in the quickest, most efficient way possible.
- We can hurry and/or wait, without sacrificing quality or missing deadlines. One misplaced character in a line of code can change everything, and we can't risk rushing.
As a consultant for over 25 years, I’ve handled every shape and form of ColdFusion dilemma. From datanapping hacks to server tuning and enough spaghetti code to fill a family-style Italian restaurant.
The data-napping incident, for example, offered a novel problem. Hooray for me!
Some hackers tried to hold chunks of the company’s data hostage, demanding a ransom (for the sake of continuity, let’s say it was Waldo’s Widgets again). We locked down the firm’s entire app and server, locking out the hackers from the rest of the Waldo Widgets’s IP. We ultimately teased out the hackers without giving them a penny.
We’ll tell you if your CF app is total crap
Here’s the most refreshing part of being a ColdFusion consultant: we’re paid to be honest.
ColdFusion consultants haven’t invested the time and effort into creating your company’s app. We have no emotional connection or vested interest in playing up a project’s merits or strengths. We’re also not connected to any of the company’s previous projects or goals, both of which can cause blind spots.
Unbiased opinion increases odds that will only make the app better.
I’ve got a story that illustrates this.
The Security Blind Spot
Let’s pick up where we left off with our stand-in company, “Waldo’s Widgets,” which in my mind has become the avatar for every ColdFusion client I’ve ever had.
Waldo’s CIO, Waldo Jr., called us in for a security audit. Junior thought his team’s app would pass with flying colors and hoped to use the positive review for a few brownie points with Waldo Sr. and the rest of the higher-ups.
Bad news, though. We found several glaring backdoors and security holes which could have spelled big trouble for Junior and Waldo’s Widgets.
The CIO’s jaw dropped when we provided a report listing the problems we found. Had a regular staffer taken on the task — knowing Junior was eyeing a pat on the back — they would have likely produced the glittering review the boss needed.
Staffers too often do whatever makes the boss happy. As a consultant, I’m paid to be honest.
I can tell you an app sucks — if it does. Ok, I won’t use those harsh terms. I’m gentler and stick to positive ways to make something better without berating anyone involved. We’re all human, after all!
We can also tell you if everything your company has done so far is great! I don’t like to deliver only bad news.
By doing so, I’m doing you a favor. My stake in the outcome is to make the product better.
Which is why Waldo Jr.’s plan to get an outstanding review didn’t backfire. He provided the results of the security audit to the higher-ups, who commended him for having the humility to seek outside help. He got the brownie points he was looking for.
Experienced consultants have seen it all
Let’s lay off Waldo’s Widgets for a moment.
One may think ColdFusion consultants spend a lot of their time diving into code and dismantling wonky apps, or tuning servers. But that’s not true.
I often joke my job is sometimes to market on behalf of Adobe. Many times, a client will ask me a question that starts with “Can ColdFusion do…” and then land on a feature or tool that’s been added in more-recent releases.
That’s because ColdFusion evolves better than any other development platform on the market today. Most of the solutions clients are seeking are already baked into ColdFusion. So I spend arguably too much time catching clients up on new tools and tricks available with the latest version of ColdFusion.
Then comes the conversation about upgrading to the latest, most-modernized version of ColdFusion. (It’s one many CIOs aren’t ready to have, but should.)
This intimate knowledge of ColdFusion is a blessing and a curse that comes with mastering the development platform.
As a result, your company needs a good ColdFusion consultant to:
- Incorporate new patches and features to work security fixes into existing apps.
- Spot potential problems, such as security holes, that in-house developers might miss
- Cure spaghetti code blindness — a vision impairment characteristic of a developer unable to recognize a piling on of crappy code.
How to choose between ColdFusion expert freelancers Vs. ColdFusion expert companies
There’s one big decision to make when you’re choosing a ColdFusion consultant: do you pick a team or a solo freelance developer?
Both come pros and cons, though I’d humbly argue picking a consultant with a team of developers offers greater odds of success.
Solo developers have their perks.
- Some present themselves as specialists focused on a single aspect of ColdFusion development.
- They’re often more available for a quick intervention.
- They’re usually cheaper.
But solo freelance consultants have some downsides. They’re often limited in their knowledge and don’t have the institutional backing to shore up any headaches. I’ve often been contacted by clients who claim their solo consultant “disappeared” on them.
This is all par for the course. Which is why teams tend to, over the long run, produce better results.
A consultant with a team of developers, however, offers other perks:
- Dispersing workload among team members, making them more efficient and likely to deliver on time and on deadline.
- A broader base of knowledge, filling in gaps that team members may have amongst each other.
- More responsive and able to meet a client’s expectations.
An experienced ColdFusion consultant can be the perfect ringer to become an extension of existing staff.Sometimes, your company needs to make a big, quick push to launch or overhaul an app or make a minor change, but need not hire more developers. Consultants can fill in that gap temporarily. Having or hiring a top-notch ColdFusion consultant can be key to making a push in your company’s evolution or development of new apps. Thus, saving and money.
Michaela Light is the host of the CF Alive Podcast and has interviewed more than 100 ColdFusion experts. In each interview, she asks "What Would It Take to make CF more alive this year?" The answers still inspire her to continue to write and interview new speakers.
Michaela has been programming in ColdFusion for more than 20 years. She founded TeraTech in 1989. The company specializes in ColdFusion application development, security and optimization. She has also founded the CFUnited Conference and runs the annual State of the CF Union Survey.