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