It's funny ... today is, of course, 9/11 ... and the five year anniversary of the most horrific attack on the US since Pearl Harbor. Yet, as I look at my blog and it's history, it is also the day (only a year later) that I left Austin and signed off the KatrinaSafe project.
There has been an overabundance of news and stories about both events this past week ... the 1-year anniversary of Katrina, the 5-year anniversary of 9/11. I'm sure that you can guess which one I'm going to talk about.
Certainly, I remember, only too well, where I was and what I was doing on that fateful day in 2001. Microsoft had Jeffrey Richter in town to do training for some of the consultants in MCS (which is the group I was with at the time). Sept 11 was the first day of that training. As I left the house, the first plane had already hit ... I thought it was a freak accident -- I mean, who thinks that someone would do that on purpose?? But, as I listened to the BBC on the way to the office and heard about the second plane, I knew we were under attack. Needless to say, the training class didn't accomplish much that day. Everyone in the class had other things on their mind. I remember only too well the sinking feeling of hopelessness and helplessness as I watched the towers fall. I admit it ... I cried.
I had that same feeling of hopelessness watching the footage from New Orleans after Katrina. I was supposed to be there that week ... was supposed to fly in the day that Katrina hit. I sat in the living room glued to the TV ... watching a city that I knew pretty well and had spent a lot of time in be destroyed by the flood waters. I cried hearing some of the stories coming out of the city ... any my heart, as an American, filled with pride at the work done by my fellow Americans (especially the US Coast Guard) to deal with a terrible situation. I have to say ... those Coast Guard folks deserve our respect and admiration for what they did there (as well as what they do EVERY DAY).
There was ... and still is ... a difference to the two events. The first is something that I still cannot comprehend ... how someone can be so filled with hate to do something like that. The second is an act of nature, a reminder of our place on the earth. And while both make us feel small and helpless, at least one we can understand.
Watching the footage of Katrina, I was frustrated ... I wanted to do more for this city and the people that I knew. Fortunately, Jim Carroll and Dan Manrique came up with the idea over IM that made that happen. When I got the email from the Scott Emigh at the Austin MTC, I jumped and couldn't think of anything else. Finally, I had a chance to make a difference ... to put my skills to use to make this disaster a little less painful for those that were suffering. To be honest, when I left Houston to head to Austin, I had little or no idea what the plan was, what we were doing or how long it would take. All I knew was that we'd be supporting the relief effort.
I consider myself fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time to do this. It was, without question, the most exhausting project that I've ever worked on in my career. It was also, by far, the most rewarding. The emails that we got and the stories that we heard about the people whose lives we touched ... the comfort that we gave them in that incredibly difficult time ... was something that words cannot express and it will stay with me for many, many years.
So ... the story of KatrinaSafe didn't end when I signed off ... it continued on its own for a time afterwards and work was transferred to the Reston, VA MTC. There, they globalized the application that we built, adding new languages to it at the request of the ICRC, to broaden the support for the applicaiton. Since then, it has been used worldwide to bring families back together after several major disasters. And while the globalization effort was not trivial, the core of the platform that we built remains largely unchanged. Is it or was it perfect? Certainly not. But ... it has helped people reconnect with loved ones that were thought lost ... and that's what counts. It's also become the core for the "Safe and Well" web site (http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2006/aug06/08-29katrina.mspx).
It's ironic, but I actually wound up listed as an evacuee in KatrinaSafe ... after I left Houston as Rita was coming. Of course, it wasn't necessary, but it was a little on the ironic side.
The KatrinaSafe team, though disbanded, has maintained a close relationship over the past year. We did something together ... went through something together ... that few developers had the chance to do. Maybe this is a little extreme, but I do finally understand how bonds can be formed between people through trying times. Beyond that though, I also look at Microsoft a little differently. For those of you that know me, you know that I've always believed in this company, its people and its technology.
Inside Microsoft, we have a belief that we are building great software, changing the world. Historically, we HAVE done that. I know it sounds arrogant, but Microsoft has been a key player in the ubiquitousness of computer systems today (for good or evil is a completely different debate). And I've certainly bought into that ... but it never, ever, hit home to me like it did with KatrinaSafe ... after all, I was a part of that, a real, tangible part. And I am still amazed at the support that Microsoft provided to the project. It is the only project that I know of that had a "blank check" from the very highest levels of the company. Cost was secondary ... we just needed to "Git 'R Done!" ... and whatever we needed for that was provided without question. Yes, I'm sure the cynics out there can say all kinds of things about this ... but the fact remains ... Microsoft, as a company, held nothing back from making this happen. And our Partners ponied up as well ... none of this could have been done without their support and assistance ... which says a lot for them as well.