This story was sent to the
Perl Advocacy mailing list and I thought I’d share it with you.
The company I work for, Telescan, Inc. used to be in the business of creating financial websites for large businesses (including American Express, Citibank, Fortune Magazine, and others). We aggregated data from various sources and provided data through proprietary web servers and ASP pages. In order to increase the customizability of the look of the pages we had developed a “template” mechanism where we could wrap the content from the proprietary web servers in HTML developed by the ASP group. Most of our websites were developed by 2-3 ASP developers and 1-2 programmers on the proprietary systems. Maintenance required about half that.
Early in 1999, we got a contract with CNBC.com. They required a much more aggressive schedule with a higher degree of customization than was normal. They offered big bucks and management said, “Sure.” This left the programming staff in a very difficult position. Because of other projects, we would only have one ASP developer at first and we would have barely had time for her to generate a full set of page templates once before we had to launch. If the client wanted changes (and you knew they would), we wouldn’t have time to rebuild all of the templates more than once before launch.
In addition, we had already reached the limits in speed of what we could do with ASP includes. Naturally, the client wanted the site to be more responsive and, of course, more full-featured as well. I talked my management into allowing me to build a system that we had discussed before, but everyone had decided was not worth the time. In
about two days, I created a Perl script that worked from an XML-based description of the overall site and a small number of “skeleton” HTML files to create about 70 templates that would be used in the system. As with many other websites, the navigation and other elements could really be static, but were normally generated in on-the-fly to improve consistency across pages and reduce redundant code.
In less than a day, the ASP developer was modifying the skeleton files and building new versions of the site. A couple of days after that she was making minor tweaks to the Perl code that generated some of the more interesting components of the site (like navigation bars and such), even
though she had never programmed in Perl before that time.
In the end, we shipped the site on time in a large part due to this program. My management then had the ASP developers for others of our projects work on building the next versions of some of our web sites using this system. A year later, we had individual ASP developers maintaining 2 or more sites at a time and experimenting with new technologies in their spare time.
In early May, I was called in by one of the ASP developers on a problem she was having with yet another generation of this same script. I routinely program in several other languages for different kinds of jobs. There is no way that I could have built something like this in the time allotted if it had not been for Perl.
To learn how large and small companies are using Perl to meet their goals, check out Perl Success Stories.
If you have a Perl success story of your own that you’d like to share, please let me know. You can reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org