Your software just isn’t mission critical

Here’s the problem, though; there is A LOT of mission critical software that needs to be made. A LOT, a lot.

It is the (arguably unsexy) absolutely critical software in health care, in citizen services, in the public sector. In hundreds of underfunded Agencies and Departments (of Education, Housing and Urban Development, Welfare, Health and Human Services) there are small teams of people trying to modernize mission critical systems that are 20+ years old, and to do it quickly, generally without adequate executive support, manpower, or technical resources.

Here’s what I’m talking about in terms of mission-critical impact. Forget your “happy path”; imagine experiences more like

  • Judy doesn’t register for unemployment; because the automated system directs them to register via phone, in a 45 minute, 15 step system (that involves taking her social security number and 2 past addresses). At the end of the process, the recording informs her there is no staff member available to answer the call- and then the line goes dead.
  • James can’t figure out how to sign up for healthcare, and so doesn’t have any healthcare. He feels shamed and dumb. Can’t figure out how to avoid the tax penalties for it either, so doesn’t file taxes. These experiences go on the long list of things that make him feel like he deserves to be fucked over.
  • John’s housing benefit falls through. Because of a software bug that compounds “optimistic concurrency” problems with the legacy database (which is written in DOS), his caseworker “saved last”, and so his data was overwritten and someone else got his spot. Because the agency software has a proprietary code base and an overpriced continuing service contract for bug fixes and other updates, the staff are told they simply have to 1) fight or 2) impossibly coordinate blind to appropriately edit records.
  • Jane dies, because her nurse was finally overwhelmed in the daily struggle to provide correct care in an emergency setting, made almost impossible by the compounding effect of short-staffing, back-to-back 12 hour shifts, and the horrifyingsoftware system she is required to use to track patient information. See @Jonathan Shariat

I support calling out self-congratulatory bullshit. I invite you to advocate for working in the “untouched fields”, either permanently or donating skills part-time, rather than simply abandoning the thought that technology can and should be used to do important, impactful things.