When I first saw that part of Romney's defeat was blamed on Orca, a fancy new app or system to help reach and turn out voters, I thought to myself: uh-oh, geek sabotage.
I've learned to think that the hard way, by seeing it happen over and over and over again in many life situations and virtual situations which are, at the end of the day, tethered to real life.
Who handled Romney's geek work? None of the articles seemed to tell us this. They talked about the spectacular failure, but they didn't say *the names*. The firm hired. The people who coded this road-wreck.
Zac Moffat, the Romney campaign's digital director, had this to say to CNET:
Zac Moffatt, digital director for Romney campaign, acknowledged that Orca experienced problems on Election Day. "The primary issue was we beta-tested in a different environment than the Garden [Boston Garden, where the 800 campaign staffers were working]. There was so much data coming in -- 1200 records or more per minute -- it shut down the system for a time. Users were frustrated by lag, and some people dropped off and we experienced attrition as a result."
But Zac himself didn't sit and code this -- he relied as everybody does on others in a consulting firm. In fact -- as we come to find out -- he relied on the firm where he used to work, Targeted Victory.
*UPDATE: While Zac's former company Targeted Victory did some of the social media and ap work for the Romney campaign, they DID NOT work on Orca. Who did? We still don't know as of November 16.
Pandodaily.com also lets us know that Moffat spread out the consulting on all aspects of the digital side of the campaign to many firms and didn't keep it tightly under control in-house. Perhaps that was his undoing?
It's remarkable how coy the tech press is about the WHO and WHAT of this -- TechCrunch just tells us it's the "best minds of Silicon Valley" and "for free". (Well, you get what you pay for there...) Zac relied, for example, on a Googler with his 20% -- he said at first. Now was that safe? Of course not! And Google hastened to force a clarification: "Moffatt later clarified at Disrupt San Francisco that Google’s partnership was through the form of an externship, noting that contributing paid time would be illegal. See his talk here".
There's a vague reference to Square for fundraising and Eventbrite for Events -- but the names of the firms and coders aren't given. That's what we need.
I went around asking and asking. People weren't saying. Ars Technica protects their own tribe. They say "an unnamed company". Right. It took me five minutes of looking around tweets and Twitter accounts to find that company.
The sourcing for several stories was the blog of Ekdahl, here -- so I asked him. First, he said "marketing consultants" were to blamed. I dug further. They are clueless, but not directly to blame for technical screw-ups unless they gave assignments unrelated to reality (and maybe they did, it needs investigation).
But the task and the "customer reqirements" seem pretty straightforward. Then he said "probably kids" -- and that *is* how IT is handled in so many shops, and that's why my FIRST question -- not my LAST -- in ANY IT fuck-up situation is to ask: are they Anonymous or LulzSec hackers? Because often they are. That's why I said, hey, what kind of t-shirts did they come to work in!
Ekdahl didn't say -- but I found it on Twitter comments. The organization is called Targeted Victory, and they have Romney logos flashing on their site now. *UPDATE -- Targeted Victory did some managed some of the app work for the campaign, but denies working on Orca.
Look at Our Team -- typical bloated over-staffed organization top heavy with marketers and underpaid drones -- and then see how many devs there are.
Just two. Apparently under the direction -- in between them and Moffat -- of a senior project manager whose credentials include working for United Nations Women, The Getty Institute, UNESCO, Ecuadorian Ministry of Tourism and the Quito Tourism Bureau.
So...All of this complicated, national, critical system rested on the slender shoulders of two dudes 20-something or 30-something at best -- with maybe their project manager also bringing them the pizza and yelling at them?
I was afraid to click, because I knew what I would find.
Sure enough, what I found were two guys who looked like very likely Obama voters. And that's ok to say. That is our reality. That isn't racism. That's a report on how the world runs now -- Obama won 50% of the vote because he was able to count on minorities who voted in far larger numbers, and count on the fact that the older conservatives are mainly white -- and didn't even turn out for Romney (and not only because the software broke down).
But if that was all there was, you could still hope that they were loyal to their job assignment.
However, one of them, Vincent Gallegos, was Al Gore's former dev.
Prior to joining Targeted Victory, Vincent Gallegos led web development projects for clients such as Al Gore, National Journal, U.S. News & World Report and Georgetown University. Equipped with agency background and a keen eye for design, Vincent works with technical and marketing teams to create compelling, cutting-edge web products that have received national recognition. Vincent develops for multiple Content Management Systems, including WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.
Vincent is a graduate of Dickinson College where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy.
Now HOW DID IT HAPPEN that the Romney campaign would hire Al Gore's dev to do a critical job like that?!
*UPDATE: Answer: those two devs didn't work on Orca, but apparently only worked on other apps and social media campaigns for Romney.
(Oh, and if you ask me, "Drupal" is even a worse marker for disloyalty than Al Gore lol).
It happened because Romney hired a firm and didn't look at the project worker list. Well, to be more precise: Zac Moffat just didn't think that his former firm was something that might contain weak links in it. And that firm stakes its reputation, no doubt, on "science," and bi-partisan civic pride, right?
The other dev is Will Boykin, who has a 96% chance of being an Obama voter.
And there is nothing wrong with that, and that is the norm. But it does mean you have to ask, if you are the Romney campaign, whether someone who is going to go in the morning and vote for your rival is really going to stay up all night with the Monsters and the Red Bulls and do for you everything possible to fix your clusterfrack.
This is just due dilligence. But it's the kind that nobody wants to talk about, nobody will mention, and I will be accused of "racism" for even flagging. But it's the truth. And would you rather have me say the answer is "incompetence" -- as Ekdahl is saying -- because they are minorities? Or hear that they may not have done their utmost to pre-test and re-test and trouble-shoot precisely because it wasn't a vocation, it was just a gig, and they were voting for somebody else anyway?
Because there isn't some other reason -- like "technology doesn't work". It worked for Obama! Technology works, you know lol?
None of these devs seems to have tested their work. Well, Moffat tells us lamely that it was "tested in another setting" -- but that's double talk. User testing would have caught some of these problems.
Now, there are a number of questions to ask, because we DO NOT have enough information on this story that the tech press will not cover (because it involves their own tribe) and the mainstream press will forget by tomorrow because they have gloated about Romney's tech fail in one round or two rounds of stories and can't really milk it further.
But first, we have to ask whether this is the firm that was retained -- it must be confirmed. It seems 90 percent certain that Zac would bring in his own former firm and they did indeed work on the Romney campaign. But, they haven't said "Sorry for Orca" so we don't know. We only have this blogger's word for it.
Second, we must confirm that they worked on Orca, as distinct from other sites or aps, when in fact Microsoft or who-the-hell-knows might have worked specifically on Orca, and these guys just worked on the plain-vanilla websites and other ap stuff for mobile phones.
*UPDATE: They didn't work on Orca. We still don't know who did. They worked on other apps.
BTW, I had the Romney app, and it refused to load so often I stopped using it. I set it up to notify me of the VP pick, but as we all know, that info somehow got out to the mainstream media first and reached us iphoners last. I don't know the reason for that.
Later, I wanted that app to just tell me news or views or something, but all it seemed to do was jam or fund-raise. The website was better but still rather dull (content production was at issue there -- that wasn't the devs' fault).
I feel saddened by this. It's not about witch-hunting. It's about taking the geek disloyalty or cynicism problem very, very seriously in any operation. You cannot have Al Gore's dev in a Republican shop with mission-critical technology. That's just not on. Technology is neutral; people aren't, and they weld their beliefs into technology (Drupal) and it does not remain neutral.