An article headline caught my attention this morning:
Can the geeks fix Obama’s flawed cure-all?
I’m not an expert in economics or healthcare, so I tend not to comment on those things as if I were. However, as a former professional “geek” (i.e. Software Engineer) I might have something constructive to add to the ongoing embarrassment of the Obmacare website.
From my own observations and from what I’ve taken from other software engineering professionals, the Obamacare website failures have nothing to do with volume. It’s not a matter of just “too many people.” Online sites deal with this all the time. There are standard industry practices that learned how to deal with this long ago. This means one of two things:
1) The site is basically fine and the the whole “high traffic” issue is easily isolated to a nicely coded and encapsulated module that just needs to get a little more processing power or be slightly tweaked for efficiency. Maybe the software is fine and it’s all a hardware issue. Get some new servers and all will be well.
2) The lack of ability to follow standard practices with regard to a web site designed for high traffic could point to the overall design and architecture being deficient. It’s not just a volume problem. The whole thing was done too quickly by people who didn’t know what they were doing and the lack of skill is showing up all over, the front end being just the most obvious touch point.
Unfortunately, I think we’re most likely dealing with #2. This was made especially obvious to me the other day when I saw that qualified software engineers were analyzing the code for the site and found that it had been pieced together with little chunks of open source programs the so-called programmers found for free surfing the web. To make matters worse, they were so embarrassed by this fact that they removed even the minimal open source copyright information and illegally stole the code.
It didn’t have to be this way. Online commerce and transaction processing has grown immensely since I left the industry for seminary. People feel safe and secure conducting business via the internet. However, when you look at the Obamacare website, you would think that the last fifteen years never happened. It makes mistakes that were overcome long ago. I fear this does not bode well for what could have been the most important website ever created.
If I had to guess, I would not look for any quick fix for this. It looks like a major architecture problem and a management crisis. Although the President is fond of making problems go away by exerting his power, computers don’t respond to pressure that way. Adding more power to this problem probably won’t fix it.
Maybe I could get a part time job writing code for Obama. I might even write a nice little backdoor function to get me some sweet access. I think I’ll pass. Oh, and don’t worry about all that code they stole from cool websites they found with Google… I’m sure it’s clean and perfectly secure for handling the private medical and financial data of the entire country.