Why the Government needs coders: the devil is in the detail

lisa Lisa, 21st May 2020

Our household is currently going around in circles as to whether we think the proposed return to school the week after next is a good idea.

The dilema for us is that there just isn't very much detail about the whole thing yet - and I do love detail.

Today a headline made us laugh; it seems the penny has just dropped for the Government that if there can only be 15 children to a class room, so each class is using 2 class rooms.... how will they have enough classrooms for all students to go back for a few weeks in July?! I'm sure teachers have been wondering this since the announcement almost 2 weeks ago - I know we have.

I read a comment somewhere the other day - it was probably in the Guardian (does anyone else think it's easier than ever to name the newspaper without seeing the masthead at the moment? The divide in the country at the moment between the Tory loving Telegraph and Tory hating Guardian is more palpable than ever) - that referenced how Boris isn't really one for details. And that's probably where he and I would fall out at a dinner part because I am ALL ABOUT the detail. I don't know if that's because of what I do for a living, or if I do what I do for a living because I appreciate the finer details of things.

When you're planning or programming a system you constantly need to make decisions. My job is working with the client to consider all the different possible outcomes and requirements, and for every question I ask a client, there'll be 100 more that the developer needs to make during the build - just around how to handle API responses, or the best way to handle security. If you want to let people choose between X and Y, what happens if they drop out at that point? What happens if we know 60% of your users would want to select Z?

The idiom "the devil is in the detail" refers to the fact that the failure of a project or task is usually because there were mistakes made around the finer details of things. To avoid failure, you need to give time and consideration to more than the headline features or policies. So as website and web application planners and coders, we can't hear any news headline without questionning the implications and joining dots to see where there are gaps.

That's why I think the cabinet should contain coders! Not for actual analytical coding or visualisations - just because, if they're good at their job, they notice the gaps in plans and ask questions. If the Government were a private business, they're acting the part of managers who don't care how it's done, but just want the results - and the best results. However when you're the one who's - time and time again - actually sitting down to write tens of thousands of lines of code to produce a system used by thousands or millions of people, it makes you good at thinking of scenarios and problems.

Of course we don't want a cabinet that just consists of developers. There are still plenty of backend coders who can't make things look pretty, or the ones who want to use all the latest tools without fully considering the technical debt that'll mean for the company moving forwards. But just a couple to point out the need for detail, would be a welcome relief I think - in this Government especially.

I suppose you could argue that this Government is the one who's spearheaded Brexit which was, for many, a case of moving away from a big organisation who wanted to make decisions for us. So, like Boris wanted for our country, he's now giving schools the freedom to make their own decisions. But schools don't have their own resident infectious disease experts or doctors on hand to consult with - and they don't have much time to plan, whilst also carrying on with the day-to-day. I appreciate the Government are under a huge strain at the moment and so need to delegate, but from what I've seen a bit in the way of advice would really help.

So we'll carry on pondering whether our son should return to school. What we really want is some more trusted bodies to agree on the status of children and COVID-19. Whilst I've read medical reports saying kids are fine, other doctors claim it's not a good idea - but is that more for the sake of the teachers or are they disputing the other medical research about children? If anyone finds an independent report that clearly lays out all sides of the decision, please do let me know!

 

 

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