Thursday, March 6, 2008

Software to Die for

Software development teams track a lot of statistics. Lines of code, tests, bugs, etc. But there was one project I worked on with a very unusual statistic: deaths.

Fortunately, the death count was zero for the project -- nobody had died during the development. But that wasn't true of every project the company had.

The company in question was a power company and I was a usability consultant on a large software project. At power companies, people get electrocuted and succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning. Things like that happen. Obviously, the goal is always zero deaths and nothing the company ever said implied otherwise. Still, they tracked the statistic for every project, including software projects.

Not all of the developers got it (some were too wrapped up in database schemas, business rules, and UI widgets), but it certainly put my work in perspective. My job was to make sure that the software did its job quickly and effectively, enabling the employees to do their jobs, so customers would have power and nobody would die. Not all of our software can make the difference between life and death, but, sometimes, I think maybe developers ought to act like it does.


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