Starbucks-fueled Developer

Sunday, September 04, 2005

"Can you do it in Excel?"

Ah the wisdom of a father...That's his [in]famous response to a recent customer when asked "hey, can you build a simple database with a few ASP pages to do XYZ?". His point is that anyone can make a database and tie a few ASP[X] pages to it. But does that time really give you an extra value or benefit for all that work when, quite possibly, a few sheets in an Excel Workbook can give you all the functionality you need? If you ask me, that's a rather Agile philosophy...Funny, he doesn't really "get" Agile development; then again, I haven't exactly mastered it myself - and I'm the one trying to "convert" him!

This is actually something that I'm struggling with in my personal life.

Our wedding is coming up - 40 days, as of Sept. 5. My bride has her moments of tech-savvyness and, generally, she's handled most of the computing-related wedding stuff extremely well. The guest list, directions to the location of the ceremony and reception, e-mails to service providers, everything managed on her USB key.

The downside to all this was that the guest list was, essentially, just a Word document of names - no addresses. Whenever the time came to send a mailing, she created a new document for printing labels and then added everyone manually with their addresses. Unfortunately, while this was, in fact, a pretty Agile way of approaching it (as we didn't have everyone's addresses when making the lists) it just made things more difficult in the end. What if you forget someone after printing out the labels and (for reasons still unknown to me) they need to be alphabetized?

Nigtmare. Enter the programmer, in place of the knight in shining armor.

I set up an Access database to manage the "contacts" and did a quick mail merge with Word. Project saved. However, there's a lot of functionality that's missing. For example, we have about 120 "families" on our guest list that we've divided into first and second round mailings. The list I imported into the database wasn't the complete list - it was only the "A" list. We just finished making the invitations for the "B" list this weekend and will be sending out that mailing within the next 10 days. However, as it stands right now, I'm only going to be able to produce a mail merge document of all the guests, not just the "B" list. Not to mention that we're getting responses back of who is and is not attending the wedding, which will make up our final list that we will need to provide the caterers. Did I mention thank you notes? Future mailing lists like Christmas cards?

Obviously, this knight hasn't completely rescued his damsel in distress.

Sadly, thinking about it now, "Can I do it in Excel?": most likely. Do I want to? Not particularly. I'm envisioning this wonderful web/thin/"smart"-client application that will solve all of our contact management hassles and work beautifully in our well connected, techie home. I've become my arch-nemesis: the demanding, unrealistic customer that wants the next "killer app" tomorrow and for free when, in all reality, there are existing tools that I'm already familiar and comfortable with that will get me what I need in the short term, while having the ability to build additional functionality when I absolutely need it.

But what developer, agile or otherwise, would actually, really approach it that way?! ;-)


  • A little late for a wise ass comment on this issue, but SQL db :)

    By Blogger Ross, at Monday, May 29, 2006 10:20:00 PM  

  • Hi there,

    I never had much look when I use to try and print my own labels, I was using mail merge software in word but I could never get the printer to print onto sheets of labels for some reason. I actually gave up printing my own labels as found a company in the midlands that could implement multiple databases onto their thermal printing machine, ie would take my database and create unique thermal labels based on my data. Saved me a lot of messing around really, and still allowed me to do one off labels for each customer for example.

    By Blogger ThePurpleSeal, at Friday, April 18, 2008 5:29:00 AM  

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