The computer says ‘no’

Thanks to a certain TV program, the phrase ‘the computer says no’ is pretty well known.  It has entered our everyday language as a reason/excuse for being refused a product or service for no logical reason.

Let’s take a look at this idea.  Let’s look at monthly direct debit budget plans.

You get a bill from your supplier, and it states that your estimated usage for the next year will be £1200.  (A figure chosen for no other reason than it divides nicely.)
Now, you may not be as good at sums as I am, but I’m pretty sure you should be able to see that £1200 over 12 months is £100 a month.

So they set your payments at £150.

If you call them, and argue, they will offer to reduce the payment to £120 – but if you dig in your heels, and demand that they only take £100, they will tell you that the computer will not allow that.  The computer says no.


The computer can only do what it has been programmed to do.  Computers do not make mistakes!

Computers are given the jobs they have precisely because they do not make mistakes.  They can happily, tirelessly, endlessly add up the same row of numbers a thousand times a second, and never once get it wrong.  And because they do exactly the same thing, exactly the same way, every single time, we trust them absolutely.

No, if the computer ‘refuses’ to allow something, it’s because the person who wrote the programme told it to refuse.  The computer follows orders, it’s a human who makes the decision, and tells the computer how to handle every eventuality.

OK, take it a step or two further.

The programme code itself is written by the lowest level of coder in the team.  (True.)  He is given very specific instructions regarding what the code should do, and has absolutely no control over any of the decisions.
Essentially, he simply translates from specification to code.

When the code is complete, it is handed to his senior, who checks it – he runs the code, and ensures that every single step of the code matches the specification.
He then adds the code to other code written by other low level coders, tests the code block, and hands it to his superior.  The team leader.

The team leader checks all the code carefully, and merges the code from several senior engineers into a module. (Another larger block of code.)
And once he has checked that the module works exactly as it should, he hands it up the line to the Senior Team Leader.

Guess what the Senior Team Leader does?
Yep, he checks the module, merges it with other modules from other teams, and hands it up the line to the Project Manager.

The Project Manager … (blah blah) … hands it to the Senior Project Manager.

Now, the Senior Project Manager is probaly the highest level in the chain who actually has any idea about programming.  His job is to break the project into manageable chunks, and assign each chunk to a different Project Manager.  Each chunk will have very precise descriptions of what it must do.

That said, the Senior Project Manager will be following orders from his superior,  The Vice President, who takes his orders from the CEO.

Right.  Time for you to think.  At which point in the chain (CEO, VP, SPM, PM, TL, SSE, SE) do you think the decision make you pay £150 a month instead of £100 a month is made?

Do you think that the guy at the bottom, writing the code, is allowed to make that decision?  Or do you think it’s higher up the line?

The answer is obvious.

That decision is made at the very top.  The result of the decision is that the company has your money in it’s bank.  They have a large cash surplus on hand, which they can use to make more money.  It is a business decision.

The computer only  says no because it was told to say no.  And it says no because the top man in the company wants his ten million pound bonus this year…

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