5 Software Failures That Will Make You Feel Better About Your Fender-Bender
It has been said that life’s greatest lessons are learned from the worst mistakes, and while that might be true, it doesn’t necessarily sooth the souls of the mistake-makers—especially if we’re talking about corporate giants. Sure, it doesn’t feel good when you forget to call your brother on his birthday, and your face may flush when someone points out that you’ve been wearing your sweater backward all day, but, rest assured, it could always be worse.
When there’s time and (probably more importantly) money involved, failure has a way of looking a lot worse. For these five companies, poorly designed software resulted in some mistakes of epic proportions.
A Very Happy Holiday
Image courtesy of The New York Times
In December of 2017, South Carolina lottery enthusiasts had reason to rejoice, as a software failure allowed $19.6 million in winning tickets to leave the printer. On Christmas Day, ticket sellers noticed larger-than-normal sales for the Holiday Cash Add-a-Play, as word spread that all tickets were winners. While the game was shut down after approximately two hours, customers reportedly hopped from store to store buying tickets.
Some thought it was a Christmas miracle, but Intralot, who acts as a vendor for the South Carolina Education Lottery, said it was a programming error. Later, they elaborated and explained the coding had been changed prior to the glitch—and inadequate testing didn’t uncover the problem. When winners tried to cash in, they were instructed to hold onto their tickets, but they were not immediately given money.
In July of this year, lotto officials said that they would not be paying out the winning tickets, instead offering a $1 reimbursement for their purchase. In total, 71,000 winning tickets, worth $500 each, were sold. Interlot denies a failure in their core systems, but the would-be winners have a different opinion.
Fight or Flight
Image courtesy of Defense World.
The Pentagon’s F-35 fighter jet, which is the military’s most expensive program, has continued to struggle with software failures, including a glitch in the radar that renders a pilot essentially blind until the radar is restarted. There’s a lot of code involved (8.3 million lines, to be exact), so there’s plenty of room for error. Still, when the stakes are so high—no pun intended—you might expect a little more precision.
While the plane’s structural problems also caused it to be vulnerable to lightning strikes, the plane is the most reliant on software of any produced thus far, so there’s an increased need for software that works. Bug fixes are in the works, but global defence forces aren’t exactly excited about the problems, especially since glitches have gotten progressively worse.
Right now, the next software version is slated for 2020. Until then, expect that they’ll be fixing bugs, testing for resistance to hacking, and improving overall cybersecurity capabilities.
Over and Under
Image courtesy of The Times.
In 2003, the United Kingdom’s Child Support Agency unveiled a new IT system, while the Department for Work and Pensions restructured. There were two software systems, and no one thought to check for compatibility. Wouldn’t you know it, the two were incompatible.
After the rollout, 1.9 million people were overpaid, 700,000 were underpaid, and $7 billion in child support payments went uncollected. There was a backlog of 239,000 cases and 36,000 new cases that ended up stuck in the system. In total, the error cost taxpayers over a billion dollars.
The lack of software compatibility put families at considerable risk as they waited for the government to sort things out. A leaked memo advised employees to cover up the error when dealing with callers, and staff member reported a lack of available tools when sorting the situation out.
Shiver Me Timbers
There’s nothing like being accused of something you didn’t do by something you just paid a lot of money for. Just ask Microsoft, who, in 2007 managed to allow someone on the team to install pre-production software on all Windows servers that told users they were running pirated software.
The install was reportedly an accident, but for 19 hours, customers running Windows XP thought they were running illegal software, and Vista users lost a few important features on their machines. Had Microsoft employed adequate software testing, they could have saved customers the time and hassle of re-validating via the site. Some had to wait a few days, which made for a lot of very unhappy customers.
A Close Call
Image courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.
In January of 1978, the Hartford Civic Center Coliseum collapsed under the weight of snow. Just five hours before the collapse, 5,000 spectators were sitting inside the coliseum, watching UConn beat UMass in men’s basketball. When stadium collapsed hours later, no one was present, and no one was injured. However, the financial costs were considerable—$70 million and $20 million in estimated damage to the economy.
The programmer responsible for the building’s design assumed that the support would only face pure compression and falsely believed all top chords were laterally braced. In reality, only the interior frame was capable of adequate support. After the snow accumulated, one support buckled, bringing with it many other sections of roof.
What We Can Learn
Let’s face it—mistakes happen at all levels. While our personal failures may not be as catastrophic, a mistake is a mistake, something we’d all probably like to avoid. From incompatibility and breakdowns in communication, to inadequate testing and buggy software, we’ve got you covered.
With EAGLE, you ensure projects that are destined for success. By providing streamlined communication, allowing for customization of interface and design parameters, and facilitating interaction with a supportive and knowledgeable community, EAGLE eliminates the big mistakes. And, while we’d love to help, remembering birthdays and putting your jeans on the right way is on you.