Bags of bugs

My new favorite way to get rid of spiders in our house (they are welcome anywhere outside, but not in the house proper, and not in the garage) is to whooshify them with the shop vac. This is safe and efficient because with my superior engineering skills and some duct tape I’ve added an extension wand about yayyyy long to the existing extension wand’s extension. With my corrected vision I can spot a black widow spider from 20 feet away, and now that I have developed the capacity to whooshify them from a distance greater than their pouncing radius, life is better.

Except . . . I have this new irrational fear of vacuum cleaners.  Umgekehtervacuumenspiderenwhooshenobia is the phobia that a vacuum cleaner will experience a sudden polarity reversal and spray several years worth of very much alive and probably quite vexed poisonous spiders around the room. Hilarity ensues.

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In the software industry, the practice which is most like saving up poisonous spiders in a big bag for a later, less convenient time is the creative denial we call Bug Triage. It’s got other names, such as Managing Customer Expectations, Meeting the Quality Bar, or Getting the Fucking Project Shipped, but it all comes down to one thing: Stuffing defects into a bag (a “backlog” or similar purgatory) and getting the stupid collection of bits to paying customers without the bag or the customers suffering a catastrophic reversal of fortune.

The dirty truth of software is: It’s buggy. From the crappy hacks that run your toasters and flatscreen TVs to the expensive professional-grade stuff that keeps nuclear reactors from running amok and spewing out gigantic radioactive spiders, if something’s got a couple kilobytes of code in it, chances are it’s also got some pretty tasty bugs. We’re just not good enough as a species to put together a gadget with a few thousand parts without risking something blowing up.

Most of the time we don’t see them. Or if we do, they are minor annoyances — who cares if your smart toothbrush crashes?  However, occasionally there is a howler.  Some ship team’s pure, distilled denial lets something through that should have been an easily identifiable must-fix bug.

The truly pernicious bugs are the ones that don’t actually look like bugs. You think you’re happily slinging code around, and one day you wake up and realize that you’ve filed sixteen TFS reports in the last day, all about the same simple problem. You think harder and discover that other groups — people that you’ve never even heard of — have been holding daily war meetings about this bug. Six PMs and three managers are asking about status. (The actual issue? It’s a cosmetic thing affecting the color of a button in an error message, a one-character fix where a less-than should have been a greater-than).

The system has eaten itself, and you’re mired in a toxic, icky pool of process. You’ve become a living part of the bug. Your job? To keep the bug handling system alive by making more bugs. The bug-handling ecosystem has evolved to florish on the bug-making process, and if there aren’t enough bugs, it will make up some of its own.

My advice is: If it gets this bad, either get promoted so you can start lobbing hand-grenades into the machinery, or do something else.  Trust me, the system won’t miss you.

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5 Responses to Bags of bugs

  1. landon says:

    First comment: Not just for big companies. I’ve seen the “It’s Alive!” bug process get out of control at small companies, too.

  2. Hans says:

    It’s “Umgekehrt”, not “Umgekeht” :-)

  3. First time caller says:

    Black widow spiders have pouncing radii? Large enough to warrant extended extension?

  4. Nate says:

    Hyperbole.

    I grew up in an area full of black widow spiders. My brother had a jar of them. They will bite your hand if you grab a log that they are hiding under. They do not jump or run toward you. I have lifted a log with one only inches away from my hand and it chose to back away.

  5. Mike Cee says:

    Heh. Bug Triage my ass.

    My favorite evasion is “that’s an edge case” – yeah, and sometimes an edge case can bring down the entire system.

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