Ex-IBMer builds TSA's pricey Randomizer app in 4 minutes

Technically Incorrect: The Transportation Security Administration bought an app with two arrows from IBM. It wasn't cheap. One developer says it's about four minutes worth of work.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


An arrow. A big arrow. How hard can that be?

Sandesh B/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

No, really.

How long does it take to build an app that has precisely two arrows, one pointing left and one right?

Ever since developer Kevin Burke alleged this week that the Transportation Security Administration paid IBM at least $336,413 or possibly even $1.4 million for the app, the Web has been muttering. Known as the Randomizer, the app decides whether people should go right or left as they pass through security.

The TSA told me that the actual app development cost $47,400. It said the larger sum was part of a bigger ontract involving several projects.

Even $47,400, though, seemed like a lot of money when a developer can declare it would take, oh, 10 minutes to create such a thing.

To which Sandesh B. Suvarna says, "pish."

This is not an actual quote. However, 27-year-old Suvarna told me he was stunned when he learned how much the app cost.


Being a developer -- and, amusingly, having spent almost three years at IBM in India -- he decided to show how the app could be coded in around four minutes.

Please survey his YouTube video, posted Wednesday, and decide whether he's right.

"I am a passionate developer who saw your post about the Randomizer app on CNET," he told me. "Later, I got to know that one person created the same app within 10 minutes for just Android. Which in turn propelled and challenged me to develop that same app for Android and iOS together within 4 minutes. And I built it."

Suvarna is a man who likes to be propelled and challenged.

He is currently on his third startup. It's called Thappad (Hindi for "Slap"). It's a content aggregator for regional people in their own languages. Suvarna told me most content aggregators in India are only in English.

He does seem entirely mesmerized by the Randomizer's cost.

But if it really takes only four minutes to create something like the Randomizer, the ultimate cost paid to IBM -- even if it was only $47,400 -- seems quite startling.

IBM didn't immediately reply to a request for comment.

Suvarna told me that the average developer worldwide charges $28 per hour. "So logically I'd have charged $1.86666666667."

I adore the logic of nerds.