Hey Heather, it's me again.

Pandemic software worries me

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Hey Heather, it’s me again.

What was that text message I sent you a few weeks ago? Ah, yes.

(…) I just learned that the government awarded a contract to Deloitte to develop new software to track the vaccine + symptoms. Contract was awarded a few days ago, and the thing has to be ready in a month. My automatic reaction is … this is BS

A bit more ranting ensued but suffice to say I was quite skeptical of the whole endeavor. This has been in the back of my mind the whole of January. To clarify: on January 7th, the Canadian government awarded a $16 million contract to Deloitte to develop software for the vaccination rollout. And it would have to go live by the end of January.

I think it’s safe to say that if you’ve ever worked in software you’ve already imagined a gamut of scenarios and repercussions of this decision. I don’t know about you but my stress level shot up when I found out about this. It shot up even more when I read this article on the software Deloitte developed for the US. Here’s a small quote from the article:

“the problem, she said, was user error.”

I have so many problems with this that I’m not even going to get into it.

Lamenting isn’t going to change the fact that we are going to have to deal with whatever this brings. Now, is there a chance that the software developed works alright and only has minor bugs? Yes. Is the complexity reduced because Canada has a universal health care system? I mean I would think so. Is it possible that the company learned a lot by developing this software for another country first? Probably??

In the present situation we should be using Defensive Pessimism1. You have to be ready for things to go bad so you can mitigate the problems. If this system doesn’t work, we still need to be able to get people vaccinated quickly. Unfortunately I have no oversight in the matter but since we already have a system for vaccination, I believe that could serve as a fallback. After that, there’s always pen and paper. Or even better, spreadsheets!

For my part, I’ve been thinking of where things can go wrong, where I can help, and what sacrifices I’m willing to make. I haven’t seen issues like what the US is going through. Though this may be because the vaccine rollout here has been really slow and hasn’t been expanded to a larger scale. We are starting to see large vaccination sites being set up finally. There’s a chance that will reveal systematic issues. Our main problem is speed. We need to pick up the pace. My school of thought on this front is same day vaccination: the day we get vaccines is the day we use the vaccines. We’d do well to have much less complacency, and a lot more ambition right now.



  1. Ok, so the expression defensive pessimism is generally used when you set low expectations for yourself but I couldn’t remember if there was a similar expression for having low expectation of others as a defense mechanism, lmk if you know one! 

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