A bit more than 15 years ago, the software industry was barreling straight into a crisis: the dreaded Y2K bug. Vital software was going to fail in odd ways, banks weren’t going to handle transactions, planes weren’t going to fly, nuclear reactors weren’t going to react, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria, real wrath of God type stuff.
The software industry rallied, software got patched, and at the stroke of midnight, not much actually happened. Over the past week, a different bug has been keeping a small pool of software developers up at night. Welcome to the world of Y2Gay.
In a landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court revised the business requirements and integrity constraints on the marriage relationship, removing some legacy constraints and essentially updating to better reflect the actual needs of their end users. This policy decision now has to be implemented in every state, county, town and hamlet across the country. Every change breaks somebody’s workflow, and this one is no exception.
Shortly after the decision was made, stories like this started cropping up. Making software changes, especially in an IT shop as small and disorganized as a local county office (which in many cases have only one staff member doing IT) is a uniquely challenging task. In what might be the first authentic miracle in Texas, Williamson County managed to get a software update out before a week went by.
Other states are having their own rush to fix their software. St. Tammany Parish in Louisiana called their IT tech back from vacation. In the meantime, someone noticed that they still have pens in Louisiana, so they’re just printing the old forms and correcting the language by hand. Poor Denton County, Texas does not have pens, and didn’t issue updated licenses until Monday.
Kentucky is another state that still has pens:
But the Kentucky County Clerk’s Association is telling clerks that shouldn’t be a problem. Simply print out the old form and scratch out the words “bride” and “groom” and replace them with “first party” and “second party.”
… new clerks may not know they can do that
And in Oklahoma, not only are there software glitches, but one county “…is using analog forms designed for typewriters to issue licenses, although no one had yet applied.”
The recent changes in the US aren’t the first time software design and this particular social issue have intersected. Back in 2013, when the Federal government attempted to modernize their view of marriage, the DOD glitched out as well. Around the same time, Nintendo was patching an opposite “glitch”- removing gay marriage from a game, which looks stupid and ignorant to us modern people in the far off year of 2015.
In the end, this might not be changing requirements, as much as it might be poor assumptions. We’ve all seen articles like Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Time and Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names. The choices we make in writing software can reveal our own assumptions and biases, and it behooves us in the industry to keep that in mind when interpreting business requirements. @qntm explores that idea from a database design perspective, both before the Supreme Court’s decision, and after.
Finally, from all of us here at TDWTF, this change isn’t merely fabulous- it’s brillant.