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  • Helene Gidley

Software First


Driver display of speed and car, infotainment screen with map and rear camera image.
Tesla Infotainment Screens

Quick responses to issues, done remotely, requiring little to no inconvenience to the customer. This is where technology is leading us.


I love technology. Especially when it works. Having been one of the first programmers right out of junior college, I’ve experienced the growth of IT. Sometimes software doesn’t work as planned. You know, those software bugs we experience. As IT is permeating our everyday lives, dealing with software bugs is becoming a regular activity. And dealing with bugs is not always a pleasant thing for the customer. But it doesn’t have to be.


I had a rather interesting experience the other day while driving my Tesla Model S. I was about 120 miles away from home on a short trip. I was on the highway, at 70 mph, cruising along under Auto Pilot, navigating to a nearby supercharger station. All was going rather well until both of my infotainment screens went black. Both the driver display of my speed, the lane I was in, the streaming radio, and the main infotainment screen displaying the navigation and rear facing camera. Both screens went black. I had no indicator of what speed I was going, or if the car was really functioning. Well, other than it continued to drive. At 70 mph. On the highway.


Holding back a full on panic attack, I noted a rest stop just ahead. I put on my turn signal to change lanes over to the right. I had no idea if the turn signal was on, there was no ‘click click click’ heard, no display of a turn signal clicking. Since I was now driving, the car was obviously out of Auto pilot and responding to my steering and deceleration. At the rest stop, I did what I always do when the car acts a little odd, I rebooted it.

A few short minutes later the screens were back and functioning. Even the navigation was set to the next supercharger, as before everything going black. The music started again. Things were back to normal.


I continued on my drive over to the supercharger. While parked there, I submitted a service request for the issue. Using the Tesla cellphone app, I described the problem and my reboot fix. I selected the specific service center to bring my car to, and the date. All through the cell phone app. No call to the service center. No delay or forgetting details of the incident. Using the cell phone app, I was able to schedule the service center request while all the details were fresh in my mind. Upon completing the charge, the car continued to drive normally throughout my trip.


Early the next morning I noticed a message from the service center. They had already pulled down the logs from my car and had defined this as a firmware issue. The technician asked for specific timeframe of the issue to better pinpoint the error.

Within minutes I responded to the request.

Within an hour the technician confirmed the issue, and stated that clearing memory and cache should clear up most of the issues.


If this level of attention and contact wasn’t exemplary customer service, it gets better. While I was reading the message, and asking if I should still come in for them to perform that clearing activity, I received a message that they had already completed clearing the memory and cache.

Wait, what???


The work was completed on my car, remotely, about 150 miles away from the service center. With messages between the service technician and me keeping me informed of the issue and the fix.


Within 18 hours of having the issue submitted it was resolved. Remotely.


Tesla completely gets that they sell computers that just happen to be on wheels. Their over-the-air (OTA) updates are one example of rolling out new features and updates, seamlessly, to all vehicles. No drive to the service center needed. With the OTA repair of my firmware issue, their attention to customer service is unparalleled. This defines the concept of Software First. Companies like Tesla that put software first look to automate as much of their systems and delivery pipeline as possible. A software first approach enables updates to be delivered quickly and reliably. Wired magazine’s article from 2017 gives a nice description of a wide range of companies adopting a software first approach.


Apps for our cars that do everything from locking/unlocking it, starting it, setting the internal climate, cracking the windows, summoning the car to you from a parking spot, to scheduling service and communicating with the service center, are setting the example for all others to follow. Focusing on keeping it simple for the customer. Using a device they are familiar with. Quickly and reliably. Software first.


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