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Building Better Software Expand / Collapse
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Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 3:58 AM


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sruthi.kumar (1/23/2013)
Sometimes I wonder why larger organizations would not test their products before release. Often, I get answer like they want their customers to find bugs. <snip/>


I have heard people in organisations that they will put up with customers finding defects as it makes more commercial sense to release earlier and take the flak rather than wait but as desired strategy? Never!!!

BTW, I do not like the term "bug" as this terminology suggests that it is caused by something extraneous or external to the software. I know that most people who use the term don't feel this way but sometimes that is the impression left with users (and other developers). I prefer the term defect. That is what it is. Someone has created a defect in the software either through action or inaction. I, my colleagues, my peers and hobbyists (unintentionally) introduce defects and we must all accept that. It is human action that causes it not some unidentified invertebrate.


Gaz

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Post #1411037
Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 4:08 AM


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Sorry Scott but I agree with Steve and Lynn.

In the context of a website such as this and an article titled "Building Better Software" we are not comparing the various causes and their produced effects we are talking about engineering better software. Your comparison is valid but, in this context, irrelevant. People are infuriated on a daily basis by poorly written software and, justifiably in my opinion, expect better.

They feel the same about other products; cars should rarely break down and microwaves should always cook etc.

There should be, and have been, discussions and articles on the human causes failures. This did not read like one to me (enjoyed it though, thanks Steve).


Gaz

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Post #1411041
Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 9:46 AM
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Gary Varga (1/24/2013)
Sorry Scott but I agree with Steve and Lynn.


I guess that I agree with all three of you. There are two problems being discussed and both are really problems developers face. When there are errors, bugs, or defects in the software and it does not execute as expected that is a problem. When people use software it can be really messy and they can introduce errors.

The real issue in the development of software is the development of a product that will do what is expected when the correct data and procedure are followed. And at the same time when the human element is introduced to the process it is inherent in the development of the software to "guide" the user into doing it right.

Historically we have people who have called this business Software Engineering. That is not just the applied science of Software Development but it is also the engineering of a process built into the software to motivate or entice the user to do it right. In the development of software we often leave the correct path so cryptic and unclear that the user is at a disadvantage and is lucky if they get it right. We can eliminate some human error, not all and we have to remember but we can eliminate some human error with clearly defined pathways through our software and automating the solutions such that the process tells the user that they are about to really blow it or that they are doing it right.

Problem is that if we seek to develop a solution that is without defect and the process and procedure is perfect we spend far above the normal allowable resources and get into financial problems in our projects.

If I were to state what I think the problem is I would say that the compromise between what we are willing to pay for and what we need to build it correctly, far too often causes the usability and performance of the software to suffer.

M.



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Post #1411225
Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 10:04 AM


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Scott,

There's something to your argument, but I'm not sure how to exactly examine it. As Gary mentioned, poorly written software, or software with issues doesn't necessarily relate when talking about the problems with our use of computers.

We do have problems with computers, and software can help reduce some of those, but education, practice, retaining people, will also help. That's a separate problem.







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Post #1411239
Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 10:33 AM


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Scenario One: Plane crashes due to human error.

Scenario Two: Plane crashes due to computer software error.

Personally, if I were on that plane, it wouldn't really concern me what caused it, or the difference between the two for that matter. Bottom line is I'd probably be dead either way. I think we all are comparing oranges to tangerines here. Just my take...


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Post #1411257
Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 5:06 PM
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Sorry if I ruffled a few feathers, but I always question peoples beliefs on why they think software is any more special than any other tool they use. That being said, I also understand how they came to that belief. There is nothing like software. You can’t touch, hold, manipulate without more software or via the developer and when it works, it works very well, so it’s mystical in nature.

But (there is always a but) as Old Hand says software of any reasonable complexity is very hard to get working, let alone working to what everyone thinks is right. Don’t think so? Have a try with something simple like a recommendation engine. This is why I think Steve’s line of “Developing software is easy…” irks me, even though he correctly tries to explain it away. “Hello World” is easy; everything after isn’t easy when you have human users.

As Lyn says “trap for mistakes”, well that’s easier said than done. Look at the legal systems in their complexity and loop-hole flaws by trying to trap for mistakes.

As Gary unintentionally agrees, cars and microwaves fail (more often because of the operator) but we don’t say “the manufacture should have tested for my problem case better!”

So building better software is extremely hard and nigh to impossible. Just saying more testing won't make that happen. The varied skill of the users, the varied conditions it's used in, the pressure of getting it to market, the change requirements expected; it's a wonder it even works at all!

The bottom line is if you look at why you are frustrated by feeling powerless with buggy software is because of the mystical nature in that with other tools you can somewhat fix the problem yourself. Car gets a flat; you change the tire; microware stops working you buy another one, light bulb; replace, but bug in software… can’t easily replace, fix, *arrhggg* call the mighty developers and hope for the best.
Post #1411411
Posted Friday, January 25, 2013 4:10 AM


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Scott Anderson-466019 (1/24/2013)
Sorry if I ruffled a few feathers, but I always question peoples beliefs on why they think software is any more special than any other tool they use. That being said, I also understand how they came to that belief. There is nothing like software. You can’t touch, hold, manipulate without more software or via the developer and when it works, it works very well, so it’s mystical in nature.

But (there is always a but) as Old Hand says software of any reasonable complexity is very hard to get working, let alone working to what everyone thinks is right. Don’t think so? Have a try with something simple like a recommendation engine. This is why I think Steve’s line of “Developing software is easy…” irks me, even though he correctly tries to explain it away. “Hello World” is easy; everything after isn’t easy when you have human users.

As Lyn says “trap for mistakes”, well that’s easier said than done. Look at the legal systems in their complexity and loop-hole flaws by trying to trap for mistakes.

As Gary unintentionally agrees, cars and microwaves fail (more often because of the operator) but we don’t say “the manufacture should have tested for my problem case better!”

So building better software is extremely hard and nigh to impossible. Just saying more testing won't make that happen. The varied skill of the users, the varied conditions it's used in, the pressure of getting it to market, the change requirements expected; it's a wonder it even works at all!

The bottom line is if you look at why you are frustrated by feeling powerless with buggy software is because of the mystical nature in that with other tools you can somewhat fix the problem yourself. Car gets a flat; you change the tire; microware stops working you buy another one, light bulb; replace, but bug in software… can’t easily replace, fix, *arrhggg* call the mighty developers and hope for the best.


Software is not "any more special" but it is a repeatable, testable artefact that allows for refinement. The case in point in this editorial is that refinement, through software engineering techniques say, should occur BEFORE release. Ironically, it is the human decision not to apply the efforts in what I believe is the appropriate time that causes the problem. It is the repeatability that I believe invalidates your nullification of your dismissal of Lynn's viewpoint; legal systems are not digital and are totally based on human judgement thus making it not repeatable.

I think you are being a little disingenuous with some of your comments, particularly by quoting half of Steve's sentence which completely alters the intent of the message (even with your qualification). The whole point is that IT IS EASY to develop software. Drag and drop your UI then write a bunch of lines which now can be butchered versions of what has been copied from the Internet. Surely you have been collared by hobbyist coders. The message was that it isn't easy to do a good job.

...and no I don't agree. Intentionally. I do tell manufacturers that their products should work as advertised. This isn't an edge case as far as the user is concerned. The days referred to in the article are the same as any other day. It was an edge case of the component used. Something a professional should know to cater for.

Also your bottom line is not comparing like for like. A flat tyre is expected with a solution designed in. It would be fairer to compare a new virus discovered and an antivirus software company supplying an updated virus definitions file.

NOTE TO HOBBYIST CODERS: I have nothing against you as it is a hobby. I just think that there is a separate level of requirement for professionals. Please see my (lack of) sporting abilities that I regularly demonstrate for evidence that I believe that anyone can do these things but you have to be really good to be professional. I also apply plasters to my kids but I will not perform surgery on them


Gaz

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Post #1411592
Posted Friday, January 25, 2013 4:11 AM


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Also, this is a discussion. Feathers are there to be ruffled in open debate

Gaz

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Post #1411594
Posted Friday, January 25, 2013 10:28 AM


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Scott Anderson-466019 (1/24/2013)
Sorry if I ruffled a few feathers, but I always question peoples beliefs on why they think software is any more special than any other tool they use. That being said, I also understand how they came to that belief. There is nothing like software. You can’t touch, hold, manipulate without more software or via the developer and when it works, it works very well, so it’s mystical in nature.



No feathers ruffled. I don't agree, but you made me think. I hadn't considered the relative damage people do themselves v software. It's an interesting way of looking at things. Thanks for that.

It's not the software is more special, it's just that it's our business. We work with software (build/manage) and it is becoming more profilic. If we were building houses, we'd be debating nail guns and the good/bad they do, or why scissor trusses are better/worse than traditional roofing with attic space.







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Post #1411829
Posted Friday, January 25, 2013 7:59 PM
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Everyone having thick skin makes getting to the interesting points quicker. Good.

Ok Gary, I didn’t want to tangent off to your common view as that rabbit hole goes real deep, but I think the human factor point has been made.

Software is repeatable: Yes, given a functional programming language, with a scope that is immutable and cannot differ, hardware that cannot change, the absolutely yes; otherwise no chance in bucklies it’s repeatable. Read on...

Software is testable: Really? Fact: Only a surprisingly small part of software is testable. Have you seen Windows, Office, SQL Server, Linux, etc? Are you certain that with the amazing resources they have, that they don’t test their software? Automated, integrated, user acceptance and a myriad of other techniques, and yet somehow they release a surprising number of patches and fixes so often. Read on...

Why do you think software developers talk in terms of “Should”, “Depends”, “May”, “Probably”, “Hope”? Because there are no guarantees. To justify the pay they need titles like Software Engineer, not Software Artist, which is really what they are doing. The only “engineering” is when they use years proven 3rd party libraries. Eg. Do you know how often code fails when getting data from a database? Rarely ever, unless some user does something stupid. It’s everything else that happens around it which is “done for the very first time” to communicate with the user that has the problems. Every application is different and there are very few repeatable parts, otherwise you would only ever have a couple of programs. This is why there are so few database access libraries, to have some stability somewhere.

Should occur before release: Sorry but huh? Of course it does! Every heard the saying “Works on my machine” or “I can’t reproduce your problem”? Every computer has a different hardware setup, has different combination of applications and drivers installed. There is no set know environment. It’s all different! How can you find problems in software that your machine doesn’t have?

It would be great it software was as easy as drag/drop and write a bunch of lines. Imaging how fast applications and systems could be created!?! But funny enough, software development isn’t fast and it takes time, so how could that be? Arhh those hobbyist, they are the ones that make new versions of Windows, Office and SQL Server take years to come around. Let’s get them!

No, the realities are that like I said, it’s nigh to impossible to better engineer software with the current tools and more importantly; it is in no way easy to develop software with any complexity. Ie. Interacting with the user.

BUT! We can do better in other ways…

So Gary, please don’t think I’m picking on you, it’s just you’ve articulated a common mis-conception and fallacy; so you’ve been made an example of.

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