How custom technology makes WindowDressers possible

An Interview with Nate Davis
By Meaghan LaSala

WindowDressers is not a typical non-profit organization in many ways. Our technology systems are more reflective of a manufacturing company than a small non-profit.  While our insert building process may be simple and easy to learn, the technology behind our process is unique and complex, and part of what makes it all possible. Volunteers are behind imagining and developing every aspect of our organization, and our tech systems are no different. 

Local software developer Nate Davis was recruited to design WindowDressers custom software. He did so at a discounted rate, and since then has been mentoring our CIO Steve Shaw pro-bono. Nate is also a composer, artist, and Rockland City Councilor. I asked Nate to explain WindowDressers unique needs, and the custom solutions he helped build. 

ML: I think a lot of people are probably not aware how complex our tech needs are, and how many people have generously given time to make it work. Can you tell us about your involvement in the project?

ND: Most non-profits generally don’t have any need for custom software, it’s all off  the shelf and open source. This is the most complex software project I’ve ever been involved with for a non-profit. 

There are two aspects to the software. There’s the administrative interface, where people log on and manage things like customer records. But we also needed a measuring application that we take into people’s homes, to record the data about their windows. The reason we had to build it as two separate applications is that you have volunteers going into people’s homes where there is often no internet access or no cell reception. We had to build a stand-alone application not dependent on internet connection. If we did a typical web interface, you’re out of luck. 

Then we had a need for an online database. If you think through the implications of getting those two aspects to work together, it’s a fairly complex task. You have to think about the integrity of the data. It has to work on multiple platforms, because volunteers use both Mac and Windows. 

There are other complexities too. For example, when someone measures a window, it needs to know how to compute the positioning and the length of the struts (the piece of wood that braces the middle of the window insert). It’s an example of custom software. WindowDressers has to be able to export data in a manner compatible with the mechanical saw at the production facility, so we can cut the wood to size. It has to be able to read by the saw, which is common in manufacturing environments, but uncommon for non-profits. There are all sorts of fairly complex reporting mechanisms that Steve Shaw has built as well– generate custom reports to see where efficiencies can be approved. 

ML: What about WindowDressers makes you want to give time to our project?

ND: I’ve always been interested in energy issues. I was the chair of the Rockland Municipal Energy Committee and am now on the City Council. In terms of trying to get towards carbon neutrality, electricity is the easy part in Maine. Maine is doing well in terms of renewable energy. The bigger challenge is heating oil. We’re very dependent collectively on oil to heat our homes. The lowest hanging fruit to fix that problem is efficiency. WindowDressers is great in that it provides a low cost, scalable model to dramatically increase efficiency. I love that it saves people money, but my initial interest was the energy aspect.