Big Tech Doesn't Mean Good Software
One of the hassles of moving abroad, is that you need to change the country of some of your digital accounts. As a user, you expect this process to be straight forward, specially if we’re talking about a big tech company, but let me share with you how it went for me. Spoiler alert, it sucked! These companies are supposed to excel at software development and yet they can fail so bad at it. Should these really be our industry leaders or can we do better?
In the past decade, I’ve moved to three different countries. This change is complex in nature because a new country can mean different language, culture, rules, time zone, etc. However, we’d expect such changes to be somewhat simplified in our digital world, unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case. Here’s an account of my experience of trying to do the change on three big tech services. And just for the record, I’m paying for all of them.
Changing the address was not a problem. And since I’m still using my old paypal account I didn’t have to change my payment method. So far so good. Not so fast, some parts of my account now say I have a Belgian account but others say I have a German account. Let’s hope this inconsistency doesn’t break something in the future. A bit more annoying is that some parts of my account are in French and some in German. But why do they need to change the language from German to Dutch or French? German is also an official language in Belgium. And to be honest, I’d even expect they’d allow me to access my account in English or Spanish which are my preferred languages.
Veredict: Doable but with bad user experience.
Adding the address was not a problem but the payment method was. Instead of typing the CC’s numbers you can take a picture but every time I tried to use it, the AppStore just crashed. Ok maybe this is a blessing in disguise since I shouldn’t be taking pictures of a CC so I inserted the information manually just to be presented with a form to top my account, which I didn’t want to do but there was no way to close it. I decided to close the app and thankfully they changes persisted when I re-opened it.
Veredict: Doable but buggy.
I tried switching country in the Google Play store with no luck. On my phone there was no option at all to do it. I went to my Google account on the browser and there I was able to add a new address in Belgium. I added a belgian carrier as a payment method. Still no option to switch the country. I also added a debit card but instead of getting further this seems to have triggered an alert in the system which blocked my Belgian payment profile. The only way to unblock you ask? Sending a copy of a government issued ID. All I was able to find on their documentation is that they use this ID to validate my date of birth but I’ve been their customer for quite some time so by now they should know I’m of age. They even claim they get rid of the digital copy of my document. Let me call BS on that. Also, if all they wanted to do is make sure that someone wasn’t doing something nasty with my account why not try to contact me like they do when they see logins from unexpected devices? Anyway, it was much easier to cancel my subscription.
I understand that the amount of people who go through this process are probably a minority. Though I’d guess for these companies it still means tens of thousands of customers, so why not fix it? We’re talking about the best in our industry. These people can solve very hard problems on a whiteboard, I can only imagine what they can do with a computer.
Sarcasm aside the truth is that nowadays our industry expects big tech companies to lead the way in regards to how we build software (tooling, methodologies, libraries, etc), but maybe we should be more critic about the things we take from them and the things we don’t. I’m not saying that these companies aren’t capable of delivering high quality software but maybe we shouldn’t put them on a pedestal because they are just as capable of delivering crap.
We are engineers and as such we should question whether the way we are building software is the right one depending on our context. Great engineering should happen in the boring projects like account management and not only in the cool projects like The Next Big Thing™. And if big tech companies think that the boring stuff is not worth their best engineers' time, then maybe we should not be following them.