REBOL Technologies

DirecTV - an example of modern software incompetence

Carl Sassenrath, CTO
REBOL Technologies
29-Jul-2009 4:31 GMT

Article #0415
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This is a blog I've been wanting to write for a long time. It's about software complexity, the way it's "managed", and the harm that it can do to your company. After tonight, I decided that this needs to be written.

I sat down tonight to watch a movie, Knowing with my wife and one of my sons. We could not watch it because, once again the DirecTV system and its software was completely out-to-lunch. (And, I'm actually saying that quite nicely.)

Look, I have a message for the executives of the direct satellite TV system known as DirecTV: Please stop listening to your software technology department and get with the real world. They're milking you like a cow.

No, you don't need to take your system down each week for "maintenance". That's 1982 technology. Really! This is 2009. We've come a long way! Get with it.

What's going on, really?

At many companies, perhaps even most companies, and the government for sure, software technologists spin a convoluted web of complexity in order to entrap their high-level executives. It's really quite clever. It puts the CTOs in the driver's seat, even though the CEOs get the nice title (and the house on the beach.)

Software CTO's know that their respective CEO's (and the rest of the exec team) know nothing about software or systems... zero, nada, zilch. And, in fact, because those same CEO's struggled with math in school, they openly admit they know nothing about such technology. How many times I've heard high level executives say: "I'm an idiot when it comes to computer technology." (Almost proudly, oddly enough.)

Let the games begin!

The CEO, who perhaps along with his high-paid staff might be able to decide on the color of the product box or the enclosed marketing brochure, really has no idea what the CTO is talking about.

What's the result? The CTO runs the show... but even worse, no one even questions if the CTO knows what he's doing. Or, maybe the situation is even worse than that: the CTO isn't a tech guy, he's a manager. He doesn't understand what his team is talking about, so what chance does he have to relay that to top level management. Does "zero" sound about right?

Frankly, that's the only way I can explain why DirecTV is so broken... from their receiver technology, to their user interface, to their back-end databases. It's why, on a Wednesday night (right now), when I sit down with my wife and my son to watch a movie, I can't get it. And, when I call the 800 number to talk with someone in Asia, I'm told: the system is down for maintenance! What!?? (And, it does so every week! WOW!) Little does the CEO know that modern systems don't need to go down for maintenance. It's really quite easy to keep them up and running full time. But, the CTO doesn't tell him that... or, perhaps, the CTO doesn't know himself.

So, the CTO runs DirecTV. The CEO is just a figurehead, a puppet.

It's a long story...

Anyway, I could go on for a very long time, but this company isn't anything special. It's just a perfect example of modern software incompetence. No sadly, it's not unique.

But, the root of this problem has become quite clear to me, and I apologize for picking on one specific company. Substitute any company name you want, Goldman Sachs, General Motors, or even most (all?) governmental organizations, from small to large.

But, let's be perfectly clear here: The root problem is that top level management thinks that in 2009 it is just fine to "not understand" the technology.

Sorry, that's a recipe for doom!

Yes, as a company, it spells doom. You're in over your head. (And, to extend that statement, as a government, it means doom too.) Nothing good comes from that path. So, wake up. Learn your algebra. Get smart. This is 2009. We have computers now. You need to know the basics.

Ok... sorry, I just had to write this. I've been holding back a very long time. It's time to vent, and... I guess it's time to subscribe to NetFlix again.


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