Archive for January 2008

What every QA engineer knows – the other bridge

January 28, 2008

After writing my most recent post, my conscience told me I should flesh out the details a little more, to avoid anyone intimating that I was misleading them. 

Some guys at work have asked me to to try and be less economical with the truth on this blog, since it seems to have become more popular over the last couple of years and instead of my usual warm crowd of fans, some outsiders, even journalists have started to read it.  Not only have they started to read, but they have even started to criticise. 

Some people (even some that I used to work with, in my role as standards guru) have even gone so far as to accuse me of being a liar, more than once.

Before I go any further, I just need to mention another recent post, where I stated that people found me funny.  Well, one of my good friends dropped me a nice little e-mail, confirming what I thought to be true:

“Rob, when you mention on your blog post that people think you’re funny, I have to agree. Most of the laughs I get these days are at your expense. And by the way, I’m sure Bill Hicks was a member of his local taxpayer’s association too” 

So, with that interlude out of the way, cast your mind back to the bridge built the week before, in my story.

I did portray that bridge as somewhat benevolent and innocuous, but I suppose I’d better elaborate.

A few years ago, I heard about a hobbyist group that used to meet up once a week and build bridges out of matchsticks.  They were so evangelical about building bridges out of matchsticks, that they decided to make a global standard on how to build bridges out of matchsticks. So this small group of people worked for a couple of years, even in their lunch breaks for a couple of days a week (unless there was a good special in the canteen) to produce the standard. 

Fortunately, their employers were quite happy to fund some of this activity as well, saying that the matchstick bridge standard would be “strategic” or something like that, which the hobbyists didn’t really understand. It was not important anyway, as long as they could spend more time on their life’s work and bringing the benefits of matchstick bridges to everyone.

As no-one outside the zealots and their employers really cared about building bridges out of matchsticks, they managed to get the standard passed, as no-one could be bothered to review it and everyone at ISO, the NBs and the general population had better things to do, like cutting their toenails.   

The problem was, as every QA engineer knows (and I am a top software engineer, personally responsible for massive amounts of cutting-edge production quality IBM software, written in D, Javo, Cobble and Assam-bler, so I know how this process works), you don’t let engineers sign off their own work (except me, obviously).

But that’s what happened.  No-one, outside the small group of matchstick bridge enthusiasts ever read the standard, so the quality of it was ENTIRELY UNKNOWN

As I mentioned, these things should fail early, but since no-one had ever looked at the standard, there was no criteria defined for failure or success; the quality of the standard was not good, not bad, but NULL.

Normally, this would not have been a problem, since no-one would ever be insane enough to build a matchstick bridge to carry people, cars and trucks.  However, in a bizarre twist of fate, the matchstick bridge enthusiasts had managed to assemble a large group of other fervent matchstick bridge enthusiasts, as well as get support from some companies that had an axe to grind against a company that built the hated “regular” bridges. 

This group was able to persuade many gullible people (mainly government employees) that matchstick bridges were the way forward, and they were designed to “international standards”, so they must be better than the old “regular” bridges, that did not have this imprimateur. 

So, a brand new matchstick bridge was proposed, and put together using the procedures in the “international standard” that had help win the contract.  Naturally, not a group to break with tradition, they built the bridge themselves in their lunch breaks and then declared it open.

Some people looked at the bridge, thinking it looked maybe a bit pathetic and rickety.  They asked if it had been looked at by any proper bridge inspectors.  They asked whether anyone else was using these matchstick bridges. The matchstick bridge zealots were bemused and said that all this inspection nonsense didn’t seem necessary when they created an “international standard”, so why should they need to do so now.

In any case, the local residents decided to err on the side of caution, since they valued their lives and the bridge remained unused.

However, the traffic problem still remained, so the residents asked if they could get a “normal” bridge instead, as even though they were impressed by the idea that the matchstick bridge was designed to “international standards”, it was pretty useless as far as carrying traffic was concerned.

The residents were told that the new bridge would have to be a toll bridge.  The old bridge, having been built by zealots in their lunch breaks, and the materials not being too expensive, was given to the residents for free. 

 The residents sighed and said, we should have remembered the wisdom of Adam Smith – “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest” and “I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.

Thus ends the tale of what every QA engineer knows.

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