Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013
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The Programmer's Lament: It Could Totally Be Worse!

You think Healthcare Dot Gov is a national disaster? Well let's not forget this:

In June, 2001, the F.B.I. awarded the contractor Science Applications International Corp. (S.A.I.C.) a fourteen-million-dollar contract to upgrade the F.B.I.’s computer systems. The project was called Virtual Case File, or V.C.F., and it would ultimately cost over six hundred million dollars before finally being abandoned, in early 2005, unfinished and never deployed. V.C.F. was then replaced with a project called Sentinel, expected to launch in 2009, which was “designed to be everything V.C.F. was not, with specific requirements, regular milestones and aggressive oversight,” according to F.B.I. officials who spoke to the Washington Post in 2006. But by 2010, Sentinel was also being described as “troubled,” and only two out of a planned four phases had been completed. Sentinel was finally deployed on July 1, 2012, after the F.B.I. took over the project from the contractor Lockheed-Martin in 2010, bringing it in-house for completion—at an ultimate cost of at least four hundred and fifty-one million dollars. In the end, the upgrade took the F.B.I. more than a decade and over a billion dollars.

2 Comments / Post A Comment

allyzay (#321)

I am absolutely hypnotized by this gif.

Anarcissie (#3,748)

Over most of the last 40 years or so, I made my living by working on large computer projects as an engineer and lower-level manager. The ACA’s signup system is actually above average in that category in that it hasn’t failed completely. It looks to me like it might actually function properly by the drop-dead date, which is almost miraculous. The reason you haven’t heard about private-industry failures is that they can be washed out quietly and completely, leaving no traces behind except for those who pay attention, which of course you don’t. This is a public project affecting millions of people and the implementation is in part a whipping boy for non-technical political passions and concerns, so it can’t be just wiped out when it fails.

The problems could be expected. Americans, with their ’Let’s just do it’ philosophy, find it very difficult to plan, manage, and test large systems, especially the last. I’m reminded of the cartoon where the programming manager says to his team, ‘You guys start coding. I’ll go down and find out what they want.’ It’s fun, but it doesn’t work on the big stuff.

Yes, the gif is excellent.

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