Designing for your thought

James Busch creates hand-made software

Being a custom database designer means understanding the unique ways people think about their work. Just about everyone, especially in business, needs to keep track of things. When you call the toy store to see how many Playstations are left or ask your car dealer when the red Bugs will be in, or even use your discount card at the grocery store, a database has touched your life. They also do much more romantic things, like searching for signs of life in outer space and helping lonely people find the ideal mate. And they do vital things -- like find kidnapped children and catch the D.C. sniper suspects.

Everyone knows that business people can use a computer to keep track of things more easily and accurately, but a computer alone is not enough. It needs software. There are many, many commercial software programs on the market. However, because everyone has their own way of thinking about their business, it often turns out that the perfect software isn't available. This is especially true of small businesses. In my years of experience working with small businesses, I've seen that their success often hinges on their ability to inject their own entrepreneurial style into their work -- and that's where custom database design comes in.

My business is to find ways to put a client's style into their computer, to apply their unique ideas to make it work the way they think it should. I watch, listen and learn. Learning about the special ways people in Hawaii do business is fascinating to me, and I've been doing it since personal computers were a thousand times slower and cost five times as much as today.

The Internet has changed the way I work. I can share my ideas with colleagues in places like Seattle, San Diego, Chicago and even as far away as Australia, Scotland and Belgium, helping solve their problems and getting help from them to solve mine. My small client in Honolulu may have a unique problem that clever minds in far-off countries will take a professional interest in solving. We use advanced logical techniques like "referential integrity" and "entity isolation," and we have to keep up with software tools that change so fast, the manuals are obsolete before they can be published. But the really important part of my work doesn't change. I have to listen to people with an open mind and understand their ideas about their business, then make their computers work the way they want them to.

At night, I spend a lot of time sitting in my small office with my computers and software programs, like a computer geek in the movies, but in the daytime I visit my clients. I find out how their business is going, troubleshoot any problems that may arise and listen to their suggestions. That's how I find new ways to make my software faster, more accurate and easier to use all the time. As the needs of a business change, their software should, too. That's part of my job.

I also work with human service agencies. This part of my business isn't very profitable, because human service agencies often have tight budgets and I have to discount my services to them, but it is my most rewarding work. At one agency I helped, a study showed that counselors were able to spend over 50 percent more time helping needy people because of the paperwork saved by the software I designed. Imagine how great that made me feel.

So you might see me downtown, walking to my next client with my bag full of software, and I might seem distracted or puzzled or even frustrated, wondering how to solve my latest database problem. Really, though, I'm having a great time.

Hawaii At Work features tells what people do for a living in their own words. Send submissions to:

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