Monthly Archives: August 2011

AppDeploy Origin Story: Part 1

I left my job at the White House in 1997 and started working as a government contractor in the Washington DC area. My initial assignment was a 50 node network where I was the systems administrator and was fortunate to find that my predecessor on that small network had implemented SMS v1.2. Overkill for a small network to say the least but a good environment for me to make a relatively simple job more complex (fun). I was in that position for several months and was feeling unchallenged. I pushed to be moved at the same time a large Unix to Windows NT migration was ramping up. I got the call to move to that project and decided to accept when I learned the position they needed filled most was that of an SMS admin. I was far from an expert but had done some reading and, relatively speaking, knew enough to step up. For some reason I thought it would make the job more fun to intentionally jump in over my head. I was holding my own, but as the migration got going, I found myself in meeting after meeting where a problem with the image deployment would be both acknowledged and dismissed with the comfort that they could just “fix it later with SMS”. So a lot was expected and demands ranged from aggressive to just plain impossible. While looking for answers, I was surprised to find that there were very few details to be found online. It was 1999 so it wasn’t like one would expect to find answers online, but I was finding next to nothing. I had a bit of background with building sites in HTML (stories for another day) and saw the opening as an opportunity.

My initial concept was to build a site that would explain the command line options for any setup program. The notion of crowd-sourcing was not really established yet and I had no visitors so that (the Package KB feature of the site) would come much later. Initially the easiest start seemed to be that I establish a home for deployment discussion without a focus on SMS. I was aware of a couple of other tools and knew that while there were a lot of product-specific knowledge needed, the one common thing among them were the applications themselves. I saw (and still see) each application as its own puzzle to be unlocked and that knowledge is something that spans any systems management product.

First thing was that I needed a name. I came up with a handful I wish I could remember well enough to list here. When polling friends AppDeploy was not a winner because the term App was not very common or well-known. I ultimately chose it anyway as the shortest of the .com names I was considering. A friend who I was training at the time was to be my partner. I had big plans and never would have taken them on single-handedly. As I started building the site I realized my first mistake: the partner I’d chosen to build this didn’t just lack knowledge in the space, but didn’t write and didn’t know HTML. It was slow going and everyone I mentioned the idea to would tell me I was the only one who cared about application deployment. I never believed that, but it was all enough that I would have given up after a few months but for a couple of things that stopped me:

  1. I had invested a significant amount of time developing the site and didn’t want to throw that effort away
  2. My partner decided he was going to move and backed out without my having to hurt our friendship
  3. I had my first encouraging call…

A product known as Cognet Manager was one that I found and documented in the early days of the site. The company contacted me via a conference call where several of those at the company conveyed genuine enthusiasm at my efforts. For them a clearing-house of deployment products gave them a desperately needed chance to be listed alongside competitors and there really was no such place at the time.

AppDeploy was seeing only a few visitors per month and this call gave me the push to feel like it could make an impact. So I kept at it…

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Posted by on August 29, 2011 in Business, Web


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The decision to “blog”

I like to skim magazines, but seldom do I really read them cover to cover, even if I am trapped on a long flight. However, I recently picked up a copy of Inc. magazine and really enjoyed reading all the stories of startups and first-hand accounts about things that worked and didn’t work. It got me to thinking I’ve got some pretty good stories to share. I try to keep pretty busy, but I’m anticipating this will be more fun than work and knocking out a story a week will be a pretty minor challenge.

I started making a list of experiences that might be significant based on jobs I’ve had and products I’ve created and was happy with the length of the list. When I went back and dug up all  the papers and books I’d written to generate a bit of a portfolio at I definitely enjoyed recalling the details of those experiences. During my eight-year career with the Navy I got to see a lot, especially having spent the last four of those years stationed at the White House. I then worked as a government contractor specializing in desktop management and during that time created, which was something that eventually got me several writing and speaking gigs (eventually AppDeploy would evolve to become my full time job). Between AppDeploy and my writing jobs I created my own company RWK Systems and another software company iTripoli, with my good friend Steve. I’ve tried several things along the way, some have worked well and others not so well.

At any rate, I ‘ve decided to record my stories here. If nothing else, I’m thinking a retrospective may help me see things better through the magnifying glass that comes out when attempting to document past events. And hopefully some of what spills out here will be something you may find interesting, educational or entertaining.

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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in General