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re: The Hawaii Missile Alert Was the Software Developer's Fault VIEW POST


I find this type of article incredibly disappointing as it peddles the myth that software engineering is a deterministic and perfect process and that this type of error is because somebody as "absolutely negligent". That smacks of an utter lack of professional respect and some classic results-oriented thinking. It also reeks of a tonne of hubris, unless the author has first-hand experience of the system in question and not simply the crisis-management sound-bite that came from the HEMA spokesperson.


1) The author and readers don't know the level of authority that the user has and what training came with it, so they don't know the context that the engineers expected when the user was presented with these options.
2) The author and readers don't know the UX flow leading to the drop-down options, so they don't know what context was established by the interface in the user's mind when they clicked the buttons.
3) The author and readers don't know what the drop-down menu looks like, nor the size of the screen that the user had at the time. Were they using a supported browser?
4) The author and readers don't know what the user saw after they clicked the button. Did they gloss over the contents of prompts put before them? Did they confirm their selected action when they should have cancelled it?
5) The author and readers don't know the state of the system when this drop down was initially added. Were the options added at the same time? Was one added before the other? Were they added by the same engineer?
6) The author and readers don't know the constraints that the engineering and QA team(s) were under when the options were added? Were they added under an extreme time crunch? Did project management direct them to skimp on testing? Does the engineering team even have authority to prevent a release without losing their job?
7) The author and readers don't know what requirements are in place around how simple it has to be to send out a real alert? If the article had, instead been "Missile launch alert delayed due to insufficient permissions for user", would we be having the exact same conversation with a few changes here and there?

It's disrespectful to cast about absolute claims about the quality of the team and to parlay this situation in to a simplistic call to "write better software". As an engineer, you should know better than to suggest that it's as simple as that... there are definitely lessons to be learned here, but sniping from the sidelines is not the way to learn them.

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