At Xara, a small software house that sells its graphics products over the Web, I gained my first taste of web development in the commercial world. Alongside the day-to-day tasks involved in running a two-man web team, I had two major projects to concentrate my mind.
The first was to build a template-based system to generate a site for selling fonts. Xara had obtained the rights to sell over 1000 fonts online, and they wanted a site that could show off every weight of every font, along with links to their e-commerce system.
Generating such a site by hand would have taken forever, so instead I created a template system in Perl that read in a list of fonts and generated the website automatically, creating both the HTML and images of the individual fonts at the click of a button. The site is still operating exactly as it was back in 1998, when I first created it, which shows that sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. You can see the site for yourself at buyfonts.com.
The second project was to build a shopping cart system for XaraClub, the online customer account system that Xara had built to support its e-commerce operation. I built a shopping cart in ASP, using VBScript to talk to a Microsoft SQL Server back-end. The shopping cart was in use for a number of years until the Xara website was revamped, but the old XaraClub code is still maintained for purchasers of old versions of Xara products.
My work at Xara was impressive enough to persuade h2g2 to headhunt me as their new website editor after just a few months in the job.