Lewis' Blog Tales from the trenches of information technology


Working with talented people is always a good thing

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I'm sure that somewhere, William Shakespeare wrote of the riches of surrounding oneself with good and talented people, but his words escape me just now (my mother would have known right off the top of her head, so learned and familiar was she with his works, even those lesser known). Still, it's something I'm certain we've all been told at one time or another. Truly, we are known by the company we keep.

Hang around personally or professionally with buffoons, and naturally, people take you for one (water tends to seek its own level, or so we're taught). Maintain good company, and the reflection is bright.

I had occasion recently to enlist the assistance of a colleague, Matt Surico, for a web project I'd been muddling through. The project involved Joomla!, a sports-related component for it (JoomSport), and of course, the requisite server underpinnings of Apache, MySQL, and PHP (the AMP stack, which on Linux, is commonly known as LAMP; on NetWare, NAMP; and - unfortunately, insofar as the pronunciation of acronyms is concerned - on OS/2, OAMP...huh?).

Anyway, my initial involvement, besides that of web host, was to bolt the various components together. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with such CMS (Content Management System) technologies, this is quite common: plug the various parts together, and let the client flesh out the rest. In this case, however, my role morphed into something more along the lines of project manager, as there was a considerable amount of custom scripting involved, not only for the site theme (template, in Joomla!-speak), but some extensive modifications to the JoomSport component were required. In addition, part of my original scope of work was to devise a method for exporting the player data form the database to something suitable for Excel.

(Aside: The template came from the great folks at Joomla Web Designs. I've worked with them before, and not only are their "stock" templates top notch in both artistry and code, but their custom work is outrageously professional.)

Getting back to the exporting issue, then... On the surface, a database export to spreadsheet, either in a directly-readable format or CVS, sounds like a relatively simple task. I started by looking for something native to Joomla!, so my client could just accomplish the dump from the administration area of the site. This turned out to be a long dead end, as there are several utilities for exporting data, but none which seem to be capable of handling data in tables created and maintained by third-party components. So, back to the drawing board I went...

Well, I already have a good utility for manipulating data in the db: phpMyAdmin. My next thought was to just give my client limited access to that, and let him have at it. Unfortunately, the manner in which the data is stored (read: strewn across multiple tables and often quite difficult to follow for a non-programmer-type) made this approach a little difficult to even try to sell to someone. Once I got into trying the export myself, I discovered that it was well beyond my own capabilities to accomplish the task with a stored procedure in a reasonable amount of time. So, I called on Matt.

What started out as a favor quickly became a project of its own. Matt is a truly talented database programmer (among other things). In short order (well, working in between his other projects, which rightly should have taken precedence), he cobbled together a very nice little bit of code in a stored procedure to do exactly what my client wanted to achieve (far less time than it would have ever taken me, and surely, in a more elegant fashion). And, no matter how frustrating it must have been at times, his emails to me of his progress (and pitfalls) always came with a smile.

The result? A happy client, who will bring me more work both for himself and in the way of referrals. I look good, because Matt looks so good. People like that are a rare commodity; one is truly blessed to have at least one guy (or gal) like that nearby.

Thanks, my friend. You really made the difference on this one.

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