The Daily Parker

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Never ascribe to malice...

I've recently had the opportunity to work on-site with a client who has a strong interest in protecting its customers' privacy. They have understandably strict policies regarding who can see what network data, who can get what access to which applications, etc. And they're interested in the physical security of their buildings.

At some point, however, process can stymie progress, and this client recently added a physical security measure that can stand as a proxy for everything else about how they function. Not content with having a full-time security guard at each lobby entrance, and with doors that require an ID to open, they now have a man-trap-style revolving door system. Only one person can enter the door at a time, or alarms sound. The doors move slowly enough that even the slowest walkers—and this is far Suburbistan, so there are many—can get through without hurrying. And to make extra-special-certain, these doors require a second ID badge.

Now, the client building is 30 km from the nearest city of any size, and that city doesn't even rank in the top 50 by population. In order to get to the building you have to drive some distance from anyplace you'd ever want to be, then cross a parking lot whose area, according to Google Maps, is four times greater than the building's footprint. In other words, they're protecting the building from...nobody. Nobody will ever lay siege to this place.

This aptly demonstrates the philosophy throughout the organization: they have immense barriers that have no purpose except to prevent any actual work from happening. My effort for this particular client lasted several long weeks and produced, in the end, about fifteen lines of code. They brought 60 developers onto the project to speed it up, with the result that 60 developers tripped over procedures and project management at immense cost to the company to produce something four guys in a garage could have done in the same length of time.

There's a punchline, a poignant one for the day after Elizabeth Edwards died: the client is a major health-insurance company.

Do you want to know why the U.S. spends more on health care than any other country? I think I have the answer.

N.B.: The title of this post comes from one of my favorite quotes, usually ascribed to Napoleon Bonaparte but probably coined by Robert Heinlein: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

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