Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The blame game, or: It works on our end.

The system I'm working on is in the end-to-end testing phase. It's being tested for the past 2 weeks or so and today the testers ran into an issue where request that they sent from the first system  timed-out. Their view on the issue: It's our problem.

So we did some problem analyses. We checked some log files, but we never even saw a request coming into the webserver. Then I sent the same request they we're trying to do and it got accepted, it got processed and they even got the callback to notify that the request had been completed. So we established that our system worked. Even the engineer from that other system agreed to that.

So the engineer went to check on stuff. And at the end of the day I got an e-mail that basically stated:
"We checked everything. The request is correct and we have the correct URL configured. So the only conclusion in that is must be a problem in [the system I work on]. And we'd like them to solve the problem ASAP."

This reminded me on a joke I read in David Platts excellent Why Software Sucks...and What You Can Do About It.  It's a joke about Microsoft in  a chapter about Microsoft. The short version is something like this:

A Microsoft engineer goes into the army and needs to shoot at the shooting range, but he misses every time. The drill-sergeant  gives the Microsoft engineer craps and tells him to do better. At which point the engineer holds his finger in front of the nozzle of the gun and shoots his finger off. Then he points the bloody stump towards the target and says: "Well, it comes out here alright, so the problem must be on their side".

This is exactly what I thought about when I read that e-mail and it's this kind of shortsightedness  that really pissed me off. A good engineer, in my opinion, always assumes the problem is in his code. Only after very careful examination and testing should you state it's probably a problem on the other side. And even then the engineer should fully cooperate in finding out the problem. After all, it's not like we're competitors. We're all building parts for the same product and work in the same company on the same goals.
With this kind of thinking we'll never deliver a good system.

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