There is an initiative here in South Central that we are working on called "We Are Microsoft". What is it? Well, we're collecting charities that need help with coding issues and developers that, well, write code (duh!) and matching them together. Over a weekend, the coders will build solutions to help these charities do their important work. It's a beautiful thing, but more on that in a minute.
I had a conversation with Toi Wright today ... she's the user group leader that's really doing all of the leg work to make this happen. (Thanks Toi!!! You rock!!!) We got to talking not about what we hope that the charities would get from it (that was pretty clear), but what the developers would get out of it. That feeling, that sense, deep in their soul (and this is very hard to describe in words) that they have made a difference, however small, and helped make the world a little better. OK, those weren't the exact words, but that was the gist of it. As developers, we tend to love what we do. We love going in there, day after day, sitting in front of a computer screen and slinging code. We love solving problems, the tougher the better. That's just how we are. We put a piece of ourselves in every line of code that we write. But to what end? To solve a business problem? To improve efficiency? To maximize profits? I'm not saying that these are bad things ... I am a staunch capitalist to my core ... but are they making the world a better place? Do we walk out of the office with that deep singularly human feeling that we've made a difference in something that is greater than ourselves? (Yeah, I'm showing the Lit major/poetry reader/sappy romantic side of me ... deal). I can tell you from experience that the answer is no. Yeah, we may console ourselves that we help people get to their families earlier ... but that's a stretch.
But that's really not what this conversation with Toi made me think about. Not at all. Nope. It made me think about the project that is, to this day, the best and most important project that I've ever been on. And I've been on some big projects ... like multi-billion dollar eCommerce projects and such ... but none of them hold a candle to this. I mentioned it to Toi and, even now, two years later, it still brings up something up in my heart and soul that defies explanation. This project made absolutely no money whatsoever. But it helped people. In a very real way. It made a difference in their lives. It was, and still is, bigger than any of us on that team. For those of you that read my blog back then, you'll know that this was KatrinaSafe ... which is now the Red Cross' Safe and Well web site. We built it to help bring families back together after the worst disaster in American history. I remember well the day we got our first positive matches ... matching people with family members that they lost track of in the ... confusion? Well, for lack of a better word, that works. We celebrated. We jumped for joy. What we were doing was beginning to show the results that we were hoping for. We then started getting emails about how we helped people ... what it meant to them. One I remember well is from a mother who was separated from her children in the buses out of New Orleans. She was worried sick. She found them, and where they were, on the site. She spent the next two days getting there, doing whatever it took. Grown men wept hearing this email. There was not a dry eye in the place.
Oh, yeah, and lest I forget to mention, we had sponsorship from "On High" at Microsoft. At the very, very, very highest levels. Up in the stratosphere. It made me proud and humbled to work for a company that would do as much as it could. Not to make money ... it wasn't about making money (the PR didn't come out until months later). It was about doing what's right and money was no object (that is almost unheard of at MS ... we do have budgets). Microsoft is very cool that way. We will step up to the plate and do what needs to be done. It's part of our culture.
I was fortunate to be in the right place, at the right time, to be a part of that. It was truly a blessing. Never in my life have I been so happy to work 18 hour days (we did). I imagine I'll tell my grandchildren about it. It is that important to me. Yeah, there was a cool eWeek article about it, but that's not what matters. Even without that, I'd feel no different. It wasn't gravy ... it wasn't the icing on the cake ... it was a side dish that you could do without but ate anyway. (And I'll never tell the entire story behind that article!!)
This is the most important part!
This is what we are trying to give developers here. The chance to be something bigger than themselves. The chance to touch people's lives, to know that they made a difference. To look back years later and say "Hey, I really did something important here." It's a rare opportunity. I'll be there. Wouldn't miss it. I know how it feels afterwards. I know what it means. You can't put a price tag on that. It's happening in Dallas, so if you're in Dallas, you have no excuse. Those of you in Austin, Houston, San Antonio ... you're a drive away from Dallas. Why not drive up there for the weekend? I can guarantee it'll be worth the gas. Also ... for those of you not in Dallas, if you want to do this in your city, for charities and groups local to you, leave a comment here. I can't make any promises ... but we'll try. Let me know where you are and I'll make sure that the DPE folks in your area hear about it. And, if it's in my area (South TX, LA) or my buddy Chris Koenig's area (North TX, OK and AR), we'll do everything we can to make it happen. That I can promise. This is a program that should be nationwide. Heck, it should be worldwide. (Think globally, act locally) There are folks working hard to make the world a better place out there. We, as developers, have the skills and the talent to help make that happen. This is better, this is more, than just donating money. This is giving a piece of your heart and soul. And, I gotta tell ya, it gives you warm and fuzzies all over inside. And that is a Good Thingtm.
So ... no more sappy stuff for now. Signing out. Happy Holidays to all ... this is, after all, a season of giving, right?
The answer is 42. What is the question? (Sorry ... too serious for too long ... had to do something ...)