Frequently Asked Questions
What is a database? What’s the difference between an application, a database and a system?
A database is a structured container for all the data related to your business: products, clients, orders, shipments, employees, processes, etc. Each subject, or "entity", goes into a different table, and the tables are related to each other. For example, a Customer may have many Orders, an Order may have many Items, and so on. As long as the tables are related, it's easy to connect the dots and create a report, for instance, that tells you all Items a Customer has ordered.
The database is often referred to as the “back-end” or BE for short. i know
can't actually see the back-end without special software–it’s like the foundation under a house.
An application, also called the "front-end" or FE, is the part that you see and use–including screens, forms, lists, and reports—plus the business logic and validation rules that make it easy to view and manipulate the back-end data.
The system is the whole thing: the front-end application and back-end database working together.
How can I tell if a database is high-quality?
When reviewing the back-end, we can tell right away if it has good design: tables and fields are consistently named, there’s a nice diagram built showing the relationships between the tables, referential integrity is enforced, and there are no repeating or date-specific field names.
In which language(s) do you write software? What is Microsoft Access? What is Microsoft SQL Server? Why should my data be stored in SQL Server instead of Access?
We use the Microsoft suite of database software technology. For Web applications, we implement a SQL Server back-end database with an ASP.NET MVC Core front-end, and for desktop applications we connect a SQL Server back-end to a Microsoft Access front-end.
Microsoft Access comes with a free database called ACE—though most people (confusingly) call it Access. An ACE database is capable of handling lots of data and many simultaneous users, however for most business applications we use Microsoft SQL Server. Even the free version, SQL Server Express, offers numerous advantages over ACE in terms of capability, stability, and security.
How do I tell whether I need a web or Access desktop application?
There are many pros and cons to both web and desktop applications. Web applications have a wider variety of available features and easier offsite access than desktop applications, but are more expensive to build.
See our comparison chart or contact us - we’ll ask you some simple questions to determine which kind of system makes sense for you.
Can I just use Excel to store my data?
Sure, you could, and many people do–but it’s a bad idea. Excel is a great analysis tool, but it’s not good for storing critical business data. A proper database will have better security, reliability, performance, and stability when handling datasets of any significant size.
If need be, you can always export a selection of data to Excel for in-depth number crunching.
Should I build a custom application, or subscribe to a software package?
That depends on what you need the application to do! If a software package exists that meets your needs, we're not going to reinvent the wheel. If you need CRM, we'll suggest Salesforce or Dynamics CRM. If you need accounting software, we'll suggest QuickBooks. On the other hand, if you, your business, or your industry has unique requirements that cannot be met by off-the-shelf software, it's time to consider a custom solution.
If you're unsure whether an application is out there that meets your needs, contact us and we can research the market for you.
Do you provide technical support on existing systems?
Sometimes. If your system uses technologies within our expertise, we’ll take a look at the quality of the underlying code and database and let you know whether we can take it on.
Can you help me locate a database or mailing list of certain types of companies? I want to send direct mail or email to a list of people. (doctors, lawyers, manufacturers, etc.)
No. We’re not that kind of “database company”. We suggest you search for something like “mailing lists for purchase”.
How much is my project going to cost?
As with many things in life, it depends. We do custom development projects ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands—occasionally exceeding a million dollars.
With most custom development projects, we do an early discovery phase we call an Architectural Framework, which ranges from a $4K to $12K investment. Completing the Architectural Framework will give you a clear Project Plan with accurate budget estimates, an initial database design, and a Screen Flow diagram that will act as a "road map" of the system.
Why are software development hourly rates so varied?
That’s a good question. Some developers that present themselves as companies are really just one individual working out of their home. These solo developers don’t have many expenses, but lack the advantages of a full team. Others are just getting started and have less experience, so they charge a lower rate, since it might take them longer to build your system.
Studies have shown that a good developer can produce results 5-10 times faster than a mediocre developer, so it is often better in the long run to pay an experienced developer's higher hourly rate than to hire someone that is cheaper per-hour, but may take a long time to finish building your system.
I know exactly what I want. Why can’t you give me a fixed bid amount for my system?
It’s awesome that you know what you want. Maybe you even have system specs written down, or diagrams prepared by another vendor. These things will really help, but there's no way to know everything in advance. We’ve found that new details and complexity always come up during discovery, design, and construction.
To that end, in order to cover our risk of a project becoming more complex or taking longer, we would need to quote a higher amount. Even then, a fixed-bid developer would have an incentive to finish the project in as little time as possible. Because of these misaligned incentives, among other reasons, we think fixed bid software projects are a bad idea.
Once you’ve delivered software, are there per-user or monthly maintenance fees?
Nope. We only charge for the time we spend on your project. Everything is delivered to you (including the source code) with no ongoing fees or license costs.
The only exception is if your application needs web or database hosting, which will have a recurring monthly cost.
J Street Tech
How big is the J Street team? Where are you located? Do you outsource to overseas developers?
The J Street team is comprised of about a dozen people, including a system architect, software design analysts, programmers, a tech support/testing specialist, a project manager, and an office manager.
Most of the team works in our Bellevue office, near Seattle, WA, while others work from home offices. We don't outsource to overseas developers–everyone on the team lives and works in the USA.
How long has J Street been in business? Where did the name J Street Technology come from?
Armen founded "Armen Stein Consulting" in 1994, then renamed the company to J Street Technology in 1997. Armen’s wife, Lori, came up with the name, after the street they lived on when they were first married, and where Armen got his first technology job. They agreed that the apartment on J Street was just what they needed at the time; pragmatic and practical with no unnecessary frills –just like the database applications we build!
What preparation do I need to do before hiring J Street to build my system?
Many people think that they need to prepare complicated specification documents, design their database, sketch out the application, or reorganize all of their business data before we can get started. If you’ve done any of those, we can certainly benefit from the work you've put in—but it isn’t necessary. All we need is some time with you to ask you about your business and what you need your system to do. From there, we can begin designing your database and ironing out desired features.
I’ve already written the specs for the system I need – can you just program it?
Nope. We’ll still need to go through the Architectural Framework process with you to get a more complete understanding of what you’ll need. Just like when designing a house, we'll need to prepare all of our plans and blueprints before construction, in a consistent and standardized format.
I have a cousin/neighbor/friend who knows computers, can they build a database for me?
Perhaps. Computer science, however, is a massive field with a ton of specialization, so their experience may not be the right kind to build a high-quality database application.
Here's an analogy: You may know someone who's handy with power tools, and they may do a great job of refurbishing furniture or making quick repairs to their home, but you wouldn't ask them to build a whole house from the ground up.
Many of the calls we receive are from companies that need us to take over from a novice developer; they were unhappy with the quality of the work product, the project was never completed, or the developer has dropped communication entirely. Usually, we need to start over from the beginning.
Once we start, how long does it usually take to create my application?
The time a system takes to build can vary, based on size and complexity. Most simple systems can be completed in weeks, while more complex systems may take several months.
Who owns the software we build, once it’s completed?
You do! Our Master Service Agreement ('MSA') covers this in fine detail, but in summary: We reserve the right to reuse common code and underlying system architecture practices, but you own the system, including source code. That means you have the right to maintain and alter the code yourself, or even hire a different company to support your system (though that would make us sad.)