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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Quote 1: "A complex system that works is found to have invariably evolved from a simple system that worked. . .
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.
..but also Brooks's Law:
"Adding manpower to a late project makes it later."
I think MS is seriously underestimating the reluctance of its base to move off Win7 to Win8 (or even 8.1).
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."