After reading this blog post I realized I am very similar in mindset as the author. I pretty much always have a side project, whether it is for my real job or one of my hobby projects I have written about on this blog. I do think the “best” employees in a technical role are the ones who are always playing. Playing with technology, concepts, API’s etc. The idea is the breadth of the individual grows and has ancillary benefit to their primary job. This has certainly been true for me throughout my entire career.
I remember I was in a client meeting and they expressed the desire to use Drupal as a content management. Because of my several side projects with Drupal, going through several versions of the system, and knowing in depth what it can and can’t do I was very prepared to argue both for and against the idea.
My latest project is something that has also had great benefit in my current job – mainly because I knew there was “a better way” to do this when I started creating demos. I started a project called PET (product extractor tool) that can pull products from an existing web site and then import those products, images, prices, etc into a WebSphere Commerce database. This allows us to create proof of concepts for customers using a familiar product set, product attributes, and terminology in scenarios the customer can understand (ie. speak their language). Prior to PET it could take days if not weeks creating products and all of the surrounding data around them – it really depended how detailed your scenarios were. A heavy focus in the commerce space is navigation and specifically faceted navigation (those options on retail sites down the left that let you narrow down your search results). As you can imagine, creating a full product set with many attributes could be daunting. Not to mention price lists and then inventory – if you have to show that.
I have recently modified the tool to export a set of XML files for Sterling Order Management. This means the same PET model can now be used for both WebSphere Commerce and Order Management – essentially making integrated proof of concepts between the two systems seamless (at least that is the current theory). I am still working on it but it is getting there. Because I used object oriented programming I simply use the same object model PET built from the HTML and pipe that model out as XML versus comma delimited files.
I still have a bit to go with this tool but the point of this post is I am now getting extremely familiar with the Sterling Order Management side of the equation. Diving on the underlying data model and the service API’s to get information in and out of the system.