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On the Origin of the CMS Career

Thought I’d seen some ups and down,
Til I come into New York town.
People goin’ down to the ground,
Buildings goin’ up to the sky.
- TALKING NEW YORK BLUES

People have been talking about their entry into the Content Management world. Pie started it. Lee Dallas followed, as did others. They’ve all got a common thread to their stories – getting sucked into Content Management completely by accident. So I thought I’d join in.

My working life started out pretty sweet. The day after my last University exam, I hopped on a plane to New York town armed with only my wits and a fistful of quickly devaluing South African currency. I was planning to flip burgers or sometihng, but was lucky enough to get a job writing Oracle Pro*C programs for Standard and Poorson Wall Street. For about 4 years, I did about 10 months in the Northern Hemisphere contracting and 2 months back in South Africa, completely avoiding winter. Among other things, I wrote some ODBC drivers in London and did a Verity K2 gig for ABN Amro in Amsterdam.

Although I had played with Java applets at University, the web wasn’t really a big thing at all. In 1997, I did my first pseudo-agency job for Electric Ocean in Cape Town while tutoring 3D Graphics and not doing my planned PhD. Although this was all web based, there was certainly no concept of an out-of-the-box Content Management System. The closest thing to a product then was Netscape LiveWire on Netscape Enterprise Server, which is now iPlanet. It was really just a lot of haxoring with C++, Perl and server-side JavaScript, and a bit of sysadmin on the side.

Then, in early 1999, I started a job on a start-up Accenture (then Andersen Consulting) project which had a big idea and a whole load of funding. I mean really a whole load of funding. We were partying like it was 1999, which it was. The tech team I was on probably peaked at around 15 people, and I found myself sort-of-leading the web tier. We were using Sybase’s Jaguar CTS server, all the Netscape Servers and good old CORBA. And some new thing called Vignette Story Server 4.1.

No-one in the team had ever seen a CMS before, I got to know Vignette really really well. I started out doing the Content Delivery Application (CDA) with my newly aquired TCL skills. Anyone else remember syntax like this:

[SEARCH TABLE retro
INTO var
SQL "select RETRO_OID, RETRO_NAME from CMS_SYSTEM where ( SYNTAX = $crap)"]

I love [FIELD RETRO_NAME [FIRST $var]]

Then, about a month into the Vignette implementation, someone had the nerve to ask how content was actually getting into the system. It was about that time that we realised Vignette Story Server 4.2 didn’t actually come with an interface and we’d have to, um, build on ourself. So we panicked, flapped, scritched and pokked for a while. A team photo at the moment of realisation is shown below:

Team Photo after realising we had to build our own authoring interface

Team Photo after realising we had to build our own authoring interface

Quite a schoolboy error for a multi-million pound project. So the project plans were hauled out again, and I became Content Management Application (CMA) gimp. If I have to say so myself, we built the best darn CMA in the whole of the UK.

My summary of the project looking back - we didn’t know what the hell we were doing and it is a testament to Accenture’s impressive project management methodology that we actually managed to deliver the project. The startup became Sportal.com and did pretty well in the end. I managed to make a good few friends on the project, many of whom I still see today. Some might actually read this – please comment if you do. After this I guess I became a Vignette consultant for a while and, when Content Management became mainstream, I ended up in agencies doing Content Management implementations all over the place.

And that’s the story of how I met Vignette over 10 years ago. And although the Vignette name will soon be dead, it might just be hanging around for another 10 years. But that’s a story for another time.

P.S. I think #cmsorigins is a cool Twitter hashtag. If there is a Meme ID out there, let me know.

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3 comments to On the Origin of the CMS Career

  • Fun to read – as always. “We were partying like it was 1999, which it was.” and the picture made my day :)

  • Tim

    If I might add to the level of community knowledge as to how one starts selling CMS:

    It was all a mistake for me, I had an engineering construction degree and thought that I was applying for a sales job for a Concrete Management System, pay seemed good and I didn’t have to sell to people with tattoos, imagine my surprise….

    And may I also suggest The Changing of the Guards:

    I stepped forth from the shadows, to the marketplace,
    Merchants and thieves, hungry for power, my last deal gone down

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