Procurement smells.

Major government software procurements fail at a high rate. There are a lot of methods of reducing the odds of failure, but how do you know if that’s necessary? Developers talk about “code smells”—small things that are off in ways that indicate that there may be larger problems. So, too, are there procurement smells—the little …

The disconnect between software development and government contracting.

There’s a big disconnect between modern software development practices and government contracting. It can seem intractable, but there is a solution. It’s the job of contracting officers to get government the best value for their money. That means being sure that they’ll get precisely what they need, within budget and on time. Normally, the best …

Never contract for story points.

When contracting for Agile software development services, sometimes contracting officers make “story points” the thing that they’re buying. This is an enormous mistake, on a couple of levels, and nobody should ever do it. Let’s talk about why. First, let’s define “story points.” Agile development teams need to figure out what they’re going to work …

Make sure your UI modernization plan includes an open source clause.

Tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs this year. Overall, over 35 million people have made unemployment benefit claims since the crisis began. State unemployment systems are crumbling under the load, and they’re desperate to modernize. The CARES Act, passed March 27th, expands benefits for those who lost work due to the pandemic, …

How to stop failures of major custom software procurements.

When government pays companies to build big custom software programs for them, they succeed just 13% of the time. Here is why failure is so common, and about the simple change that turns those outcomes on their head. Major government software projects fail because government has learned, over many years, to do exactly the wrong …

Truth, earned credibility, and a publisher’s responsibility.

I spent much of the ’00s as a political blogger. I wrote here, mostly about state politics. When I decided to start writing about state politics, in 2003, I sought out other political blogs in Virginia. There weren’t many, maybe a half-dozen. I added them all to my blogroll, made a point of reading those …

How to get started with continuous integration.

I’ve put off learning to use continuous integration tools for a few years now. There’s never a good time to complicate my development process. But today I finally did it. It works differently than I thought, and was easier than I expected, so it’s worth documenting the process for others. I have a non-trivial number of GitHub …

“Accidental APIs”: Naming a design pattern.

Like many open data developers, I’m sick of scraping. Writing yet another script to extract data from thousands of pages of HTML is exhausting, made worse by the sneaking sense that I’m enabling the continuation of terrible information-sharing practices by government. Luckily, it’s becoming more common for government websites to create a sort of an …

Dynamic electrical pricing demands dynamic price data.

The power industry has begun its long-anticipated shift towards demand-based pricing of electricity. Dominion Power, my electric company here in Virginia, has two basic rates: winter and summer. Although the math is a bit complicated, electricity costs about 50% more in the summer than in the winter, averaging 12¢ per kilowatt hour. (One can also pay for sustainably …

Opening up Virginia corporate data.

In Virginia, you can’t just get a list of all of the registered corporations. That’s not a thing. If you dig for a while on the State Corporation Commission’s website, you’ll find their “Business Entity Search,” where you can search for a business by name. But if you want to get a list of all …