For those of you that have been following, we released a new version of KatrinaSafe on Friday. We accomplished quite a bit on the web site from an architectural perspective that involved a great deal of refactoring, but little new functionality. The Smart Client, however, had a great deal of new functionality, including the ability to allow case workers to confirm inquiries with evacuees. Let me take a second to explain this. We have 2 types of records in the system: evacuees, which are people that have been checked into the system at an evacuation center using KatrinaSafe or have been imported from an external feed. We may not have an evacuation center for them, but we know that they are alive and OK. The second type of record is an inquiry. This is where someone is looking for an evacuee that they've not found yet. KatrinaSafe will notify them when we confirm a match to an existing evacuee. This is really the magic of the system and what makes it unique ... we proactively mine the evacuees to try to match them to those that are looking for them. This is also where we'll be using fuzzy logic and probablistic matching technology from the SQL Server team and Microsoft Research (MSR). Once the match is confirmed, we send notifications ... either via email or via Speech Server ... to let the inquirer know that their loved one has been found. The other major addition is the offline mode ... case workers can now work offline and add inquiries and evacuees to the system. These requests are then queued on the local machine until they reconnect ... and then the updates are posted in a batch process.
I haven't blogged about it in the past couple of days because, honestly, I've been recuperating. I got back home to Houston around 1 AM on Friday morning. While I've done some additional work (minor UI issue fixes) since then via VPN, I've been mostly sleeping, resting and spending time with my wife ... as have many of the other team members. Looking back, we really accomplished quite a bit in a very short amount of time. Under usual circumstance, I'd have estimated at least a month of work ... maybe 2 ... to do what we did in less than a week. Of course, that's with 8 hour days, sane change management processes and a formal SDLC, formal requirements gathering, etc, etc. We didn't have the time for these things ... and our days were on the 16-20 hour side.
I'd also like to take this time to point out some of the folks that helped make this happen. This is not, to be sure, an exhaustive list of everyone involved ... I really only had visibility into the folks directly involved with active development, but there were a bunch of other people helping support us and the project. Like I said before, they didn't let me out of the dev pit much. And, to be honest, I didn't have the spare brain capacity to focus on anything but details immediately relevant to the tasks that I was working on. So ... here's some of the folks (in no particular order):
Jim Carroll: Database Lead Architect for the East Region's Center of Excellence, based in Alabama. Jim was the project lead and architect for development and will be the lead moving forward. I'd never met Jim before and I was incredibly impressed with his project management skills as well as his database expertise. He did a great job keeping us focused and also preventing the developers from adding more code churn and functionality into dev that would have hurt the schedule worse. If there is any single person that deserves the most credit for what we accomplished, it's Jim.
Dan Manrique: Information Worker TS for State & Local Government, based in Tampa, FL. Dan did a lot of work on the web site and, with Jim, was one of the original visionaries behind KatrinaSafe.com. Of course, he had the presence of mind to throw Jim under the bus and suggest he be the lead for the project. (BEEP BEEP!). Dan also wound up with the thankless task of being the Build Master for a couple of days ... not just thankless, but, considering that we had no real process in place and we doing 2 or more prod pushes every day, an impossible task to keep in line. David will be at the PDC BOF on Monday, if you are interested in meeting him.
Dave Gardner: BizApps and Integration TS for State & Local Government, based in Sacramento, CA. Dave was our first Build Master for the first prod push and then Dan got stuck with it. Dave is also the guy that built the look & feel for the web site ... a FrontPage guru, he almost has me convinced to take another look at FrontPage. He also did quite a bit of work on the web site and worked with Jim Keane to get the offline capability into the Smart Client. Dave also served as test lead and triage master. David will also be at the PDC BOF on Monday.
Phil McMillan: Senior Consultant, State & Local Governement MCS, based in Reston, VA. Phil is our Speech Server God. He got Speech Server up and running quicker than anyone could have imagined. A little high-strung, perhaps (if you remember, there was a time when I thought he was going to kill someone ... I wasn't kidding), but he got stuff done and made it work.
Jim Dugan: Technology Architect with the Reston, VA Microsoft Technology Center. If there is someone that is a bigger SQL Guru than Jim Carroll, it's Jim Dugan (no offense JC!) Jim came in later and became the import/SSIS master, working on getting data imports into the database as well as getting the preliminary matching logic in place. He'll also be integrating the final matching logic in when we get it from the product group. Jim came to Austin with just the clothes on his back (literally) and had to buy clothes in Austin. I'll spare you, gentle reader, some of the stories associated with this.
Jim Keane: Technical Director with the Austin, TX MTC. Without a doubt, the smartest developer that I've ever worked with. Jim is a legend inside of Microsoft ... one of only 2 or 3 people to receive the Chairman's Award not once, but twice. Jim's technical prowess and abilities are, quite simply, awe-inspiring ... and I don't say that about very many people at all. Jim was responsible for the online/offline capabilities (with Dave) as well as the bootstrapper that automatically updated the client, among other things. By the end of the week, Jim also kept change management under check and helped inject some process into release management. Jim may also be joining us at the PDC BOF session.
Michael Riley: Senior Technology Specialist with the Austin, TX MTC. Michael worked a lot with me on the matching functionality for the smart client piece, helped with other Smart Client stuff and was a developer-at-large for several other pieces. If I remember the transistion plan correctly, Michael will also be the dev lead moving forward. His low-key disposition hides not only one sharp developer, but a surprisingly sharp and funny wit.
Chong Lee: Senior Technology Specialist with the Austin, TX MTC. Chong was our final build master and server god. He managed our final production pushes and worked with Jim to keep everything sane and in line. He also handled server monitoring and management ... disciplines that, honestly, escape me as a mere developer.
Scott Emigh: Director of the Austin, TX MTC. It's Scott's fault that I got involved in this in the first place. He sent out an email to all South Central resources with an urgent request for development resources. Less than an hour later, much to my wife's surprise, I was on the road. Scott was also our top test user, arranged for everything we needed and overall did everything he could to support us ... including clearing the MTC's schedule for the entire week. No, he didn't write any code, but we couldn't have done it without him. He also helped with handling political issues and coordination with the government agencies.
Jack Westerlund: Information Worker Solution Specialist for SLG, based in Austin, TX: Jack helped Scott with the political issues and overall support.
Patrick Shanahan: Partner Engagement Manager for SLG, based in Las Calinas, TX. Worked with Scott and Jack to handle a lot of the political issues and coordination. Patrick was also our official photographer ... some of his photos will be posted to this blog in the coming week.
There's others that I haven't mentioned here. Some simply because I didn't catch (or don't remember) their names. Some because I wasn't aware of what they were doing ... like I said, I was focused on what I had immediately in front of me and, if it didn't relate to that, it got no permanent storage in my brain. To those of you ... I apologize. I don't mean to discount or devalue your contribution because everyone's contribution was important to the success of KatrinaSafe ... but I just couldn't keep it all in my head.
This has been, by far, the single best experience of my 12+ year career in this industry. Never has any project meant so much and I am glad that I was able to be a small part of it. It was also, by far, the single best team that I've ever worked with. Yes, we had stressful situations, frayed nerves, over-tired people ... and you know how that goes. But, through it all, we respected each other and, I think, built a strong bond between all of us. This will be one of those projects and one of those teams that I will look back on for years to come with fond memories ... such a group of dedicated, professional and just plain smart folks brought together for a project is a rare and beautiful thing.