Monday, August 13, 2012

My Taxi Driver Throw Me Out...

Tahmina Kohistani (Credit: The Telegraph, London)
Tahmina Kohistani is what this blog is all about:
“My taxi driver throw me out on the street when I told him I was training for Olympics,” said Tahmina Kohistani, Afghanistan’s only woman at the Games, in the halting English she had learned through mail-order language courses. “He said, ‘Get behind the man. You are disgrace to Muslim women.’ My coach fought other men outside the stadium where I train because they do not think I should run. But my country will remember me forever one day. They will see I am the right one and other girls will watch me and I will tell them, ‘Come, run with me. Run with me, Tahmina.’ ”
Who could fail to pull for this underdog?

(Full story.)

Share on Facebook

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

100 Days of Gratitude - Day 30: Steve Rogers

Steve Rogers
"F&%k, f&%k, f&%k...!"
On September 26, 2005, Steve Rogers joined GlobalGiving as Director of Engineering.  He picked up where Scott McLoughlin left off,  and there was good news and bad news.

The good news was that we were getting traction.  We had tens of thousands of users, and large partners (including innovative companies) were asking us to add more and more features.

The bad news was that we still did not have a lot of resources.  Steve had a couple of coders working with him, but good technical expertise was hard to come by in the Washington DC region in those days, especially at the rates we could pay at the time.

Like a contestant in one of those world's strongest men contests, Steve came in with a scowl and roar. He picked up an inhuman workload and seemed to toss it physically around the office.  (Someone told me one day Steve reminded him of Iorek Byrnison.)

Asking him to add a feature to site or fix a long-standing bug was always a dangerous proposition, eliciting a loud response that it was impossible, that it required ten people, that it would happen when hell froze over, and that no one understood anything about how tech worked.  Many on the team feared him, and some were scared to approach him.

Over the past seven years, Steve has touched over 2.1 million lines of code, presiding over extraordinary growth in traffic and functionality on the site.  When he took over, he realized that the only viable way forward was to retrofit our fledgling single engine airplane into a jumbo jet - while flying it! First he replaced the engines, then he lengthened the wings, then he added an entire new body to the jet.  All this without losing altitude, much less landing.

I will never forget the first day that I watched Marisa Glassman from our business partnership team approach Steve to ask for a new feature.  Some of her colleagues were crouched down behind their desks to avoid the expected shrapnel.  Instead, the two sat there talking quietly, and in the end Marisa walked calmly back to her computer and started working again.

In amazement, one of her colleagues asked what happened.  "He said he would try to get it done in the next two weeks," Marisa replied.  "Holy cow, how did that happen?" her colleague wondered.  "Oh, Steve's a real pussy cat; you just need to know how to handle him," Marisa said.

Marisa was right, Steve is a pussy cat, even if he can seemingly lift a thousand pounds.  One of Steve's colleagues, Kevin Conroy, says:
Although he probably doesn't want his ice hockey opponents to know it, he's one of the most caring guys you're likely to come across and is always looking for ways to make sure that everyone is taking care of themselves and their families in addition to getting their work done.
Because of this, Steve has been able to build a tech team second to none.  I admire his ability to find, motivate, and lead people more than I can say.  Kevin continues:
He's the reason that we can handle traffic spikes when we get a shout out on Oprah. Why our system doesn't crash when tens of thousands of people come to support Japan relief, and the reason why our tech team is among the best in the industry. His no-nonsense, results driven leadership inspires those who work for him.
Amen to that, brother.  And thank you, Steve.

Share on Facebook

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

100 Days of Gratitude - Day 29: Scott_Mc

In the beginning was the Code, and the creator of the Code was Scott_Mc.

Scott McLoughlin, that is. The date was early 2003, and we were reeling. The first version of GlobalGiving, which we called DevelopmentSpace, was going nowhere fast. We had launched about a year earlier, and all of our hopes for viral adoption by millions of donors had proven to be naive. The first version of our site was good technically and had a lot of cool features, but the overall design was poor. We had few users, little throughput, and minimal revenue.

We knew the site needed major surgery, including changing the name to something people actually understood. But were running out of cash fast, and we could barely pay our skeletal staff, let alone afford any major changes to the sophisticated code powering our beta site.

It was incredibly dark days, and I could not see how we were going to make it. We searched around in desperation for someone who could help us on the tech side, and we found Scott McLoughlin, who someone told us was good. When I looked at his CV, I saw that he was a philosophy major in college, but he seemed to have done some decent technical work at a company he co-founded called Adrenaline.

Scott came in to meet us and looked at things and seemed terribly annoyed, but he agreed to help. He went into hibernation with part of the team for a week or two. And then he came in to the office one morning with a big smile on his face.

"Listen, when you are in a jam like this there is only one way forward," he proclaimed.

"What's that?" Mari and I replied.

"Bunt!" Scott said.

"What do you mean bunt?"

"Bunt means we come to grips with the fact that we can't support the old code, and so we just take it all down and start from scratch."

"From scratch?" I nearly screamed. We had spent the previous year pouring our hearts and soul into the existing code, which was costly and sophisticated. The idea of scrapping it was crazy.

"Yes, from scratch," Scott replied. "Working on the old code base will cost a fortune, and that's a fortune we don't have." I noticed he used the word we, which I liked. He continued: "So we are going to take it all down and start again and since we don't have any money we are just going to code the barest features that are critical for the site to take donations."

Scott was right. We could not afford to keep the old site even if we wanted to. So we gave him the green light, and he closeted himself with a couple of our young staff, including Edouard Valla, for several weeks. None of our staff had any real coding experience, but that didn't matter to Scott; he would teach them.They worked sporadic hours in intense bursts - usually very late at night. Edouard would sometimes complain that they could have gotten home earlier if Scott had not intermittently subjected them to long lectures on Wittgenstein, Hegel, and Spinoza, whose work seemed to bear no relation to what we were doing. But Scott and team delivered.

For the next year, we bunted.  And it worked.  We relaunched a painfully simple site under our new name, and we slowly began to attract users.  Over time, we built more features on top of that initial code but much of the DNA of "Bunt" remained in place over the years, even well after Scott left.  New tech guys, after poring over the code for a few days and seeing annotations by the main authors, would almost always ask: "Who the heck is this guy Scott_Mc? He's everywhere!"

Only in 2012 did our tech guys announce that the last of Scott_Mc's Code was gone. Yet most of our team has never met Scott, and few realize that GlobalGiving would probably not be around today without him.  Recently Forbes Magazine named us one of the top ten startups changing the world.  Today I want to salute and thank Scott, and to make sure the world knows that we could not have done it without him.


PS: Here are the very first lines of Code Scott wrote for us:

<!-- Begin of Content -->
<pre style="font-family: Georgia; font-size: 10pt; margin-left: 30pt">
The most promising site for direct international grantmaking is now easier to remember. is your source for some of the most innovative, high-impact development
projects on the planet.  And with the added transparency you get with,
you know exactly where you donation is going and how much of it is getting there. </pre>
<font face="Georgia" size="4" color="#FFA500"><b>Give Globally, starting June 1, 2003</b></font>

Share on Facebook