The *hidden* Obamacare website code.

I just saw this video of Congressman Joe Barton questioning Cheryl Campbell of CGI about the Obamacare website’s *hidden* code.

It really doesn’t bother me that the congressman doesn’t understand that he’s looking at a ‘comment’, not ‘code’. And it doesn’t bother me that he doesn’t understand that it was probably commented out because of the dynamic, incremental, nature of software development with decisions being made and unmade continuously on the fly. And it doesn’t bother me that he doesn’t understand this commented code doesn’t affect compliance since it’s not functional, not displayed, and completely ignored by the computer.

I can almost guarantee how this played out; An overly defensive business analyst decided to add this in as a CYA tactic. The developer added it then somebody realized it was not to spec and told the programmer to remove it. The programmer commented it out instead of removing it because they’ve seen the flip flopping on functionality like this in the past (possibly multiple times in this project). The comments were never removed (are they ever?), and it was promoted to production. Then somebody with enough knowledge to be dangerous, but doesn’t know what they are looking at found it, and pushed it through the ranks until if finally wound up being questioned in a Congressional Hearing.

What bothers me is that nobody was able to clear up this misunderstanding. There was nobody to step in and say, “Hey, this is a non-issue”. It’s a non-threat.

I was a little disappointed that Cheryl Campbell didn’t chime in and say “Actually, Mr. Congressman, I understand your concern, but it’s not what it looks like”, then explained what it was. Ok, she obviously doesn’t have the skills to understand or explain it, but you would think the solution architect would’ve rode shotgun to clear up misunderstandings like this.

I’m also embarrassed that programmers are still commenting dead code instead of removing it. It’s not 1990 anymore, the source control tools we have are awesome, so don’t be scared to delete anything which is no longer serving a purpose, it will live in your source repo history forever. Don’t be a hack.

Once it is understood this commented out code is a non-functional historical artifact of an extremely dynamic process, it could also be asked “Why was this added in the first place?”. And that would be a valid question, to which I would answer, “It doesn’t matter since that functionality was not delivered”. Was the delivered product to spec? … umm, ok, no it’s widely regarded as a piece of crap, but that’s another story. Was it delivered to spec with regards to the commented code in question? Yes it was.

Is it just me, or is it a little scary that people in high places are judging people based on technicalities they don’t understand? Is it a little scary that representatives of tech vendors don’t understand the simplest aspect of their technology or the basic everyday incremental software process enough to clear up misunderstandings?

Oh, and one more thing; anybody who’s been paying attention on the internet at all should already know that all the legal trap doors are hidden, in plain sight, in the privacy policy, not in the source code.

2 Responses to “The *hidden* Obamacare website code.”

  1. Glena Dunn says:

    How can “It doesn’t matter since that functionality was not delivered” be a reasonable answer to the reasonable question of “Why was this added in the first place?”? Sometimes ‘Why’ and ‘How’ are important to making certain something doesn’t happen again, and when people like you (and Hilary) want to dodge or dismiss the question, it indicates a need to hide something, which is the opposite of “transparency”.

  2. Glena Dunn says:

    So you were a little disappointed in Cheryl Campbell in that she obviously didn’t have “the skills to understand or explain it” and the solution architect who didn’t step in and clear up the misunderstanding. Well I’m a ‘little disappointed’ that since they didn’t come up with the same explanation you postulate, that they were so willing to go along with it… Why could they not have said, “That is concerning, and I don’t understand why it is there. Now that I see it from your perspective, I am going to look into it and get back to you.” But no, all we see is dodging responsibility and dodging answering the question of whether is is unlawful. They clearly thought it was hidden but activated and they clearly were not appalled on behalf of those who could be misled and affected by it.

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