Visit Calgary: You’re Very Welcome!

When we returned from Costa Rica, our plans had been pretty simple: take off the month of December to get settled, and then head back to work in January. Plans changed shortly after arriving back home, and suddenly I found myself without a job. Bills still had to be paid, food purchased, and because we live in a city that is far too unfriendly to public transit, we also had to buy a car.

A few years ago, this probably would have put me into a panic. And a few years ago, it would have been just me to worry about. Now I have a wife and two kids (well, one at the time, and one on the way) to support. Really, that should have put me off the deep end. Having lived through a significant amount of adversity over the last couple of years, though, I found myself not even concerned about the prospect of unemployment.

I attribute that to having kept contact with just the right people.

And so it came to pass that on 5 January, I walked into a meeting room on the 2nd floor of 805 10th Ave SW, and sat at a table with nine other people. Nine people I already knew. Nine people I’d already worked with before at another company. I couldn’t help but smile.

I was working — and still work — for the Evans Hunt Group, a small interactive marketing agency made up, largely, of former employees of Critical Mass. The principals of the company, Dan Evans and Bill Hunt, were both my managers at Critical Mass at one point or another, and Bill had been the one who started up the Costa Rica operation. My long-time mentor and also former Critical Mass manager, Allard Losier, is the technical lead, and the one who really convinced me to come in.

That conversation had occurred at the Cabin Cafe on Bow Trail and 45th St. SW, on 22 December. He and I had sat down over a coffee (two, in my case), and had a long conversation about events of the last 18 months, and potential events for the future. I hadn’t made any decisions at that point, although there had been heavy hinting at coming in to work for Evans Hunt, and I was rather enjoying the not-working aspect of my life.

The conversation had really shown me the things that I had really missed over the previous 18 months: mentorship and trust. I had lost my mentor when Allard had left Critical Mass shortly before I went to Costa Rica. And I had felt since about that time that there hadn’t been much trust in me, and always felt on the defensive. Going anywhere else was … well, it needed to be the right place.

My project — the reason I was brought in — was to help Tourism Calgary with their website. The project, at least at a high level, was pretty simple: site overhaul. (Yes, at the high level, that’s all it is. Once you start going down in the levels, you really find out what kind of trouble you’re creating for yourself.) My job? Lead the tech team, work with the PM, and help deliver the final product. Time was originally pegged at about three months, and we’d see where things would go from there.

I didn’t get a consulting agreement for three weeks. Normally, that would probably freak most people out entirely, my Mom being one of them. From her perspective, which I totally understood, I was working without any legal backup, and was likely to get screwed somewhere along the line. From my perspective, I wasn’t working for a company — I was working with friends. Friends I trusted, and who trusted me. People I knew wouldn’t pull anything shifty, so long as I didn’t do the same.

That level of trust has permeated my now five-month tenure here at Evans Hunt. Knowing that the right people are there, that the right things will happen when they need to. All of that led us to the launch of our newest little baby, VisitCalgary.com. Today, I supported Jim at a presentation by Tourism Calgary to the tourism industry at the Glenbow Museum (chosen because of Calgary’s recent bout of inclement weather — originally, it was supposed to be outside), and got to see the reaction first-hand of the very people we’re trying to support.

And that’s when it really hit me. I’m not working for some massive multi-national conglomerate. I’m working for a group who’s trying to bring in tourists to the city I live in, to bring in money to the businesses that exist in the city I live in, to support the families of the people who work for the companies in the city I live in. I had disconnective issues working with American and European vendors for a very long time, partly because they never really affected me in any way. But this? This, I can get behind.

It’s been a long project, and a little harder than I’d thought it be. The site, for the record, runs on Drupal. (For those of you unfamiliar, I suggest checking it out. Very powerful tool, Drupal.) I approached the project with a lot of confidence, believing that we’d be cruising along in no time. That’s when reality hit me.

Drupal wasn’t at all like any content management system I’d ever worked with. And as a result, I was giving bad directions. It wasn’t until we started to engage Brian, one of Evans Hunt’s developers, that I began my Drupal education. A content management system, it is not. As Brian put it, it’s a content management framework. Yeah, I know, I know — splitting hairs, right? Not really.

In every other CMS I’d spent significant time with, the rule of thumb was to build your templates first, and then embed the CMS functionality into them to build out the site. But with Drupal, you do it the other way around — let Drupal define the structure, and then make it look pretty afterwards. We lost time because of my direction.

Thankfully, we also had some very talented developers. The first up was Lorne of Open House Concept, who was the initial developer, and was the core layout guru. Kalen jumped on not long after to work on templates, and then buzzed back in towards the end of the project in a weird little game of leap-frog. Brian joined the project, which got us pointed in the right direction again (notably, correcting my oversights), and we brought on Boris to help us with the backend data synchronisation.

It sounds like a lot of people, but in truth we only had three developers running at any one time. And considering I can barely code my way out of a paper bag, I am truly amazed at what the four of them did to get this site out the door. Especially considering that the office is just finishing a near two-month renovation, which had us working remotely from our PM-extraordinare January’s house for over a week.

And yes, there were a lot of hours put into this project. They kept us working late, and more than a couple of weekends. This is where, in the past, I would lament the time away from my family. But this is also where that aforementioned trust comes in. Working from home is encouraged (assuming you don’t need to be in the office), and working at hours that suit your schedule is not a problem (provided you get your work done). End result: long hours, but still got be a family man.

So, damn right I’m a happy camper. All told, I would say this has been one of my more favourite projects, and I’ve had a few doozies to compete with, too.

And, really, you can never go wrong working with friends. (And yes — with, not for.)

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