About two weeks after the fumbled launch of HealthCare.gov — the federal government website developed so people could sign up for health insurance following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act — one Baltimore startup founder was recruited to form an impromptu team of developers with one purpose: fix a website so addled with problems that just six people were able to sign up for healthcare when it launched Oct. 1, 2013.
It was Federal Hill resident Paul Smith who played a pivotal role in repairing the website’s ID generator, which was supposed to assign numbers to anyone who signed up for a healthcare plan via the federal government exchange.
As Time magazine recounts, the cofounder of Public Good Software, alumnus of EveryBlock and former deputy director for technology with the Democratic National Committee ended up proving his worth in November 2013:
One crisis as the November deadline approached gave the team confidence that it could work through anything. Paul Smith, the campaign alumnus [Gabriel] Burt had persuaded to join the team just as he was trying to raise money for a startup, had been working on a problem that had stumped everyone so far: the unique identifier that the website had to issue to anyone who was trying to enroll was taking too long to generate. By the afternoon of Nov. 6, the ID generator became so overloaded that the site was effectively down. “This kind of database problem is in basically everything I’ve ever worked on before,” Smith says. “So I worked with the dev team to come up with a patch.”
The patch worked in some ways, but the team learned a few days later that the identifications it was generating didn’t have the right number of digits to match insurance companies’ needs. So it had to be removed, and on Nov. 20 the old ID generator effectively shut the website down again. Smith and the team quickly designed a new patch, this time with the right number of digits, and executed what’s called a “hot fix,” meaning they put it onto the site almost instantaneously without testing. It worked.