With a little help from my friends …

January 29, 2009 at 10:35 am 1 comment


About two weeks ago I participated in a really cool event hosted by Toi Wright (leader of the Dallas asp.net user group) called GiveCamp ‘We Are Microsoft’.

About a hundred developers, designers and dba’s came together for a weekend to create new websites, databases and applications for 20 charities. Teams from all over the metroplex and from as far away as Arkansas came together for the event. Some teams were there representing the companies they work for (Match.com, Telerik, Sogeti). Others were formed on the spot.

My team was made up of 3 web guys, a designer and myself (the token dba). Latish, Tuan, Reza and I got together with the rep from our charity (the Child Abuse Prevention Center of Dallas – the CAP center) about a week before the event to talk about what we would do and how we might do it. Hillyer (the designer) joined us on Saturday.

The weekend itself is just a blur at this point. We started coding around 5:00 Friday night and basically didn’t stop until around 3:00 Sunday afternoon. One guy from our team (Latish: The coding machine!) actually coded non stop from 10:00 Saturday morning until we uploaded our site around 3:00 Sunday afternoon.

Now … don’t get me wrong. We turned in a site I’m proud of. The only problem is that by the time I recovered from sleep deprivation (sometime Monday night) it was clear to me there was a problem. We had decided to do a ‘roll your own’ solution, basically hand coding the website in asp.net. It was a good solution, and it included all the things the CAP center wanted. The problem is that we had given them a site that would be very difficult to maintain or update. Difficult? Ok … damn hard. really damn hard.

After thinking about it for a day or two I contacted the others on my team and suggested we take another stab at it. This time I wanted to use a cms (content management system) to make it easier for the charity to maintain the site on their own. Every one of them signed on. Immediately. Without hesitation. Awesome!

Hillyer and I started out working on the design. Since Hillyer joined our team after the event had already started she didn’t have much of a chance to contribute to the design phase of our project. Now that we were starting over she would have her chance to shine! Over the next couple days Hillyer came up with a fantastic new look for the site. Very clean, simple and easy to use. It hit every point we wanted. Working with a great designer has been an amazing experience. As a database guy, I haven’t had much exposure to that side of the business. Hillyers work is simply beautiful.

The only problem is that the design she mocked up for us was just that. A design. Not a website. So now I had the challenge of converting this amazing design into a css template that I could use in Sitefinity (the cms we chose). Now remember, I’m a dba. Not a web guy. I knew I needed help, so I turned to an expert. I contacted @Sh3N3rd (Mitsi McKee), a friend from twitter that does this stuff for a living. I’m convinced it was reaching out to her that saved this project.

IMG 3955-1

@Sh3N3rd couldn’t help me with the css slicing (cutting the image provided by the designer into pieces and reassembling them using css and html), but she put me in touch with a friend that she thought could help. Tom Nussbaum (twitter @tomlovesyou) stepped up and agreed to help get us through this roadblock. Did I mention Tom lives in Austria ? Suddenly this project is global!

A couple days later and input from a couple more continents (Indonesia and South Africa) and we’re getting closer to having a world class template (to easy, I couldn’t resist) ready to go. Tom put in a lot of hours on this. He did it for a charity he’s never heard of, in a city he might never visit on the other side of the world from him, for no money. As my little boy would say … ‘how cool is that daddy?’ Answer: Very cool.

So that brings us current. Hopefully soon I’ll be applying the new template in Sitefinity and bringing over content from the CAP centers ‘old’ site.

I’ve talked with the CAP center a lot during all this. There are some neat additions that we’re gonna tack on, now that we have some time to work with. So stay tuned and with any luck my next update will include a link to the new design in a live site!


p.s.  The rocket man in the green jumper is my boy Trevor when he was 4.


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1 Comment Add your own

  • […] Microsoft Charity Challenge Recap – Tim Costello writes about his experience at this event, which brings techies together to build applications for charities in a short time window.  When I talk to junior DBAs and developers who want to break out into a senior level position, one of the tips I give is to talk to local charities and nonprofits.  They need IT help, and you can make a big difference in a short amount of time.  They’re thankful for the help, and you get good experience without having to convince a client to pay you.  Plus, since it’s a charity, you can tap your virtual friends on the shoulder for help and they’re more likely to pitch in for a good cause when you get in over your head. […]


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