Stylized line drawing of mark playing the flute

The Case of the Missing iPad App

Several jobs ago, I worked for a hospital company [^1]. This company had a homegrown EMR (electronic medical record) system that was being gradually converted into a web-based product. Part of the long-term roadmap was to also have a tablet version.

The company hired a dedicated iOS developer to start working on an iPad demo while the web development was happening in parallel. The plan was to demo the iPad app to the hospital board in ~3-6 months. I was told that this developer interviewed really well. He had tons of iOS development experience, seemed super organized, detail oriented, etc etc.

The developer came on board, got all of his tools setup, and started working on the iPad. For months, he worked and worked and worked.

There were weekly status meetings and he always reported being on track. Sometimes he say there was a issue that was proving trickier than anticipated but he always had it worked out by the next status meeting.

The only problem was, nobody ever actually looked at his work! Nobody looked at the code. Nobody tried testing the app while it was in process. They just took the developer at his word at each meeting and then went back to what they were working on.

About 5 months down the road, it was demo week. The whole team got together and planned out how the demo was going to run, when the developer would come in and show the app, and so on.

The demo was scheduled for 1:30pm on Wed, right after lunch. They spent the morning prepping. The developer got everything organized to show off his work and everyone went off to lunch.

When they came back. The developer was gone. His laptop and the demo iPad was sitting on his desk and there was a note giving his notice, effectively immediately.

They looked at the iPad and there was nothing on it. They looked at his laptop and they found the project folder for the app but it was empty.

For 5 months, this developer hadn't written a single line of code. Maybe he was out of his depth? Maybe he had misrepresented himself entirely? Who knows 🤷‍♂️. The simple fact was, nothing had been accomplished and the demo had to be canceled.

And who's to blame? As with most things, there is no single point of failure.

Yes, the developer messed up in a big way. But the most prominent failures were all organizational ones.

The company clearly needed to make drastic changes to their hiring practices to prevent people like that from making it through the screening. And, clearly, the company culture needed to be shifted to promote collaboration over being siloed. And they needed a better review and check-in process

Did they actually do any of those things? Sadly, no. And that's why I quit after just short of 2 years.

And what did they do about the iPad app? They actually managed to hire a decent developer who started just before I did. He banged out a fully functioning demo in about 3 weeks.

And then the entire project stalled because of middle-management in-fighting. Loads of developers quit. Nothing useful got done and the hospital eventually got bought out and switched their EMR over to Epic like every other hospital in the world.

[^1]: Worth noting that this incident happened just before I was hired so I only heard about it. I didn't experience it first-hand.