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.
GlobalGiving.com is your source for some of the most innovative, high-impact development
projects on the planet.  And with the added transparency you get with GlobalGiving.com,
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>

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