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From: Colin Coller (
Date: Sun May 14 2000 - 00:31:08 PDT


I'm a computer science major and a sociology major. My area of interest
is how carelessly companies develop and deploy technology which can have
serious social consequences. My interest started back when I was a boy...

I used to be a programmer at a small technology company that developed
software for emergency services companies (police, fire, ambulance).

The company's products and services were developed without system analysis
and design, programming standards, revision control, testing, etc. The
company's nontechnical management said "it would cost too much to do it
right." The company's technical management said "our software is proven."
The company's producrs and services were full of defects, unreliable and
often inaccurate.

The company's customers deployed their products and services without
independent analysis, long term trials, etc. Their products and services
were used to help make decisions that could save or cost lives. In some
cases, their products and services were used exclusively, replacing other
means of making the same decisions.

I quit just after the first major problem with the company's products and
services appeared. A customer noticed that some of the data they were
getting was inaccurate when they tried to confirm it. The company denied
that there was a problem with their products and services. They assumed
that it was a problem with their hardware provider, with the customer's
network, anything but their products and services. It took four days of
arguing with the company's technical management for them to finally agree
that it was their problem and that it had existed for a while.

The problem was that each piece of customer data was being queued before
being processed and that only one piece of data was being unqueued per
second. This wasn't a problem initially, since we weren't processing more
than one piece of data per second, but by this point we were trying to
process over fifty. The queue was getting longer and longer and the data
was becoming less and less accurate. By the time the customer noticed the
problem, five ambulance companies had been using old data to make life or
death decisions for months, including the one that serves the city I live

Now, I can't do anything about this, because I'm under NDA. I can't name
the company, its products or services, what they do, who their customers
are, what problems exist or how often they manifest themselves. All I
can do is research the subject and hope that I don't need an ambulance any
time soon.

So that's what I do.


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