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Alec the Programmer

What kind of programmer are you?
Primarily, a database and web programmer.
How did you start?
After realising that Maths and Physics degrees were surprisingly useless for getting a job, and my first novel wasn't gonna get finished any time soon, I started teaching myself programming. I got my first job through the time-honoured method of being recommended by a friend.
So what's your experience?
I started out building database applications with MS SQL Server and Oracle, then did a lot of work with FileMaker, but once I got into web development it's been almost entirely MySQL. PHP has been my language of choice since I started out in this web business, but along the way I've picked up a whole heap of secondary skills such as Perl, Java, AppleScript and Unix administration.
Can you show me any of your work?
I'm glad you asked...

My Programming Portfolio

Note: Websites get changed and updated. These websites may or may not still contain work done by me. Where possible, I've captured some screenshots of the sites from when I worked on them.

Middle Class White Guy
The site you're currently reading. Formerly known as Corinthian Decadence, it's existed since the mid-mineties, and gone through a variety of incarnations. It's hampered by the fact that, while I'm an excellent programmer, flashy design work is far from my specialty.
Make sure you check out the Gadgets Section.
Lush (Netherlands) and Lush (Spain)
Lush (the ethical, handmade cosmetics company) has offshoots in a surprising number of countries, each of which has a seperate website. The idea was to get all of them onto a shared platform to make maintenance easier and more consistent. The platform chosen was Magento (Magento Enterprise no less) but after a few months it became apparent that Magento simply was not suitable for the task. Shame. Still, the lessons learnt helped them develop a custom solution, which is what I believe they now use.
Hampshire PCT Popup piccie
The local division of the NHS. They had some clunky old CMS that no-one really knew how to work, and needed it upgrading to Joomla. It was about here when my work changed from mostly building bespoke systems to mostly developing off-the-shelf systems.
Lawton Communications
At Lawton's I was one of a small (about 20 people) department of programmers, designers and Flash developers. Generally each project was given to a team of a designer and a programmer and/or developer. It was a marketing agency, so there was a tendency to favour form over function, and some of what I had to do walked the line of ethical behaviour. However, I still produced some of my best stuff, including:
www.thq.co.uk [defunct]
Since I left Lawton's, this site has been absorbed by THQ's US site, I strongly suspect for political reasons. It's a shame, as this was probably the biggest and best thing I've done. All the things you see on the site now were nicked from the site I built. It had all sorts of cunning functionality involving multiple levels of user authentication (certain areas could only be accessed after registering, others you had to have bought and registered a game, still others you had to have registered a particular game). It tracked everything a user did. It had XML-RPC API's so third-party sites could access the site's data. It could generate mailshots, with every email customised for the recipient based on their stated preferences and observed activities. All of this was maintained with a custom-built CMS system that was operated by the THQ web manager.
Island Cruises Popup piccie
I was primarily responsible for the Price & Book Your Cruise section of this site - now called "Cruise holiday search". Trying to get a computer to understand the vagueries of package holiday pricing conventions is quite a task. The whole industry relies on an antiquated and impenetrable legacy system. The only method of getting data out is using screen-grabs from telnet utilities, which are then dumped into the most obscure export format known to man.
Since my leaving, the site has been redesigned somewhat, but the engine (which is what I did) appears to be more or less untouched.
Celebrity Cruises Popup piccie
This one's been left pretty much intact since I built it. While there's nothing all that cutting edge, it's a good example of the kind of website I tend to put together if no-one's trying to make me do anything daft. It's all very tidy and solid.
Centerprise Popup piccie
Interesting one this, as it's a website that was never meant for the web. In fact, the whole thing was built so it could be ripped onto a CD and distributed to potential Centerprise clients. It was all database driven, updated at their end with a custom CMS, but there was a gadget that spidered through the whole site and saved it as a tarball, which then got burnt to CD. Of particular note is the search engine and shopping cart, both of which were entirely javascript driven, and thus worked even when the site was run from CD.
Note that I didn't do the Lawton Homepage.
Global-Investor.com Popup piccie
My first purely web-oriented job. Global-Investor is an online bookshop specialising in stock-market books. I was solely responsible for building, from scratch, their eCommerce system. Additionally, the online bookshop can be themed and embedded within affiliate websites. There were something like 300 such affiliates. Some just had their banner stuck on our pages, some had a complete redesign, leaving only the underlying engine intact. Compare:
  1. this Popup piccie
  2. with this Popup piccie
While I was working for Global Investor, I also built the following:-
Financial-glossary Popup piccie
Very simple little dictionary type site. It was originally written in perl by some college kid they'd hired. My task was to make sense of it all (no small task) and then re-write it in PHP.
Financial-conferences Popup piccie
Again, not too tricky. Just a database of conferences and a search engine.
Incademy : Investor education Popup piccie
To look at, you'd think it was just a database of pieces of text, arranged into courses. In fact, as a lot of the resources - even some pages - were shared between courses, and certain clients wanted edited versions of courses for their affiliate sites, there's more to it than meets the eye. Originally you had to pay for the courses too using a system of credits.
Since leaving, these sites have been redesigned a bit, but still reflect my work quite accurately.
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Except where stated, this site and its contents are copyright ©2018 Alec Harkness and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 License.
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