How the 2016 US Presidential Election is like building a website

With all of the turmoil surrounding the results of the 2016 Presidential Election I was trying to describe what was happening to my 11 year old daughter. My original analogy for her involved a Minecraft server (something she could better relate to). I have altered that story to be about a website. Something most of us can all relate to.

I am not lobbying for or against Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Please do not be offended if something I say paints your candidate in a light which you do not like. This is an attempt to describe the current 2016 US Presidential Election with concepts from a design and engineering perspective. I’ve used Medium once so I likely won’t respond if you flame or criticize me. This is a post-election piece. Please read on with an open mind.

The fancy website known as USA-Inc.gov

For the past 8 years USA Inc. has had a fancy promotional website. The Creative Director in charge of the website (Barack Obama) valued Design over Development. In his 8 years, he worked really hard to make sure everything was designed and organized correctly. The website looks amazing, nice photography, beautiful videos, colors on point and world class copy. Everyone who visits the site from the major cities on fast broadband connections are really happy with the website. Even other countries compliment USA Inc. on the site. The Creative Director has won the company a few of the trendy Design Awards. This has driven a lot of traffic to the site and made the company recognized around the world. Everyone on the team is feeling very confident about the work that they’ve done visually for the last 8 years.

But everything isn’t perfect at USA Inc. Unfortunately, after 8 successful years the company and the site are having some problems. Because of the awards & increased traffic, the site is slowing way down. It breaks for folks with slow bandwidth and has code debt that needs to be repaid. The Creative Director is leaving USA Inc. to focus on his family and move to Hawaii. In addition a new product section needs to be added which will hopefully help sales. With the Creative Director leaving, there is no one high level to design the new section and upload the content.

The technical issues are that while the website looks really nice, the front-end development and server are a mess. The site uses tables, has outdated CSS, uncompressed images & videos and of course no CDN or minified CSS or JS. The company had valued designers more than developers and no one had taken the initiative to fix any of the issues. The server is 10 years old, hosted from a shared server and is running an old version of WordPress which hasn’t been updated since 2008. There are a TON of security flaws and the site is being hacked several times a day which is crashing the server.

Because of these issues, people in the rural areas can’t use the site. They have slow internet and the site takes forever to load. Sometimes the pages won’t load at all which is costing the company views & revenue. Visitors are becoming very frustrated and constantly emailing or calling customer support asking if there is anything that can be done to fix the problems. The costs of hosting the site with all of the traffic has gone up. The time and money spent constantly fixing the security issues and server crashes is starting to really become a problem.

Finding the right person to fix USA Inc.?

The board of directors get together and decide that with the Creative Director leaving it is a good time to find someone to address as many of the problems as they can. Ideally they want to find a someone that can come in and add the new section as well as upgrade the code and server issues. All without breaking the cool design which everyone loves and has been winning awards.

They look everywhere but no such person exists or is available. There are lots of really eager young candidates. But most of them bomb the initial design/development tests early in the interview process. A few others look promising but say some inexperienced things in the 2nd round Skype interview with the board and are eliminated. One candidate makes the final 3, but was later excluded because one of the other 2 candidates called in a favor to a friend on the board and that candidate was removed from consideration.

So after a year long search it comes down to two candidates. Both with a ton of experience but completely different personalities, skill sets and backgrounds. One would potentially replace the responsibilities and skill set of the former Creative Director. The other would be a new role as Development Director. If this person was hired, internal designers would have to pick up the slack on the visual side of the website. The board is split on which direction to go. No one is 100% excited about either of the candidates for good reason. The former Creative Director was very articulate, had a clear direction and inspired confidence. These final two candidates are rough around the edges. Neither give full confidence that they can handle the entire job. The board needs to make a decision on what their priorities are going to be for the immediate future.

One candidate (Hillary Clinton) had worked at USA Inc. for 30 years in lots of different areas . She had recently worked under the previous Creative Director and knew what is expected in regards to keeping the current website updated and adding the new product section to the website. She has worked on updating parts of the site before, but had no development or server experience. From a personality standpoint, she is social and articulates her thoughts well. Half of the people in the company like her. She is a good candidate to fill the void left by the former CD. Unfortunately during the interview process it was discovered that she had broken some NDAs. They found her posting comps from a secret internal project on Dribbble which was a big security issue. The board did some further digging and found she was freelancing for other companies and had said some not so nice things about other people in the company. The board is losing confidence that she can keep company secrets private and that maybe she wasn’t as nice and innocent as they previously thought. There is a rumor she might get fired.

The other candidate (Donald Trump) is in many ways the opposite. He is a boisterous freelance developer with a ton of experience building & fixing websites. But he has never worked with the company before or on a project to the scale of USA Inc. But everyone knows of his work and he is a celebrity in the development community. He has little experience as a designer so it is likely he would not design the new section (someone internally would have to do that). But he would hopefully fix the technical issues. From a personality standpoint he is brash, overly confident, competitive, loud and does not like being told what to do. He has a reputation for having a short temper and often tells inappropriate jokes at the wrong time. He is not politically correct and speaks his mind which scares the board. He has posted some really vile things on Twitter and Reddit. Everyone is afraid they might not be able to control him and that he might make USA Inc. look bad publicly if he says the wrong things. But if he could fix the problems he said he could, then it might set the company up for future success.

So what did the board decide?

The board was split 50/50 on who to hire. In a morally conflicted decision based upon personality and different skill sets, what do you do? Play the safe card and go with the status quo? Or possibly shake up the design centric culture with a radical upgrade that would potentially strengthen the infrastructure for future success? Stay on the current path because it’s what we know and feels more comfortable? Or take a chance to make a good product even better by updating things we don’t currently understand?

The entire company is in chaos and everyone has been arguing for months. Many people who have been at the company for the last 8 years (while it was centered around design) are freaking out. They are afraid of losing their design jobs or the company changing focus to becoming a Dev shop. Everyone is afraid that the award winning website might suddenly look like every other site on the internet. They had become used to looking cool and feeling confident even if views & sales are declining. No one can come to an agreement because of the different personality types of the candidates.

The scary thing is that if the developer is hired he needs to be supported 100% for this to work. Because if the technical issues are not addressed then the end result would be exactly the same as not fixing the issues at all. The company could ultimately fail and then no one has a job.

In a tie breaker the board decides to temporarily ignore some of the character flaws of the developer in hopes that he can fix the technical problems. They felt that if the code & server problems were not fixed (19 trillion dollars in debt and declining sales) that it wouldn’t matter how many people wanted to visit the site, or how many awards had been won. The company would ultimately fail. Everyone is nervous. Everyone is freaking out. There is lots of yelling and bickering about the decision. But after the shock wears off hopefully everyone gets back to work and does their best at their individual jobs. Because a team cannot be a team if you don’t trust the person working next to you. And that only happens as that person consistently does what is expected of them. Let’s hope that developer puts his head down and does what he was hired to do.

Lets see if the decision was the right one in 4 years.