This weekend, I had the unique opportunity to donate some time to a worthwhile charity organization. Through the efforts of the Dallas-area .NET user group community (and specifically, Toi Wright), Microsoft, BravoTech and a number of other vendors, the first annual We Are Microsoft Charity Challenge was born in a flurry of activity over the last three days. This event was held in Dallas and matched up 100 or so developers with 18 charities in need of development services.
I was placed on a team assisting SER Child Development Center with developing a new website . This organization aids low-income families by providing low-cost child care and education, as well as adult education and career development services. From the outset, the organization staff were prepared and readily available; they arrived at the kickoff with design ideas, a packet of information as well as a USB drive full of electronic content and photos. Juan Torres, the CEO and President, and Dr. Carol Johnson-Gerendas, director of the center, were very enthusiastic about this project, volunteering to stay with us for as long as necessary to bring us up to speed on their needs. These two were gracious and appreciative, and made us feel like our efforts really will make a difference.
My team initially consisted of four people, but we lost one member to the flu on Friday. The other remaining members were Ryan Magnusson, a developer working for Wal-Mart in Arkansas (yes, he actually drove in for the weekend) and Raymond Sanchez, a web developer local to the Dallas area. After reviewing the charity's business model and website requirements, we opted to use a SubSonic starter kit for our project. This allowed us to quickly roll out the base application (essentially a CMS) and gave us a framework on which we could develop a couple of requested custom components. I took on the role of project lead as well as writing the custom components, the latter of which was very gratifying since I don't get to write as much code as I used to.
Like all software projects, we had a few glitches. The most frustrating issue was the web space provided for the event had a number of issues which were not resolved until the last day of the event. This left us with the unfortunate choice to leave their existing site in place (having run the demo from my laptop, where the code resides) until we resolve the issues with their web host. We also had a phantom error in SubSonic that slowed us down for a few hours. Since we only had 48 hours in which to work, sleep was simply an afterthought (in fact, one of the guys actually pitched a tent in the break room and slept on site). But the food was good and plentiful, they kept us filled up with caffiene, and the facilities were spacious.
We also had the opportunity to be interviewed by some of the guys from GeeksWithBlogs.net, which was published as a podcast [listen here] . This was my first - and hopefully not the last - podcast interview.
All things considered, the project was a success; when we met with the charity staff at the wrap-up meeting on Sunday, they were highly impressed with the product. Though we didn't win any awards, I'm confident that we have created a solid application on which they can promote their charity for many years to come.
The We Are Microsoft event was billed as a "first annual", suggesting that this will be an ongoing gig. It was suggested that perhaps other user groups will follow suit and host their own WAM event. As for me, I'll be first in line to participate again next year. And maybe I'll bring my tent....