Summary: Software in Government, Big Business and Big Tech

This is a summary with links to my posts on the many ways that large organizations including government, big business, big tech and the rest diligently apply modern software procedures as taught in academia and required by professional management; they consistently produce disastrous results in software quality, cost, security and everything else that matters.

There are of course issues that are common to all these large organizations, for example in cybersecurity.


Government software disasters are government-as-usual, so much so that disasters that wreck lives barely make the news. For example, over 10 million people world-wide enter a government-run lottery for immigration slots that can lead to US citizenship. How hard can picking a bunch of random numbers be? Apparently too hard for the government software people, with the result of horrible consequences for the declared lottery winners whose immigration slots were invalidated.

Consider the sets "Excellence" and "Government IT." There is a great deal of evidence that these are non-overlapping sets. I learned there are organizations promoting and celebrating digital government. They hold awards ceremonies. I tried to find out what the winner had done to deserve winning. Surprise, surprise, the link at the organization’s website explaining it all was broken. Pathetic.

Even simple things like making Social Security statements available on-line appears to be beyond them -- including of course lying about it.

The NSA (National  Security Agency) has a budget of over $50 Billion and is touted as being the world’s best at cybersecurity. It turns out the only reason we know their super-top-secret budget is because their security was blatantly breached with massive internal data made public.

Given that this army of highly-paid cyber geniuses can’t protect itself, it’s not surprising that its analysis of a high-visibility security breach may have sounded good to the public, but was in fact entirely fraudulent.

What do you do with such a huge budget when you’re unable to do what you’re supposed to do even with your own secrets? You set up a massive program to teach students your excellent methods and hope to train over a million certified experts. I tracked the program from a local community college to the NSA’s own description of its program – which was both broken and insecure!

Unfortunately, this isn’t just about keeping information safe. Government ineptitude kills people. Instead of taking a quick, simple approach to preventing train crashes:

The government presses on with its super-expensive solution using obsolete technology, which leads to yet more preventable crashes and deaths.

It’s not just big governments. The little government of several islands in the Caribbean managed to create a multi-front disaster using best practices to foist a digital currency system on its innocent citizens.

The US government continues to pursue a national digital currency of the kind that has already proved to be a disaster in the Caribbean. They do so ignoring the fact that the US Dollar is already largely digital, with extensive software support structures that are in place and working well..

Important things like voting systems are some combination of broken and insecure. I took the trouble to define a simple combination of tech and non-tech to build a modern, secure voting system that was auditable, with operations visible to every voter while keeping what they voted for secret. Will any government institution pay attention, much less implement it? We all know the answer.


Big Business

Executives in big business want to succeed and advance, but this can only happen by avoiding risk. The best way to avoid risk is to do what “everyone else” is doing, what the experts say is best. That’s where industry advisory groups come in.

Giant advisory firms counsel their customers on how to make the best decisions. Getting your customers to like you is high on the list. Carefully crafted words are of supreme importance to such large organizations. Actions that match? Not so much.

A giant health insurance company “lost” the personal information of "tens of millions" of its members sometime in 2014; they're not sure how many, whose records were "lost," or when it happened. The details are an astounding illustration of big-corporate IT incompetence.

I soon found out that my information had indeed been stolen. The company’s response to the theft was right in line with their letting it happen.

What company doesn't want to be part of the digital revolution and have an app? If you're a major health insurance company, why wouldn't you replace old-fashioned insurance cards with something always up-to-date that comes on an app? Here’s what ensued when one of the industry giants tried.

I've covered many big organization face-plants. The awfulness encompasses a broad range of consumer-dissing inconvenience, Here’s a case of some software that "works" but puts customer inconvenience front and center.

Here’s a case of a giant company software issue that is low on the “it matters” scale, and high on the “a smart high school student could have done it better” scale. It’s the kind of issue that leads one to wonder whether we’d all be better off if they refused to hire any more people with college degrees for any job, and in particular, management.

Big Tech

Whether the software is a cool social app, an academic website or a real business, there is a common theme: the software is poorly designed and, even worse, it just breaks. You might think the cool internet apps like Facebook and Twitter are an exception, but they’re not.

How can you innovate? Did the leaders of the current big tech companies benefit from training in innovation? Once they became large, have the big guys like Google demonstrated excellence in innovation? Uhh, sorry, the facts indicate otherwise.

The widely-accepted logic is: Facebook is wildly successful; FB is built on software; therefore, FB software must be excellent. I should hire people from FB to help me build excellent software! The history and facts support neither the logic nor the conclusion.

I looked at FB’s mobile app when it had over 700 million people using it. Over 20 million people had written reviews, more than 6 million of which were 3 stars or less. A random sample of those reviews yielded juicy results.

The difference between image and reality at FB is astounding. Here is an interview and a recent book that should lead any ambitious young company to avoid hiring people from there.

Large organizations have trouble building software. This has been true since the dawn of software history, and shows no signs of changing. The decades-long, rolling disaster of Microsoft Windows is a great example of this.

Microsoft illustrated multiple issues relating to digital ownership in a case I dug into. Among other things they attempted to require use of their own pathetic browser.

There are big problems with software quality. The social apps in particular have decided it's embarrassing. But instead of actually, you know, fixing the problems, they seem to have decided to mask the problems! Twitter is a great example of this disease.

I did detailed studies on Twitter and found that they do indeed produce provably bad search results.

People write and talk about what's "trending on Twitter" as though the trend meant something. It doesn't. It's based on deeply flawed Twitter search software that gives random, widely varying results.

Twitter fired boatloads of software engineers in 2022 leading some to predict that software disaster will ensue. But then, most people don’t know much about software and don’t realize what a disaster Twitter software has been for years.

I reviewed a book about government security on Amazon. The author was impressive and had loads of experience. Many of the reviews were positive, with a few pointing to obvious bias. I wrote a review that pointed to the positive aspects, but also mentioned some of the bias. The review disappeared. I interacted with Amazon, and was told that suppressing the review was a mistake. It appeared again. Then it disappeared. I tried to write a review and was told I've been banned!

Yelp isn’t as big as the industry giants, but it’s pretty big. A random plunge into their system demonstrates the same kind of slick surface with rotten underpinnings as their larger brethren.


There is a better way! The winning methods aren’t even new – they’re proven in practice by small groups that need to win. See: