Holiday Geek

I got to put my programming skills to work for something fun and surprisingly challenging — the annual Moore family Christmas gift exchange. Due to lack of time while we were in Dallas over the Thanksgiving holiday, we all forgot to draw names of whom we’d be giving a gift this Christmas — a wise way of managing gift-giving in a large family.

So, geek that I am, I mentioned in passing that I could cook something up in PHP and let everyone draw names from a virtual hat, online.

Silly, silly geek.

It turned out to be a little more challenging than I anticipated, mostly due to the unique nature of a family gift exchange — you don’t want to draw your own name or your spouse’s.

And after I’d cooked up the code and ran through it multiple times, I was surprised to find how often a random drawing of names would result in a “bad match” and require a re-roll of the sample.

It made me wish I’d paid a little more attention in my college statistics class.

Now, I’m lowering my geek cred by admitting it took me more hours than I anticipated to get the little app working to my satisfaction. That corporate quip

about IT taking twice as long and costing five times as much didn’t sound quite as funny when I found myself on the other end of it!

Screenshot of Moore Family Christmas Gift Exchange name drawing app, v1.0:

Obviously, geeks are tenacious creatures and I kept fussing with it in my off (okay, and on) hours until it was ready to unveil to the family.

It doesn’t look like much from a u.i. perspective — and looked far worse before my resident usability expert offered suggestions (thanks, hon!) — but I’m tickled I could do it.

I learned a thing or two in the process, and remembered a few things I’d grown a bit rusty on.

And the time pressure of needing to get this completed ASAP so the family knew who to do their Christmas shopping for was a good motivator to experiment and study things I might not ordinarily delve into.

This little side project reminded me of the best times I had at USAA — working in a small, fast-paced maintenance team where you never knew quite what problem or change request would land in your inbox each day. And yet by the end of the day or week, your changes were out in production being viewed by the company’s millions of members.

I’m not an instant gratification seeker in most ways, but when it came to seeing something I’d had a hand in producing quickly turned loose for the masses, it was a very rewarding feeling.

I suppose that’s why a lot of geeks like computers and technology — computers let you know pretty quickly whether or not what you’re asking them to do is possible. The feedback is nearly instantaneous, versus waiting for a project to go through the motions and reach its conclusion “6 months and a million bucks” later.




1 Comment

December 2, 2004


Shannon, You continue to amaze me!

Worked great for me and Karen.

We are so lucky to have you in the family!

I’ll have to give Justin a pat on the back next time I see him.

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