back to article Bank fail: Ready or not, here's our new software

Every now and again The Register runs articles from sysadmins around the world about the horrors of working in IT. From time to time, however, it is probably worth reading something from the user's point of view. This is one such story. Today at the grocery store, I saw an advertisement for a smallish regional bank. I used to …

  1. jason 7

    Nobody wants... do proper testing anymore.

    It's boring, tedious, costs money etc. The guys that built it, lost interest in the project a week after it started and this is 11 months later.

    But it does need to be done if you want to stay in business or maintain any sense of credibility.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's not that nobody wants...

      to do proper testing anymore.

      There just isn't time.

      Gone are the 1980s/90s days of carefully managed projects with an end release date, and carefully reviewed life cycles. When software was treated like a car.

      Nowdays software is more akin to the power grid - never finished, and always under maintenance somewhere.

      As usual we need to wait for the managers who came up through the 80s and 90s to either get this, or die.

      1. Stuart Castle

        Re: It's not that nobody wants...

        I think part of the problem is Google. By releasing services to the general public (even if they are invite only) they label as beta, they've made it acceptable to release products without proper testing.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's not that nobody wants...

          @ Stewart Castle,

          I wonder if there's a financial or accounting reason for releasing the software as beta. I expect there's a legal reason as they can claim that the user should have understood the software may not be fit for purpose.

        2. waldo kitty

          Re: It's not that nobody wants...

          I think part of the problem is Google. By releasing services to the general public (even if they are invite only) they label as beta, they've made it acceptable to release products without proper testing.

          no, you can go much further back to mickey^H^H^Hrosoft for that... everyone wanted to be a beta tester so they let them and moved all testing into the public sphere...

      2. boltar Silver badge

        Re: It's not that nobody wants...

        "to do proper testing anymore.

        There just isn't time."

        Yes there is - but management don't like time spent on non productive - as they see it - activities. In fact they even renamed development to account for limited or no testing - Agile. Code branches constantly being updated , little to no testing of the aggregated changes before its put live , all to please a "customer" , often internal , who doesn't even know what they want anyway but just come up with some handwaving ideas that some idiot IT manager things Must Be Implemented NOW! regardless of any long term consequences.

      3. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

        Re: It's not that nobody wants...

        Bullshit. That may be true if you're producing something unimportant like Facebook, but for things like banking there is absolutely enough time if enough personnel and money are thrown at the problem. Computer platform changes have long lead times, so that can be planned. Regulatory changes? Usually signposted well in advance. New browsers? Released in beta months before official release. Mobile access? Browsers are a known quantity, as are the mobile platforms.

        There is time, it's just that people don't want the loss of revenue by releasing their software later.

        It may be that some older software suffers by not being developed with a view to unit testing, but that seems a little better than more modern software which is constantly a least a bit shit, looks like it has never been properly unit tested, and has definitely never had more than a cursory user test.

    2. Electron Shepherd

      Re: Nobody wants...

      I think that one of the problems, oddly enough, is the move away from the waterfall model, with it's stages of system test -> integration test -> user acceptance test.

      There seems to be an idea developing that TDD and automated unit testing results in full-working software.

      "What do you mean, it has bugs? I checked it in, and our CI server said it passed all the tests. That means it works"

      There is a bit of "Quis custodiet ipos custodies?" here - how do you know the tests are correct and provide full coverage? To bring the Latin up to date, "Who tests the tests?"

      I've seen plenty of code that has lots of unit tests, and the code passes all of them, but they either end up testing that basically the compiler works (e.g. making sure that getter/setter pair get and set as expected), or the actual functionality is mocked out, just to get the test to pass.

      This isn't to say that unit tests are a bad idea (they aren't) or that the waterfall model is the best way to write software (it isn't), but in the rush to improve the way software is developed, some of the key tasks have been left behind.

      1. duriej

        Re: Nobody wants...

        Yes to this.

        TDD can be great but as always with testing it should be quality over quantity.

        30% coverage with good quality tests beats 90% coverage with bullshit tests.

        But you can't tell managers that.

        1. Thecowking

          Re: Nobody wants...

          As a software test engineer, can I just say that you all are correct and you need to be heard.

          Good testers are like rocking horse shit, I've been through a lot of interviews to find people who can actually test. There're companies who think that they don't need to do integration or regression testing and that if anything goes wrong, they'll just patch it in the next sprint. These companies seem to think that unit testing and TDD can find every bug. They are wrong. They're great tools, but they're an adjunct to proper testing, not a replacement for it. A tester is not just the user's proxy in the development flow, they're the adversary's proxy too. If we don't try and attack the product and use it, you're letting the public have a go.

          I also agree about black box testing, I try as much as possible to not look at our source repos, because when I know how it's expected to behave, that biases me to test it in that way. I like to test the processes of a user or attacker, not the expected code paths. That said there is definitely a place for whitebox testing where you do proper static analysis and identify as many code paths as are practical to test.

          Testing does not, and cannot, guarantee quality or security, but it's a hell of a lot better than the alternative.


          I sort of went off on one there, sorry.

          1. Commswonk Silver badge

            Re: Nobody wants...

            Thecowking wrote:


            I sort of went off on one there, sorry.

            Sorry that isn't a rant, at least not by my standards; too well expressed for starters...

            1. mix

              Re: Nobody wants...

              Sorry but I'm guessing you're both English, one apologising for ranting and one apologising for pointing out that the previous comment wasn't actually a rant.

              Sorry for pointing this out. (I'm English.)

              1. Commswonk Silver badge

                Re: Nobody wants...


                I say old thing that's remarkably perceptive of you. Good show and all that...

                G & T, anyone?

                (FWIW I'll admit to being British)

          2. LucreLout Silver badge

            Re: Nobody wants...

            These companies seem to think that unit testing and TDD can find every bug. They are wrong. They're great tools, but they're an adjunct to proper testing, not a replacement for it.

            Unit testing / CI for me really just tests that the programmer hasn't mullered the system somewhere they weren't expecting. One of the primary benefits I see of TDD is that it forces forethought about class design, and usually leads to some level of adherence to SOLID, Design Patterns, and other industry standard concepts. In essence then, it ameliorates the cowboys, it does not certify the code.

            UT, however, are not the only thing you can automate. A proper enterprise level public facing application should have a test suite that simulates users clicking every button; entering range tested, type variable inputs into every field; generally doing what proper fleshy testers do, just automated as part of the build.

            Most of the RBS style banking problems aren't developer related though, they occur because some low cost chair warmer in India didn't have the skills, experience, or training to understand that dumping a queue, or skipping a batch step is not the answer they're looking for. Stopping the off-shoring is the answer here, rather than Dev Ops minutiae.

          3. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

            Re: Nobody wants...

            @Thecowking - The more eyes a project passes through the more likely the final output will be correct. There are some many ways for a project to get screwed up from the initial specification, through programming, unit testing, review, and final testing that skipping any step is flatly idiotic.

        2. Roo

          Re: Nobody wants...

          "TDD can be great but as always with testing it should be quality over quantity.

          30% coverage with good quality tests beats 90% coverage with bullshit tests."

          For me coverage is a key measure of the quality of the testing... A figure as low as 30% suggests that they aren't even close to finishing writing and testing the code yet. If they really have delivered and tested all the functionality then 70% of their code is bloat. Neither outcome would be acceptable in my view.

          In my experience the fundamental problem remains managers & bean-counters thinking they can reduce development times with an acceptable fall in quality by eliminating testing. They don't learn because they never try doing things properly so they just don't know any better.

      2. Stuart Castle

        Re: Nobody wants...

        People forget that while Automated Unit Testing is a good tool for testing, it's nothing more than that. It's a tool. It's not a substitute for human testing. It may be able to test for thousands of potential bugs, but it will not find any bugs it's not been set up to test for.

        IMO, the best test of any system is to let a few users loose on it, as well as a few testers with a devious mind.

        One of my colleagues tested a website I developed for internal use and tried all sorts of tricks I'd never even thought of to break the error checking I'd built in. He did succeed and I fixed the errors. Funnily enough, I didn't even have to try to break the site he'd set up. Both sites were linked. Mine was a public facing one to do with booking equipment and his was an internal site dedicated to equipment inventory management. I entered a few codes for equipment that didn't exist, and the site let me manage them.. When I highlighted this, he told me that as the site was for staff only, he hadn't implemented any error checking (obviously he thought staff don't make mistakes).

      3. 2+2=5 Silver badge

        Re: Nobody wants...

        > I think that one of the problems, oddly enough, is the move away from the waterfall model, with it's stages of system test -> integration test -> user acceptance test.

        For what it's worth, if anyone can bear to listen to an old fart... years ago when I developed 4GL systems we would code and unit test our own work then *demonstrate* it[1] to a peer, who then did the testing on it.

        This had two key benefits: firstly it was amazing how often something mysteriously failed when it came to the demonstration [2]; and secondly if the test needed some fiddly data to be set up (think in terms of an bank account that needs a small overdraft; then 2 failed direct debits; then a small payment received; in that order before you can test that the right customer letter is sent out) you could show the tester what was required. This saved getting numerous 'failures' because the tester didn't understand the prerequisites rather than any actual error in the code.

        If the demonstration worked with no obvious errors (just a simple path through - it's not the full test remember) then the peer would take over to properly test and code review. (The code review was to ensure coding standards were being followed.) If it passed that, only then would it get marked as complete.

        I don't see any reason why agile teams can't adopt a similar approach. Everyone does some coding. Everyone does some testing. You all get to see each other's work which is good for learning - both from the good examples and from the bad.

        (NB This was not the only testing, of course: there were still formal test scripts in order to show coverage etc. )

        [1] 'It' in this case is the equivalent of a user story.

        [2] Which puts the emphasis on simple, reliable code that works first time. The risk of embarrassment when demonstrating is a powerful incentive to be thorough.

      4. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Re: Nobody wants...

        All those bloody automated test cases are all well and good but they don't and can't replicate the quirks of the average user who will try every know keypress in 5seconds in order to speed up the system.

        I'm just spent two days getting to the bottom of a nasty UI interaction problem. Do this, this, this, then that and opps!

        All has to be done within a minute or things going on in the background make it all work. Timing Sucks.

        Can anyone write an automated test for this? Somehow I doubt it.

        Systems are getting more and more complicated. Proper (not the automated type) Testing takes lots of time and even more money.

        We used to put people in front of a system and tell them 'Go Break it'.

        Lots of very obsure bugs were discovered that way. Why don't we do it now?

        Answers on a pinhead please?

    3. Vulch

      Re: Nobody wants...

      The guys that built it are the last ones that should be testing. They (I...) know how it works, what you need is testers who haven't seen the code and have the devious sort of mind that tries all sorts of "unusual" inputs the original coders (and spec?) never considered.

      1. Helldesk Dogsbody

        Re: Nobody wants...

        One group that may be able to assist in the testing process but are frequently ignored are the first line support staff. I used to be included in this when I was supporting an in house application and would try everything I'd had reported from users on support calls. The purpose of the testing wasn't to prove that the application was bug free (the approach most seem to have nowadays) but to find ones that could only be exposed by using the application incorrectly. Use the whole ASCII character set in free text fields to find out which ones broke what and how, break the normal workflow to see if it can recover when the normal, logical order isn't followed. The likelihood of getting it fixed prior to release was minimal but at least we knew and could provide an answer.

        In short, if everything goes pear shaped because someone entered a postcode backwards while typing left handed on the second Thursday of the month at least we knew in advance.

      2. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Re: Nobody wants...

        @Vulch - As developer, I heartily agree I am the last person who should review or test my code.

    4. Stuart Castle

      Re: Nobody wants...

      Proper testing does need to be done. Proper testing also costs money without any direct benefit to the profitability of the company. As such, the beancounters may see it as a cost with no profit, and some may choose to reduce or scrap it.

      They forget to include the costs if the system is rolled out company wide without adequate testing and goes even partly tits up. They forget to include the costs to the company reputation, lost customers, refunds and other gifts given to keep the customers you've just failed happy.

      They also forget to include the costs of any resulting legal action.

      Don't get me wrong, I've been involved in the testing of systems as both a user and sys admin, and I know that even with the most comprehensive testing, there can still be problems but when I see a failed upgrade taking out a bank's core systems for days at a time, I have to wonder how much they have tested both the upgrade and procedures used to do it.

      1. bringbackthebiff

        Re: Nobody wants...

        Proper testing significantly de-risks delivery and the money spent on testing should be proportional to the potential impact if the product goes TITSUP when it goes out the door - no need to always sweat the small stuff, but for something as important to a core business function like this..

        If the PM or project team can't get that across to the beancounters, or the beancounters cock a deaf 'un, then there's going to be a problem!

  2. chivo243 Silver badge

    Me too!

    I have to call every time I want to get into an online account with a bank in the backwoods of America, they can't\won't even provide me with an IBAN Number for my account?!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Me too!

      I have to call every time I want to get into an online account with a bank in the backwoods of America, they can't\won't even provide me with an IBAN Number for my account?!

      Ah, but that's just to stop you from handing back your passport. If you can't get to your US based funds, it makes it harder to make the sensible choice and run while you still can..

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Me too!

        I love the classic American approach to the passport idea.

        You experience a sharp ramp up in the volume of passports handed back. What do you do? Fix the problem? No, no - it's a market opportunity! Put the price up!

        Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn't help them fence off the place. All it lacks is an "asylum" sign.

      2. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

        Re: Me too!

        From the article you linked to:

        > It now costs $2,350 to renounce US citizenship

        That's, erm, interesting.

  3. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    If the software wasn’t ready – and it clearly wasn’t – it wouldn’t have been expensive to inform customers that the release date was being delayed. I doubt anyone would have cared. But by pushing it out the door unfinished they created such a fiasco...

    I've had that argument so many times, sometimes with managers who listren, sometimes with ones who wont.

    Late delivery of a project annoys the hell out of a customer, but if it works they soon forget. Deliver something on time but broken and they'll be reminded every day they have to use the stuff.

    1. Steve Gill

      With banking it's even worse though.

      As a customer I need to be absolutely sure that everything works perfectly. Any glitch, bug or issue will reduce my confidence in the bank as a whole rather than just the software.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "the bank as a whole rather than just the software."

        The distinction is getting less clear. The bank is, to a large extent, its software.

        1. LucreLout Silver badge

          @Doctor Syntax

          The distinction is getting less clear. The bank is, to a large extent, its software.

          It is, but unfortunately that isn't how banks see themselves, as software companies. IT is still just a cost to be managed as low as possible. Quality costs, it always has and it always will, but the drive for the past 8 years has been to ever cheaper just barely good enough software and staff, with the inevitable public overshoots that engenders.

        2. scrubber

          You are not a bank ...

          ... you are an IT company with a finance front end.

          I tried to point this out to a former employer and they nevertheless proceeded to try to use off the shelf software and tweak it to their needs wherever possible. At that point I quit.

      2. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        > Any glitch, bug or issue will reduce my confidence in the bank as a whole rather than just the software

        I recall and old fart I used to work with and some of his tales. His earlier life was spent on the nightshift for a large and well known confectionary manufacturers - the one that built a whole town in it's name - processing batch jobs on a single tasking mainframe.

        One day he went into his bank to query something on his statement. After a short while he got what was then a common answer - "the computer made a mistake". Being a bit of a pedant, and mischievous as well, he replied along the lines of "well you'd better fetch the manager". When asked why, he said that he needed to get all his money out while they still had any - before the crash that comes with a run on the bank.

        The manager was quickly called, and the old fart then explained that if the computer made mistakes, it couldn't be trusted - and that meant that no figures it produced could be trusted, and anyone who had any sense would get their money out of a bank that couldn't say with any certainty how much money anyone had once it became public knowledge.

        The manager sussed that old fart knew about computers, and after a short conversation turned to the cashier and told her "never use that excuse again".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Late delivery of a project annoys the hell out of a customer, but if it works they soon forget. Deliver something on time but broken and they'll be reminded every day they have to use the stuff.

      Late delivery can incur penalty charges. Defective delivery never really does. It's a lesson they learned from government projects - even the quality is similar.

      1. Don Dumb

        Project Manager empathy...

        @AC - "Late delivery can incur penalty charges. Defective delivery never really does. It's a lesson they learned from government projects - even the quality is similar."


        Just remember people, everytime you join in the criticsm of a massively complex government IT project for lateness or cost overrun, you're fuelling the drive to deliver on time and cost, rather than on quality. Naturally the testing regime will suffer to satisfy this.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      An old Sales adage..

      "Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten"

        .. but by that time, the accountant who chose the cheapest option has already had his bonus/promotion for saving money ..

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lloyds online banking

    Small scale but still damn annoying, Lloyds are so desperate to show me marketting material on their online banking site they'll happily completely freeze for 30s+, repeatedly, waiting for the content. Content that's blocked by multiple browser plugins as unsafe for various reasons including coming from a different domain.

    Other sites carry on working while partially blocked like this. Did Lloyds not bother testing their shitty implementation or is it deliberate? They seem to think I'm using an advertising site with added account management functions.

    Abusive idiots.

    1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge

      Re: Lloyds online banking

      Yes, I'm doing a spot of teeth grinding due to that too. I notice that this is very much a character of sites that have been "tabletised" where I have to wait for the content to "unfreeze". Presumably while I'm being data-mined (tinfoil alert) or served crappy ads of no interest.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lloyds online banking

        I highly recommend using stylish ( for firefox and reformatting the terrible new design. There's only a few bits of CSS you need to tweak to get a pretty acceptable desktop experience. Of course this isn't exactly a mainstream option!

    2. getHandle

      Re: Lloyds online banking

      NatWest are just as bad. Every page reloads immediately after loading, presumably to enable their "Get help" applet. Damned annoying when you're in a rush and have already started typing login details...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lloyds online banking

      Co-op bank works well, no ads. I have no interest in this bank but Anon for privacy reasons.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lloyds online banking

      And yet they have won awards for testing. Unbelievable!

    5. Don Dumb

      Re: Lloyds online banking

      @AC - "Lloyds online banking...completely freeze for 30s+, repeatedly, waiting for the content. Content that's blocked by multiple browser plugins as unsafe for various reasons including coming from a different domain."

      I had the same problems, so I'm going to assume you are using NoScript (which seems pretty sensible with a banking site) and have just found out how to solve this, without turning off NoScript.

      You have to specifically whitelist ONLY without allowing all of, this isn't the norm for NoScript. The site works fine now that I have done this.

      If you told Lloyds that their site didn't work properly they would simply tell you to turn NoScript off, which isn't particularly responsible behaviour IMHO. Considering that cyber is one of the big 4 threats to our nation, I can't help thinking that some good old fashioned regulation of what security compromises banking sites can and cannot allow is in order.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pressure from who...

    Late/delayed delivery probably means some managers won't be getting a bonus... so better for them it's deployed whatever state it's in, even if it causes havoc on other departments.

    Have seen it in the past where "no new bugs" are recorded against the pre-gold version, which basically means we'll stop adding them to the bug tracker until it's signed off and my bonus is guaranteed.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh yes

    I've sat a number of times, over the years, in my strange combined role ( it could probably only happen in education) as a senior frontline education manager and with added responsibility for local IT management and firstline IT support and training.

    The Powers That Be will come along with a new piece of software. It sounds good, but I ask the questions.

    Who designed it? - Usually an IT team somewhere far from the world of education. Often apparently using a different subset of English to the one my team uses.

    Who did they test it on? - Usually a hand picked collection of administrators and suits.

    How are we going to be trained to use it? - Usually me getting sent for two hours to a deserted office somewhere, then expected to "cascade" something I barely know how to use myself to staff who don't even know why we have been given this when the existing system worked really well. With no time allocated to do the "training" and little or no backup when it all turns out to be a dog's breakfast.

    1. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: Oh yes


      Yes, and at the end of it all, the b@stards will have the temerity to label you as resistant to change!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh yes

        Funny you should say that...

    2. Ian Emery Silver badge

      Re: Oh yes

      Typical Edukashun set-up.

      I have come across similar problems twice; once at school and once a few years later.

      1/ The head math teacher was tasked with teaching IT (this is in the days of the first 32K RM machines); with no training and no budget he had to raise the money for the machine (~£3,000), figure out how to use it, and then teach us.

      Shortly after we took our exams he told us the truth - we now had better qualifications in IT than he did, and that he was usually only a week ahead of us on the coursework.

      2/ Was actually my mum, as head of a Chamber of Commerce training centre, she was given the task of teaching office skills to teenage students.

      The problems being

      a/ She had no clue herself (and neither did any of her staff).

      b/ They had no computers or software to train on.

      The Friday before the first course started, a box of Amstrad CPC machines turned up, she brought one home and I spent Saturday figuring it out, spent SUNDAY teaching her what I had figured out, and at 8AM Monday morning she started teaching the staff, ready for the students arriving at 10AM

      1. waldo kitty

        Re: Oh yes

        Shortly after we took our exams he told us the truth - we now had better qualifications in IT than he did, and that he was usually only a week ahead of us on the coursework.

        i knew a guy that did some side work as a teacher at the local community college... he was generally only an hour or two ahead of his students...

        eg: he has a class coming up in an hour covering macros and mail-merge... he's never done it so he sits down, figures it out, comes up with a simple scenario then hauls arse across town to his classroom to ""teach"" what he has just learned himself... it was like this constantly...

  7. Daz555

    We do it to ourselves mostly

    I think IT running changes which only impact IT are when you get the biggest car crashes of user engagement and poor implementation.

    Replacing the incident/problem/change management system? Yeah sure, probably best to do that 8am on a Tuesday morning after a bank holiday whilst having failed to let anyone know their new logons, or offered any training whatsoever......we all know IT techs don't RTFM anyway so why bother with training?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Don't pour scorn on me, but I'm guilty of doing such an upgrade on software and it's affected people.

    In my last but one job I worked for a youth organisation who pretend to be a charity*, and it has this database that contained charity member data as well as data for other people connected with it. Volunteers would log in to the database to add members and to find other people to help them fulfil their volunteer role.

    There were several problems with this system. The major problems were that the IT skillset of the volunteers was poor, it was near impossible to provide any training to them, and the database itself wasn't reliable or user friendly. It wouldn't work on an iPad, and there were a few things that couldn't be fixed on it's current platform. So every day that went past, this database got even more insecure. Compounding this was the fact I was the only developer/IT person there, and it was me that would have to maintain this system as well as provide support to the people using it. Roughly 1,500 people.

    I had a choice, to continue development of the old platform or redevelop the system from the ground up but use the data structure of the old system. I chose the latter, and I worked out that it would take about 2 years to complete. This was optimistic, as I didn't account for 50% of my day being taken up by providing technical support to the volunteers as well as people in the office, on top of a CEO who would come to me and ask me how to watch iPlayer on her iPad.

    I requested more help, I was given an assistant for "2 days a week", which helped with dealing with volunteers in a 1st line tech support role, but it just wasn't nearly enough. I requested, then demanded, another developer to help me. This was denied for about 18 months, and when I finally got my man either the work load increased or the timescale was shortened by the committee. They thought that if there was 2 of me then the work would take half the time, when in actual fact it meant the initial work could be done nearly on time.

    So anyway, part of the upgrade process was that I split the system up in to modules, and I would work on each module in turn, and release it. The idea being the new system would be far simpler to use, it would have proper tutorials on how to use it, and it would get people used to how the finished system would work.

    I was wrong. What I didn't account for was that people don't like change, people don't read, and if they already hate using a system, bringing a new one in creates a revolt amongst these people. With the first module that was released, I spoke to a specific department within the organisation who would be affected by it. It was built to their specifications, and I delivered. Once it went live, the volunteers complained about the amount of information that the system needed (which was actually down to legislation, not because we liked recording lots of information). The department then back tracked on all the changes they requested and demanded I implemented the removal of features or checks of that module. To such a point the module broke the legislation that it was meant to adhere to. But the organisation on a whole didn't care, they just wanted it to "work".

    Anyway, I carried on. Plugged away at bringing in a new system, complaints were less but the work got bigger as inevitable mission creep set in. By the early 2015 the old CEO was replaced with a new CEO, and they made their opinions quite clear on the work I was doing with the resources I had. They brought in a company they were quite pally with (personally), and they went about installing that company above me. The company had no idea what they were doing, but they were getting paid a pretty penny for taking over the work I had done over 3 years, considering 50% of my time was spent developing it while the other 50% was spent dealing with idiots and assholes.

    I left in June last year, and the company was adamant they would have a new system in place by August 2015. It's now February 2016 and it hasn't happened. I don't regret anything I did with the project and the design (which is still being used, so it couldn't have been that bad). I did everything I could given the circumstances and the hand I was given.

    So yeah, give the bank a break.

    *charity for tax reasons. They weren't helping starving children in Ethiopia.

    AC for obvious reasons.

    1. John G Imrie Silver badge

      Re: Guilty

      Don't see why you should give the bank a break, the *developers* on the other hand ...

    2. Roo

      Re: Guilty

      This is turning into a Kludger's Anonymous meeting...

      I worked on two projects driven by regulatory requirements. The first one went very well, we were a small team, I was (very) well mentored by colleagues and we delivered on time, with zero defects over the 9 month timespan that system was required to run. It was a great project, everyone was happy.

      The second one went pretty badly - but we did deliver on time - and to spec.

      The key difference between the outcomes was down to the customer's desires.

      In the happy first case the (internal) customer *wanted* the project done, they saw the regulatory change as something that had to be done, so he wanted it done as effectively as possible. We had a good working relationship with the customer, the specs were clear, they did change but that was a two way process - we would tell them the likely impact on plans, they would look to push the timescale out or identify + cut redundant functionality elsewhere. It wasn't all roses, but it was a very effective partnership (in my opinion - having had a chance to compare our experiences other teams doing the same job).

      In the second case the (internal) customer really didn't want the project done. They saw it as an imposition, an unfair cost, so there was little to no basis for a working relationship. Same type of project, totally different outlook. The product was functional but the outcome was ugly.

      In fairness I did catch a whiff of death about the second project at the interview. I thought that I could make it work out well, but I was mistaken. :)

  9. scrubber

    First impressions count

    It is fixed now, but I still never use Travelocity because when I first went there any time you entered the destination, date etc. details and hit search it wouldn't store those details. If the search returned no results, or you wanted to price a different date or destination etc. you had to go back and enter each and every detail again. I still remember and won't use them.

  10. andy 103

    Did a mortgage application online with one of the UK's major banks - I won't name and shame.

    The valuation figure needed changing so I attempted to do this and the application became "locked". I phoned their customer service department who said not only were they unable to unlock it, they didn't know how it had got into that state in the first place. Their advice was that I restarted a new application, thus having to re-enter all the information.

    At first I thought, maybe this is just someone I'm speaking to who doesn't know what they're doing. But it turned out nobody did.

    I eventually went in branch where they explained that nobody really knew how that system worked and if that they couldn't even access what I'd put from there to check any of it out. Brilliant.

    1. paulf Silver badge

      The fact that a user locked an application isn't too bad (not desirable either but could be a used as a rather blunt method of error trapping). Call up and CS unlock the application once they make sure the change was intentional or some such.

      That NONE of the customer facing staff knew how to unlock this points to a monumental UI/System fail to the point that I encourage you to Name + Shame.

      I can't help wondering how many locked and abandoned applications they have on their system - orphaned after users did quite reasonable things like changing the house valuation. Perhaps the number of applications contribute to someone's bonus (even if they get randomly locked like this).

    2. jason 7

      I found a fault with Nationwide.

      Back in 1996 I was buying my first home. I went to Nationwide and got three mortgage quotes (the low middle and high). I took them home and then Dad and I sat and tried to work the quotes out.

      Just to make sure and to know how they came to the figures.

      We couldn't get the quotes to add up. I went back in the next morning and handed the quotes to the mortgage lady and told her they didn't make sense. She got out her calculator and nope...she couldn't work it out. The manager came over asking what the fuss was and then he had a go.

      Nope, he couldn't get the figures to add up. He was looking a little concerned. He called up head office and he was on the phone for a good 15 minutes.

      Turns out the Nationwide Mortgage quote software was wrong. Had been for some time but not a single customer or staff member had bothered to check the figures apparently.

      1. Pig Dog Bay

        Re: I found a fault with Nationwide.

        Same with the BBC's online mortgage calculator. There's an easy mistake to make in the formula and I too had made the same mistake in my mortgage calculator app (my first practice app). Annoyingly I used the BBC's calculator to check mine! Luckily I noticed my own mortgage payments didn't tally so I eventually found the bug!

  11. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Another issue around this

    Sometimes the design plan itself, underlying the development, seems to be missing something. It's those "Why did they do it like that?" moments. (I don't just mean Microsoft here but God knows they have enough of them).

    So, an example. Virgin Media's web mail page is designed so that if you delete or move an email it automatically selects the next one in the list. This stays selected when you then go on to select a different one, unless you remember to deselect it first. So that if you mark a message for deletion, or as spam ( their filters are still not great) you end up taking out both of them.

    Could there be any kind of reason for that? Do they think that users will only perform file actions on consecutive messages? And even so, do they need the next message to be selected automatically. Or was someone really sloppy in the design and no one checked how users use it?

  12. aelfric


    Then there was the farce that is the Yahoo! Groups update to Neo. It was broken on the first day and is still broken years later. Admittedly not quite so broken in some places, but still an absolute disaster really. The only reason anyone still uses it is that there is no viable alternative, pretty sad really.

    1. paulf Silver badge

      Re: Neo

      Completely with you on that.

      Yahoo Mail has a bug in the reply-to field construction that isn't fixed 3 years after I reported it (twice). I moved to a paid for IMAP provider which is several orders of magnitude more reliable (with a stack more features).

      As you say though with Yahoo Groups there isn't much in the way of alternatives (even paid for). I looked about 3 years ago and couldn't find anything suitable. In one of my use cases we migrated away to a custom website design. In the other case we're stuck with Y! Groups :(

      OT slightly - this is Yahoo's big problem at the moment. Mayer can say/do what she likes - unless and until she gets on top of the design/usability/bug issues in the things like Yahoo Mail that will retain users, Yahoo is stuffed. They're not going to win new users and any existing ones will slowly drift away.

      1. Commswonk Silver badge

        Re: Neo

        Oh it's not just me then.

        I have a Yahoo mail account more or less by default as a Moderator for a couple of Groups; I only use it very occasionally. For some reasons that I cannot fathom (a) the total number of mails in the inbox never tallies with the number I can actually see, (b) I can delete "x" emails but the inbox then displays a number not equal to the original minus "x", (c) if I delete some emails then next time I look more that have to have been present previously but were not shown mysteriously turn up, and (d) if I delete all the emails then those which were not visible previously get deleted as well.

        I am more than a little comforted by the knowledge that Yahoo Mail has "imperfections".

        How ever could I have thought otherwise?

  13. steamnut

    Not a rarxample.

    In 1999 I was contracting at a large UK bank (no names, no pack drill). I was working as an application tester. I am good at testing and very picky with it.

    So, when I found a major problem with a scheduled release of the branch cashier software I duly filled in the forms and rated it as a "showstopper". That is what I was being paid to do after all.

    However, although noted, the "showstopper", was overridden by my manager as delaying the release meant that she would have serious questions to answer. And the release went according to schedule and everyone patted themselves on the back. Good Job!

    Of course, the bug did appear in use and was then marked as "serious problem - workaround manually".

    For those that are interested the problem was the handling of BFPO addresses (Army, Navy, Air Force). BFPO's were not recognised or accepted making it impossible to create, manage or close those accounts. I rather hoped an angry marine would get angry in a branch with an SLR....

  14. Stevie Silver badge


    I also smell the odious whiff of a rotting baby, the one tossed out with the bathwater.

    The snotty young things here where I patrol the trenches are often horrified to learn that the systems they write are accessing data sourced from a humongous CODASYL database on an honest-to-cray mainframe that is maintained by a suite of COBOL programs.

    When they are done sneering I point out that the database schema only ever needs recompiling when we hit the hardware limit for file sizes and have to re-distribute the data involved, contains more data than they'd like to keep in their Oracle databases because archiving is culturally an badde thynge, and that the program suites have been ticking along putting bread on the table in front of their kids for donkey's years on account of the people in charge not being fad-hags when it comes to computer languages. The system eats a fraction of the IT budget, leaving it to be burned away by the half-arsed stuff the youg things write that can't survive an audit cycle without a major rewrite (yeah, testing).

    Oh the money lost to Java, C++, C#, Etc etc etc.

  15. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Actually there's a precedent for all of this

    Years ago my late father was a quality control manager for a smallish clothes manufacturer. Their main customer was M&S - very fussy.

    When my dad found items that didn't meet Marks' strict criteria he rejected them. And his bosses put them back into delivery. M&S then rejected them on delivery.

    Time after time he'd tell the bosses that they couldn't do this to M&S.

    Eventually that firm lost the contract and went under.

    Point being that the bean counters only seemed to be bothered about the number of items sent out, not the number rejected by the client afterwards. It was all about throughput. Quantity not quality. And maybe with a less fussy client they'd have got away with it.

    1. Triggerfish

      Re: Actually there's a precedent for all of this

      M&S being fussy is an understatement. But yeah have heard similar stuff going on like you describe in my time working in manufacturing.

  16. Triggerfish


    I always get the feeling a lot of these things happen because;

    1. it's been announced and now to say we will delay it means a loss of face, hint CEO's who think this way as a customer I would rather you said "We had a look realised it could cause problems and put it back a few months so it doesn't cause you problems."

    2. The company has ticked all the boxes,

    "Have you tested it?"

    "Yeah sure see this ticked box"

    "Have you tested it properly"

    ".....there's no box to tick for that, it can't be neccessary".

    The Board say we have implemented it all, anything half assed after that is not their problem, they own lead from the top when it comes to success and praiseworthy stuff*.

    *I'm having a cynical day today.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Ego

      Only today? I generally have one of those days, every day. It's just a matter of degree...

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Ego

        I'm quitting in a few months, it has brought an almost Zen calm to my demanour. :)

  17. Triggerfish

    The Enemy

    Just thinking.

    I can remeber a job where i had to deal with a secratary who would insist Office had been unistalled if the icon was even moved from the exact pixels it had been living on for years on her screen. Seriously she would not be able to see it anywhere else on the screen if you moved it like some sort of mental blindness, once pointed out she would ask for it to be moved back to its familair place.

    Software devs and managers need to be introduced to people like this while someone says thats your enemy, everything you do will be fighting this persons stupidity and if you don't plan and test you will lose.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: The Enemy

      Mulled this one over a bit.

      I can actually see that a user who thinks that the icon is WORD would get upset if it moved. To her WORD has moved. No different to finding that her blotting pad and quill had been moved. Very disturbing.

      Joking aside, it would not be too surprising if some users had seen it that way, especially a few years back before we all had home PCs. The idea that the icon is completely separated from the programme you use to do the work could be hard to understand if that's the limit of your experience.

      Just like the much documented (here) calling the screen the computer, the box the hard drive etc.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: The Enemy

        This was about ten years ago or so computers were commonplace some people just go tech blind (I have worked for a guy who built a carding machine for a new fibre type out of random bits of plant, no plans, just experience in the textiles environment and a good engineer, couldn't use a computer almost to the point of stubborness), I say enemy, they ain't really but when you are trying to do tech stuff for people or explain tech stuff they are your hardest challange. i used to write instructions on how to use sometrhing like outlook and then send them to my mum who is one such person. If it can be read/ used by someone tech blind most other users should get it easy.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You know what you're doing wrong, don't you?

    (Addressing the stakeholders that greenlight these kinds of projects).

    You're treating complex design tasks as "IT projects", when in fact, IT is just a part of the whole.

    IT is important, even essential, yes, but you need more than a software engineer and a software designer to engineer and design stuff that happens to make use of software.

    Use case modelling, design thinking, systems analysis, whatever you want to call that part of cybernetics which doesn't involve IDEs, debuggers and deployment tools - a huge percentage of IT professionals know next to nothing about that stuff. Neither do they care. They have other fish to fry.

    Seen this happen too many times, and the IT folks get the blame, of course. This is also the cause of security holes, of course. (Social engineering still the best vector for penetrating a system, regardless of how conscientiously the data inputs have been sanitised).

  19. regadpellagru

    appalling, really

    "Someone had authorized the call center agents to make short term advances on a case-by-case basis – they could give me a portion of the missing money, but not the whole sum. (I can only imagine what a record-keeping nightmare that created on their end.)"

    Never heard of such a criminal fiasco, here, in France, but I heard it happened in the UK.

    Here, there would have been blood all over the walls if that happened.

  20. Thrudd

    Politeness is so quaint

    So sorry but I'm always glad to hear that someone other than we Canadians are considered overly polite.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: Politeness is so quaint

      Apologies, but who isn't Canadian and is polite? I has a confused.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Penalties for late implimentation

    Whomever had the contract to roll out the new software surly had a penalty for not enabling it on a specific date, thus the roll-it-out no matter what mentality. They always have time to do the job over but never enough time to do the job properly, the first time.

  22. Aurelian2

    Some airy theorising ...

    We live in a post-Blair world, in which all problems are borne simply of defective nomenclature.

    In the spirit of this new age, the term "software engineering" should be changed to "software sketching".

    I think you'll agree that this simple and effective fix is much cheaper than mucking about with rigorous testing -- an activity which any beancounter rightly views as self-indulgent.

    The priority is to get the product to market and capture customers. The product can always be rectified later, and the developers can be blamed for its inadequacies.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Run fast and break things

    Not everything should be 'agile'


  24. BasicChimpTheory

    "I have no evidence that this is true."

    I don't mean to get all English teacher "up in yo' ass" (and I will read the rest of the article post-haste) but *what* is it that you have no evidence to prove?

    Only saskng this as you, presumably, were paid for writing this piece and it starts out super sloppy straight out of the gate.

  25. garbski

    They did what?

    My bank is so bad that if the person who does the incoming bank transfers goes on vacation, nothing gets done until they get back. I'm serious. Nothing. I have an automatic deposit of my paycheck. It gets there Thursday but apparently the person who "pushes the button" has that day off. So they do it first thing Friday. They told me that one day when I called in. And no, I can't close my account or the charity fund I'm maintaining will start getting charged $2.00 a month for the privilege of having an account there.And don't get me started on the last time they upgraded and lost everybody's passwords. Everybody's.

  26. PeterM42

    Apart from Government IT Systems....

    The winners (losers) have GOT to be npower and Scottish Power, who implemented SAP billing systems clearly without ANY useful testing whatsoever, resulting in sanctions from the regulator, fines, compensation to customers and (of course) lost customers.

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