The launch of the healthcare.gov site has shined an interrogation style spotlight on the often over-looked world of Mountain Dew, Corn Chips, and Snicker bars, the world of web development. As a basic PHP developer myself I feel like my brothers at keyboard are being unfairly crucified for mistakes that are sadly industry standard!
On the first days of the failed site Obamacare proponents were pushing a story of site overload. Similar to when Oprah shares the girl next door’s blog entry on her website, the girl next door’s blog crashes. Why? Volume. A webserver can only handle so much traffic, and when it reaches capacity it gets gridlocked just like the Red Mountain Expressway in 5:00 traffic. No one goes anywhere.
Can I believe that story? Sure. As days turned to weeks the dialog has changed. The site itself is cited as being unreliable and buggy. It is frustrating the masses and providing prime time material for comedians everywhere; just like the last year’s release of Apple Maps. That infamous error in programming ended up putting airfields in farms, museums in the river and in general providing an incomplete and incorrect view of the surrounding world. Most famously Apple Maps lead people far off course into a sweltering national forest in Australia. Lives were at stake and the police were sent to rescue the stranded motorists.
This website isn’t the first programming bug of the century and it won’t be the last. In the grand scheme of things, it barely makes a blip on the “Threat-O-Meter.” Excluding hurricanes, alien invasions or actually GETTING cancer, healthcare.gov being a poor site doesn’t even make a blip.
Software glitches that DO make a blip: The 2013 model Jeep’s have a software glitch that causes them to turn off parking lights when it get’s dusky outside. The 2013 Dodge Ram’s software glitch increases your risk of a crash and the family friendly Caravan’s has the wrong software installed, causing it to NOT deploy the airbags!
There are always glitches, there are always bugs, and hindsight is 20/20. Application developers, project managers, site architects, and the entirety of the IT field is actually made of people, and people make mistakes. Assumptions are wrong, but that is OK. Coding is an iterative process. Build, test, observe; rinse and repeat. Eventually, they WILL get it right. Why? Because websites are based on logic. One plus one equals two. And given enough time you will find all of the errors where one plus one is trying to equal three and can’t. The healthcare website, the Dodge and even Apple Maps will one day be cured of all ailments. I can ride in my friend’s updated Dodge, Siri will (one day) no longer insist that there is a Ruby Tuesday across from the Homewood Senior Center, and soon enough, the healthcare website will be cured as well.