[plt-scheme] Perplexed Programmers

From: Anton van Straaten (anton at appsolutions.com)
Date: Sun Aug 26 01:13:48 EDT 2007

Richard Cleis wrote:
> This assumes that the system was never automated.  I find that hard  to 
> believe.  

Of course, I was speculating based on very little actual evidence. 
Besides, there are other systemic factors at work here (more below).

But depending on the history of the school district, there may have been 
multiple previous systems involved - e.g. at the individual school 
level.  Some of those systems could have been manual, or run using 
primitive systems (Excel is always fun).

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles_Unified_School_District for 
some info about the school district in question.  It's big, and 
allegedly badly run in general.  Because of the effects I described, a 
badly run organization (or just a messy and disparate one) will not 
usually find automation projects to be straightforward.

> If this is true, then why the 95M$ price tag?  That's 2000 dollars  per 
> case (48k "certified employees".)  

Certificated employees are just the ones with e.g. educational 
certifications.  The article mentions 90,000 employees towards the end, 
and their union claims a similar number of members.

But I wasn't making any claim either way about the fairness of the price.

Deloitte was originally paid around $55m[1] (before overruns).  The 
system is built on SAP, and SAP was paid about $12.2 million according 
to [2].

> I repeat, then: for what is the 95M$ paying?

I'm sure it'd be interesting to find out.  But at that level -- 
considering that the school district would apparently rank #250 on the 
Fortune 500 if it were a public company -- things don't work quite the 
way they do in smaller scenarios, as article [2] hints at.

Such things don't help make the software development situation any saner.

That all said, it's easy to underestimate the costs of big-organization 
software development when you take into account the whole cycle from 
requirements gathering through successful deployment.  A lot of 
highly-paid people are involved in such a project, including lawyers, 
salespeople, and management.  Companies like SAP and Deloitte are used 
because of their experience with similar-sized projects.  There's a big 
risk mitigation element there, and the consultants take on significant 
risk, of being the one to be blamed and sued when something goes wrong, 
which is starting to happen now.

> Hmmm.  We have such stories, but I think we can make the typical  
> approaches work better... and I am a traitor to my colleagues for  
> saying so. :)

Well, just to clarify my interest in this, I find it rather galling to 
see such debacles being attributed to "perplexed programmers".  There 
are indeed likely to be some programmers of questionable merit working 
on such a project, but whose fault is that?

I think these problems are largely outside the scope of HtDP, for example.



[2] http://www.excellenceinlaschools.com/news/news?id=0030

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