What I Think When Your Website Is “Down for Maintenance”

We have two dogs at home, one of whom is “microchipped” in case she wanders off or we lose her. We pay $18 a year to a company to keep our dog’s information available to whomever finds her. This year’s renewal notice came in the mail and it indicated there was an online renewal option available. So I toddled over to the website, entered the microchip number, and… no record found. Hmmm. Maybe I fat fingered it. I entered it again and… no record found. So I called the customer service number and spoke to a rep. I told him I was trying to renew the account for my dog, but the website wasn’t bringing up her record. His response was, “Oh, yeah. Our website is down for maintenance. I use the same website so I can’t take payment from you right now, either. Could you try again tomorrow?” Hmmm, again. I was really surprised this company would schedule a website maintenance window in the middle of the day and it would be so significant they couldn’t even take payment from a customer. Who does that??? It left me thinking about the company and what else I could infer about them just based on this one experience, especially about their IT practices.

1. They have an “old school” IT shop — and not in a good way.
“Old school” deployments start on Friday evening, last through the weekend, and you hope (pray?) everything is done and the system comes back up by the time everybody comes in on Monday morning. It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation and folks don’t get much sleep over the deployment weekend. Been there. Done that. Don’t want to go back. I wouldn’t want to work there if that were the norm. I can only take so many of those experiences until my soul is crushed.

2. They’re not innovative.
Has this company heard of automated deployments? Blue-Green deployments? The cloud (snark)? Probably not. There are all kinds of ways to minimize or eliminate maintenance windows and downtime affecting customers. Innovative companies have discovered them and are applying them to their IT practices. Those techniques are more and more common these days. They’re not as widespread as we would like, but we’re getting there. If you’re not applying them, either you don’t get it or you don’t care. Both are bad.

3. They’re slow and bureaucratic.
Somebody requested the maintenance window. Somebody scheduled the maintenance window. Somebody approved the maintenance window. Somebody let the company know about the maintenance window. Forms, workflows, emails, and signoffs abounded, I’m sure. At least I hope that was the case under the circumstances. I shudder to think about the chaos that would exist if they didn’t have process and controls in place. In any case, they don’t — and can’t — move fast because of the bureaucracy in place.

4. The quality of their software is questionable.
So I’ve inferred this company is “old school”, not innovative, and bureaucratic. What’s the likelihood they’re using Agile practices? Nope. They’re waterfall. And that means a long, manual testing cycle following development. That is, if the testing cycle wasn’t compressed because development took too long and they still have to hit their release date. At best, they have a mountain of documentation for the manual scripts their testers need to perform. Mind-numbing work, if you ask me. And not nearly as effective, efficient, or valuable as having continuous integration and a robust suite of automated tests in place.

These are just the inferences I made about their IT practices. I could be wrong, but given my experience, I don’t think I am. Regardless of whether I’m right, here’s the real-world, customer impact of these inferences: I wonder what would’ve happened if my dog had been lost during their maintenance window. Would this company have been able to provide the information to reunite me with my dog? I have my doubts now. Maybe I’ll start looking for another company to take over that responsibility…

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