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Some see things as they are, and ask "Why?"   I dream things that never were, and ask "Why Not".  
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Friday, October 22, 2010

Quality *IS* Important! (Believe It or Not)

Today's topic is one that is a lot like the weather:  Everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything. . . .

Toyota recalling zillions of cars, people afraid to eat eggs or peanut-butter because of some bizarre disease it's probably carrying.  Other manufacturers in hot pursuit of Toyota's massive recall record.  And so on.  You can hardly open a newspaper, (or go on-line), today without hearing about how something, somewhere, is causing untold grief.

Then, Matt Johnston over at uTest sent out a newsletter with the subject line: "Are Testers the Next Endangered Species?"

And WHY might "testers" be an "endangered species"?  Easy.  Most companies pay only lip-service, if that much, to the idea of actually producing a quality product.

To them, QA's job is to lick the development manager's boots, praise him to the sky, and be willing to take a beating whenever something goes wrong.

I've been looking for QA work for more than three years now - and I've seen many QA positions cross my inbox.  From the way the requirements for the position were written, it's easy to tell that they really don't want trained QA people, they want burned out developers.

So, in my humble opinion, the biggest threat to the software industry isn't the lack of COBOL programmers as one pundit put it, but rather the lackadaisical attitude that most companies, and most managers, take toward quality.

This is a picture taken in January of 1990 after an Avianca airliner crashed into a hillside in Cove Neck, Long Island after running out of fuel.  (See the source web page at http://www.airdisaster.com )  Experts say that better training for both the pilots and ground controllers would have likely eliminated this accident.  Wikipedia has an article about it HERE

Here's another one.
Back on April 10th, (2010) one of the best people I ever knew smashes into a centuries-old oak tree in Spencer, Ma., travelling fast enough to absolutely obliterate the heavy-duty Toyota Tundra pickup he was driving.  A software glitch?  We'll never know, but Toyota was recalling Tundra pickups, including this one's model year, for "unexplained acceleration".  (Photo by Melissa Mckeon - The Landmark newspaper)

I could go on and on - these are ones from my own personal experience.  I was working for a company on Long Island that manufactured fuel systems for planes like this when the Avianca airliner crashed.  The man driving the truck was a good friend of mine, he never hesitated to offer a hand whenever needed.

People think it doesn't matter.

"Oh, it's just a browser crash."
"Damned Windows O/S!  Reboot and it will be OK."
"Stupid network glitch. . . .!!"

I hate to break the bad news to you folks - take a look at those pictures again - quality DOES matter.  The "little details" DO matter.  Those little things that get swept under the rug in the name of "meeting deadlines" and "not slipping the schedule" DO have consequences.

Sometimes fatal ones.

What say ye?



  1. You're dead on the money Jim. As a designer of many systems over a lifetime, a small part of me wants to "sympathize" with the manufacturers only because systems have become so very complex. Lets face it, even calculating the real number of permutations of things that can go wrong is often impossible let alone finding time to simulate them all, and THAT is a pretty scary (and as Al Gore would say, 'inconvenient') truth. But that's no excuse for what I see going on today.

    There is scarcely anything more complex than a flashlight that isn't running code these days. That SHOULD mean more intelligent and useful products. But far too many of these products get out the door with the stupidest bugs and shortcomings you can imagine. It becomes painfully obvious that neither the developer NOR a Q/A tester had to actually USE these devices for more than 5 minutes.As a simple example, consider how many companies made digital alarm clocks and automatic coffee machines, that couldn't even tolerate so much as 1/10 second of power interruption. DUH!!!

    But another sad truth is this. I have a lot of equipment and products that do work exceptionally well, despite their complexity, and I'm sure significant Q/A testing made the the difference. The bad news is that too many of those manufactures ended up going out of business. Its hard to compete when the public isn't willing to pay a dollar more for better quality.


  2. Randy,

    I will agree with you in one respect: It is a known fact that it is literally impossible to find EVERY bug in anything more complex than a "Hello World!" program. (Unless it happens to compile to an exact multiple of 8k - then the compiler crashes! :-) )

    I, myself, have built systems and programmed non-trivial pieces of code. And I know how difficult the coding and debugging process can be.

    But that is exactly my point. This is not a trivial process. Software engineering needs to be exactly that; software ENGINEERING. Including use-case and failure-path analysis.

    If a civil engineer builds a building, or a bridge, and it collapses; he's liable. If an electrical/electronic engineer builds something and someone gets electrocuted, he's liable.

    However, the software companies have carefully eliminated or limited their liability for defective product: The license explicitly states that there is absolutely no guarantee that the software is fit for ANY possible use, and if your computer gets trashed - it just stinks being you. You should have made backups.

    That's like saying to my friend who got clobbered in his Toyota truck: "Hey, YOU were the one who wanted to drive this thing anyway, it just stinks being you!"

    And this will continue to happen so long as there is no such thing as "strict liability" in the software industry.

    What say ye?



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