As my evangelism focus and interaction has moved more and more to helping developers build apps (versus just presenting on latest technology X), I have to say it’s been incredibly rewarding and enlightening to see the great ideas and experiences you continue to channel into Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.
Every once in a while though, someone just comes along that takes me completely off guard and makes me go ‘wow;’ Gary Ritter is that most recent ‘someone.’
I first met Gary at The Boston Hackathon just about a month ago, where he was one of 40 or so building and showcasing their apps over the weekend. Little did we know at the time that the conversations we had there (on New England GiveCamp and Gary’s introduction to Windows Phone) would occur less than 24 hours before a horrific attack on the city of Boston.
How all those threads play out is a compelling and impactful story, and I asked Gary to share his intensely personal triumphs in his own words:
I moved into an accounting position in 2004 and was amazed when I got introduced to Microsoft Excel, with the impressive formulas that could automate complex tasks. I dove in head first into teach myself Excel and today am “the” expert for everyone I know. Part of unlocking all of Excel’s potential meant I had to master VBA to write Excel add-ins and macros. It was a long struggle to learn alone but has paid off.
I had always day dreamed of trying to teach myself mobile apps too. I was previously an iOS fan and wanted to learn iOS development, but I wasn’t about to shell out money on a Mac so that I could pick up a hobby. I eventually got my first Android phone and looked into that platform but the SDK and configurations and multiple installs needed to just get ready to start trying was hopeless for a noob hobbyist like me. To compound that, I ended up REALLY hating Android and actually sold it so I could go back to a “dummy” phone.
In Summer 2012 I got a Windows Phone Lumia 710 and it immediately won me over. The OS is amazing, Nokia was by far my favorite phone maker already, and the integration with Office and SkyDrive seals the deal. Excel on my phone? YES PLEASE!
In May I developed a very uncommon adult onset of Tourette's Syndrome and by Fall it rapidly progressed to put me in the top few percent of severity with uncontrollable outbursts of terrible language and exhausting body movements. Being able to focus and concentrate on something intently is extremely therapeutic during a bad episode of tics and I found that while working on complicated Excel projects at work, my symptoms would disappear entirely! I of course can’t spend my free time making spreadsheets with no purpose so I decided to look into other options. Come to find out I can write Windows Phone apps in VB.NET, which is extremely similar to the VB6/VBA I already know. Unlike Android, Visual Studio is a simple one step download and then it’s ready to go. Plus it’s totally free to students with a college e-mail address!
I read countless webpages, help files, and how-to articles along the way and was able to get my first app published to the Windows Phone store in September 2012. After half a year, I have four apps available with a total of 4500 downloads and 600 purchases with another app really far along in development.
After the Boston Marathon bombings, I wanted to find a way to help. Not being in a position to donate much money, I thought I could make it easier for other people to share info and make donations. I quickly whipped up the “Donate Boston” app the day after the bombings and it’s a simple compilation of contact information for Boston police, the Red Cross, area hospitals, and investigators along with links to quickly make a donation right from your phone to several charities that are supporting victims and also to several funds set up for specific people affected by that day. I also set up a PayPal account of my own so people have the option to send funds to me with a note asking for a specific beneficiary. I am keeping zero donation dollars for myself and the app is free with no ads.
I just hope that if people easily share the app with friends and have a convenient way to lend a helping hand to some fellow Americans whenever they’re able for whatever amount they’re able - then maybe it’ll help someone get their medical bills paid, or get a prosthetic they might not have afforded otherwise.
So please share “Donate Boston” with every Windows Phone user you know. Many people still have unbelievable expenses and complications in their future and every cent you can spare helps.