Today is the last day of my first job. It was actually several jobs over 3.5 years, but it was on the same large project: managing the tech side of a platform of services to give 120,000 employees of HCA (Hospital Corporation of America) their benefits.

Inanimate objects take on human qualities if you work with them long enough (which is why people name their cars). I have come, over the past few years, to view myself as sort of the “protector” of this large, old, bloated, taped up system.

As pathetic as it is to say, it is my friend in a way. I am able to “kick the jukebox” so to speak. Other people get their quarters eaten. Its like that old car that you have to turn the key and press the gas in a very specific way to get to start. I know all the quirks. They say it is broken. I say it works but you have to know how to use it.

The fact is it works pretty well considering you’re trying to anticipate and code for all possible behaviors of 120,000 people while making sure you don’t break anything else. We interface with HCA’s payroll, their HR system (hires, terminations, etc), offer 11 different benefit plans which require interfacing with upwards of 20 different benefit providers (aetna, cigna, prudential, etc). We run the call center (imagine trying to train people who make 10 dollars an hour in all the hundreds of nuanced rules that make up HCA’s benefits package). You run up against a well known truism of software development: You can’t code around idiots.

This doesn’t really mean they’re idiots (although some of them likely are). They (employees and benefits center reps) simply do things we never anticipate, and when something goes wrong and we can’t see it…..we have to wait until the employees identify themselves, at which point people get upset, especially if it happens to someone who works at HCA corporate. They get to scream directly at us, instead of using the call center or HR departments like everyone else.

The neat thing about this is that I got to see it develop. I went from knowing nothing and thinking it was all vastly complex and unknowable…literally being in awe of how quickly and accurately some people could make things happen… seeing all those people move on to other jobs and have other people think of me the same way. I now realize it isn’t all that complex or unknowable, it just takes a very long time to learn….which is a good thing. If it were quick and easy, I would make 7 bucks an hour.

So I say good-bye to my ailing system. Go reveal your secrets to someone else.

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