Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Coding for Humanity

At this time of year, one's thoughts sometimes turn to the larger things in life. You might ask yourself what your legacy is going to be. Does your coding and architecture skills somehow contribute to the greater good of the world, and will humanity benefit from your efforts?

I never put this on my resume, but I consulted part-time for 4 1/2 years for a company called Classroom Inc. From January 1997 to October 2001, I would devote part of my time to writing "simulations" for CRI, and probably over one million school children have used my programs.

Classroom Inc (CRI) was originally formed as a non-profit partnership between IBM, JP Morgan, and Bear Stearns. Lewis Bernard, who was very high up at JPMC, was the CEO of Classroom Inc. The mission was to provide education computer software to inner-city and rural schools where the children could benefit from an "alternative learning experience".

Each one of the "simulations" was an interactive game, where the student was put in a certain life situation. For example, one simulation put you in the role of a bank manaer, while another one put you in the role as the CEO of a paper company. Each simulation consisted of 12 or 15 "chapters", where each chapter was devoted to a certain issue.

When I started consulting for CRI, each simulation went out to over 100,000 students, and by the time I finished up, each simulation reached more than 250,000 students.

The entire framework was written in MFC/C++. A lot of the internal design came from the old Macromedia Director, which was very popular at the time for creating interactive storyboards. A typical simulation took 6 to 8 months to write. The team consisted of a producer, 2 writers, 2 artists, a QA tester, and myself. Every few weeks, I would get a ZIP file in the mail consisting of the script for a new chapter, and all of the graphics, plus some haphazard directions for one or more "activities" that the kids would have to do in the chapter.

My involvement with CRI ended in 2001 when IBM, who was one of the partners, decided that they wanted to move to a new, internal Flash-based system, and wanted to end all C++ development. It took the IBM consultants quite a while to get the first simulation out there in Flash, but they finally managed to recreate all of the simulations and re-release them.

I was proud to have been a part of this effort for such a long time.

I was inspired to write this by a post that was on Joel on Software a few weeks ago. Joel talked about some cool new jobs that his jobsite was advertising, and one of the jobs dealt with medical technology, which is one of the noblest enterprises. Another worthy position is at DonorsChoice, which reminds me a bit of CRI.


©2006 Marc Adler - All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

terry said...

Amazing... first you inspired me to look for sites dedicated for programming for charity (i couldn't find any). Then Microsoft UK sends me this: http://www.microsoft.com/uk/technet/designit/howtoenter.mspx#nks