Archive for September, 2009

Take that, Ticketmaster!

September 1, 2009

What’s the coolest project you’ve ever worked on? When that question was posed to me, one project immediately came to mind.

  • 2-D bar-code scanner-equipped, wireless, hand-held computers.
  • Portable wireless network that spans any arbitrary venue (including 15,000 seat arenas).
  • Online event registration and e-ticketing.
  • Three months.
  • One developer.

When I started working with Dave Ramsey’s LIVE Events team, we were manually fulfilling about 30,000 paper tickets each year.  Event attendance growth looked to out-pace our capacity to fulfill tickets.  Electronic ticketing was not merely on Dave’s wish list, it was a necessity for my department to meet growing demand.  It was, to be dramatic, the reason I was hired.  It was also due to launch in 4 fewer months than the Web team had planned!

Looming deadlines are great for killing scope-creep.  We wound up using our existing antiquated event registration system with an appendage for emailing PDFs.  I figured we could distribute e-tickets in November for a February event, with the hope that we would have a way of scanning them by the time we got there.

At break-neck pace, we researched bar codes scanners, bar code generator libraries, wireless LAN gear, and vendors to quote on all that stuff.  This was a lot like laying down train tracks while rolling at full speed.  In fact, for the first event, migrating the data from the Web systems database to the gate control database required a few command line tricks and manually stopping and starting Tomcat.

Throughout the course of the events season, much of my manual intervention was automated until I was no longer needed on the road.  During our second season, the system matured to the point where events could happen without my even knowing about it.  It has been an awesome experience to pull this off with the aid of a great team, and with the trust from leadership to architect this and plan my releases as I saw necessary and feasible.  All in all, it looks like the decision to build in house, however rapidly it had to be done, has yielded 20-25 fold compared to the cost of [utilizing some other ticketing service].