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Comment: Yes. Next question? (Score 2, Informative) 127

by bfwebster (#48470829) Attached to: Voting Machines Malfunction: 5,000 Votes Not Counted In Kansas County

Seriously, the rush to electronic voting after the 2000 Presidential election was just a bad idea all the way around -- and, frankly, most IT people with any experience were saying so. It is vastly, vastly harder to change physical media than to change electronics.

Comment: We use the wrong model for IT hiring and retention (Score 4, Interesting) 574

by bfwebster (#48306973) Attached to: The Great IT Hiring He-Said / She-Said

Eight years ago, Ruby Raley and I published (in Cutter IT Journal) an article entitled "The Longest Yard: Reorganizing IT for Success" (you can read it here). Our basic premise is that the current "industrial" model of IT hiring/management -- treating IT engineers like cogs or components -- is fundamentally flawed, and that a model based on professional sports teams would likely work much better. Having spent 20 years analyzing troubled or failed software projects, I believe we need a significantly different approach on hiring and retaining the right IT engineers. ..bruce..

Comment: Removing my palms from my face... (Score 5, Insightful) 104

by bfwebster (#48197243) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Event Sign-Up Software Options For a Non-Profit?

I am convinced it's a mistake for this non-profit to create a software development team from a rotating pool of volunteers to write software upon which it is critically dependent.

Yes, it is, for a whole host of reasons that I'm sure will be expanded upon here shortly. I've spent 20 years dealing with troubled and failed IT projects, and one of the biggest mistakes I see time and again is an organization trying to create a mission-critical project, often in a compressed time frame, using developers who are not an experienced, functioning team. You can usually throw into that first-time adoption of some silver-bullet technology and/or methodology. So, what you get it, "OK, let's get 10 random programmers who have never delivered a working system together as a team, and they're going to develop this mission-critical system from scratch in 4 months using Swift and Agile, even though none of the programmers have ever used either. And we can add more programmers if we start to fall behind."

Having the programmers be volunteers is even worse, since they are now self-selecting based on their own interest, instead of being chosen for, you know, actual skills, talent, experience, and so on.

Sigh. ..bruce..

Comment: Re:Seriously? This is a post? (Score 1) 232

by bfwebster (#47929089) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Have You Experienced Fear Driven Development?

Yep.. Many years ago, I said in testimony before a Congressional committee (yeah, I went there):

"Humanity has been developing information technology for half a century. That experience has taught us this unpleasant truth: virtually every information technology project above a certain size or complexity is significantly late and over budget or fails altogether; those that don't fail are often riddled with defects and difficult to enhance. Fred Brooks explored many of the root causes over twenty years ago in The Mythical Man-Month, a classic book that could be regarded as the Bible of information technology because it is universally known, often quoted, occasionally read, and rarely heeded."

Software is hard, and it gets harder the larger the project. Stupid human behavior just compounds the problem. ..bruce..

Comment: Seriously? This is a post? (Score 5, Insightful) 232

by bfwebster (#47925807) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Have You Experienced Fear Driven Development?

Not to pile on here, but there is nothing new or recent about fear-driven projects of any kind, much less fear-driven IT projects. All you need to do is read some of the classic books on IT project management, including The Psychology of Computer Programming by Jerry Weinberg (1971), The Mythical Man-Month by Fred Brooks (1975), and Death March by Ed Yourdon (1997).

Back in the early 90s, I was chief software architect for a start-up developing a large, complex and novel commercial software product. After working long hours for years, we had missed our original release date and were struggling to come up with a new date that we could be sure of making. Top management (CEO, CFO) was considering carrot/stick "incentives" to "motivate" the engineering team to make a certain date; one of the senior developers stopped me in a hallway by the engineering offices and asked, "Don't they realize they're dealing with grown-ups back here?"

P.S. At the risk of sounding like an old fart, I remain appalled at the profound lack of familiarity among far too many IT industry practitioners of the essential books on software engineering and IT project management. As I have said ad infinitum and ad nauseum, not only do they keep re-inventing the wheel, they keep reinventing the flat tire.

Comment: I wrote about this in 1996 in BYTE (Score 5, Interesting) 608

by bfwebster (#47414679) Attached to: Normal Humans Effectively Excluded From Developing Software

The article was called "The Real Software Crisis" (BYTE, January, 1996); you can read the original text here. (BYTE's archives are no longer online). I wrote a more extended discussion on the subject back in 2008; you can read it here. One might was well write that "normal humans are effectively excluded from composing and performing music"; if you've ever known a music major in college, you'll know just how true that is (I believe Music to be a harder major than Computer Science, having dated a Music major while getting my own degree in CS). ..bruce..

+ - Copyright ruling on calculated results

Submitted by bfwebster
bfwebster (90513) writes "During the past few years, I served as an IT expert witness in BanxCorp v. Costco et al., in which BanxCorp sued Costco and Capital One for citing (with credit) its web-published national averages for CD and money market rates in their advertising. Judge Kenneth M. Karas issued his summary judgment opinion last fall, finding that BanxCorp's published averages are "uncopyrightable facts" due to the simple calculation involved and the lack of ongoing human judgment in what banks were involved. Here is my summary of his findings, along with a link to the actual ruling."

Comment: Been a problem for decades (Score 2) 118

by bfwebster (#45778727) Attached to: How Healthcare.gov Changed the Software Testing Conversation

SQA as a red-headed stepchild has been an issue for many, many years. It's just that most troubles/failed software systems don't have the widespread public exposure that Healthcare.gov has; even the most brain-dead corporation would not have launched such an incomplete and bug-ridden system to a vast end-user bases.

Some years ago, I led a review of a late (4 yrs vs 2 yrs estimated) and very over-budget ($500M vs. $180M estimated) corporate software project. The core problems had everything to do with SQA, starting with the fact that there was no SQA organization; all testing was done on an ad hoc basis by individual teams and organizations. Adding to that problem was the fact that there was no coherent architecture. After 4 years and $500M, there were no systems that were ready to go into production. Far too common in industry and especially in government. ..bruce..

+ - 30-40% of Healthcare.gov (backed systems) yet to be finished

Submitted by bfwebster
bfwebster (90513) writes "In testimony today before Congress, Deputy CIO Henry Chao indicated that 30 to 40 percent of the overall Healthcare.gov systems — primarily the payment, accounting, and back-office systems — are not yet complete. Note that payments must be made by December 15th in order for insurance coverage to start on January 1st. (Note: Chao seems to say at first that 60-70% still needs to be completed, but later clarifies himself that 30-40% needs to be completed.)"

Comment: Old article. I can sum it up with three quotes (Score 4, Insightful) 400

by bfwebster (#45314311) Attached to: HealthCare.gov: What Went Wrong?

Quote 1: "A complex system that works is found to have invariably evolved from a simple system that worked. . . .A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system." (John Gall, Systemantics,p. 80, 1978 paperback edition).

Quote 2: "In architecting a new [software] program all the serious mistakes are made in the first day." (Martin, 1988, cited in Maier & Rechtin, The Art of Systems Architecting (3rd ed.), p. 399)

Quote 3: "Indeed, when asked why so many IT projects go wrong in spite of all we know, one could simply cite the seven deadly sins: avarice, sloth, envy, gluttony, wrath, lust, and pride. It is as good an answer as any and more accurate than most." (me, testifying before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology Hearing, US House of Representatives, June 22, 1998)

My pre- and post-launch analysis of the Healthcare.gov website can be found here. ..bruce..

+ - New concept -- the Peter Pinnacle -- inspired by Ballmer? 1

Submitted by bfwebster
bfwebster (90513) writes "Michael Swaine — long-time, well-known and very prolific author/editor in the programming and personal computing worlds — has just devised a new twist on the Peter Principal: the Peter Pinnacle, 'meaning to get promoted so high and to be so unqualified for your job that the company tells you that you can name your price just to go away.' I'm sure the timing of the neologism is just a coincidence."

+ - Book Review: Too Big To Fail: The Business Case for Big Data

Submitted by bfwebster
bfwebster (90513) writes "[NOTE: I can't find any 'drop-down menu' for book review formatting. I have this saved out on my own laptop as text, so I can re-enter it if you can point me in the right direction. ..bfw.. (bwebster@bfwa.com)] Suddenly more timely than ever in light of the US Government's own Big Data projects, Too Big To Ignore provides a quick-read introduction to Big Data for both managers and technical types. The book's subtitle sets forth its scope: this is neither a technical work on Big Data, nor a "how-to" primer, nor a comprehensive survey of the field. Instead, Phil Simon seeks to explain why a given organization of any size — small, medium, or large — might want to give serious thought to initiating a Big Data strategy relevant to its mission. He gives an overview of Big Data concepts, current solutions, case studies, and a path to get started. Too Big to Fail: The Business Case for Big Data Author: Phil Simon Pages: 231 Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2013 Rating: 8/10 Reviewer: Bruce F. Webster ISBN: 9781118638170 (Hardcover) Summary: Why businesses should consider a Big Data strategy Disclosure: I reviewed Simon's first book (Why New Systems Fail) here on Slashdot four years ago and became friends with him as a result. Following the success of his first book, Why New Systems Fail, Phil Simon has carved a publishing niche for himself in focusing on key issues in the intersection of technology and business, then explaining those issues to business types (as well as technical workers seeking a general introduction). Successive titles include The Next Wave of Technologies (various emerging technologies relevant to business), The New Small (using key technologies to allow small businesses to compete with large ones), and The Age of the Platform (the emergence of platform-based business models). His newest book, Too Big to Fail, seeks to do the same for Big Data. As with his prior books, Simon's audience is primarily managers and business decision makers, though his books also provide a quick overview for technologists as well. Big Data, as Simon uses the term, refers primarily to the massive amounts of unstructured data that organizations now have access to, either by tapping into various external data sources or capturing data directly via platforms and other hosted environments. In that sense, Big Data contrasts with traditional internal data stores, such as relational database systems and data warehouses. Big Data is, of course, very much in the news right now, given the on-going revelations of the US Government's PRISM project and other data gathering efforts, which may well be the largest Big Data project to date. This book — which came out in March — clearly does not address those revelations, nor does it touch upon government analysis of Big Data (beyond one or two passing comments). What it does do — as per the subtitle — is make the business case for exploring a Big Data strategy within your organization. The book has an introduction and eight chapters, but really comprises three major sections.The first section — the introduction and Chapters 1 & 2 — covers, in effect, "What is Big Data, and why should I care?" Simon talks about the massive growth in unstructured data over the past 10-15 years and the impact it has had on various businesses. He also The second section — Chapters 3 and 4 — provide an overview of Big Data techniques and current solutions. While the techniques — including data visualization, semantics, and predictive analytics — are timeless, the discussion of specific current technology solutions runs the risk of being dated within a few years, though there is probably no way to avoid that beyond future edition updates. The final section — chapters 5 through 8 — seeks to explain what Big Data looks like in a business environment (including three case studies), how to get started on a Big Data project for your organization, and what the future is likely to hold. As someone with a strong technical background who has not had any dealings to date with Big Data, I found the book a very useful introduction and overview to the business concepts and realities of Big Data. A few times I wanted a deeper technical dive and had to remind myself that this is not written as a technical overview of the subject, but is intended primarily for a business audience. Simon's writing style is readable and informal (occasionally perhaps a bit too informal). But it is a fast and easy read — I read it in one sitting — which is essential for Simon's target audience. In light of PRISM, the subject is perhaps more relevant than ever for all of us, and some organizations may now see Big Data initiatives as a defensive move. However, the real long-term relevance of Big Data — and the corresponding issue, opportunity, and challenge — is underscored by a sidebar in the book written by Brad Feld (Managing Director at Foundry Group, a VC firm):

Twenty years from now, the thing we call Big Data will be tiny data. It'll be microscopic data. The volume that we're talking about today, in 20 years, is a speck....We are at the very beginning of a Cambrian explosion of data. (pp. 132-133)

And that is why Big Data will impact us all."

"Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?" -Ronald Reagan