Testing & Software Blog

The occasional thoughts of a freelance software tester, drawn from experience across the software development life-cycle.

Financial Engineers and The Prolonged Death Spiral

Great blog post by Allan Kelly on The Prolonged Death Spiral Business Model highlighting the sort of software companies you probably don’t want to work for,

What I never realised was that a prolonged death spiral could actually be a viable business model itself.

Quadratron was dying, it eked out its last few years collecting maintenance royalties from legacy customers – one customer in particular. In fact it was dying when I joined, they lured me in with a plan to spend a lot of the remaining cash on a new product. But things were worse than that.

Like so many companies Quadratron found that once you have survived the first few years, once you conquered the risk of developing a product and have an installed user base you can continue milking that base for a long time. Provided you don’t do anything silly like trying to develop a new product that is! Quadratron had been very successful, it had a lot of customers to milk.

He goes on to explain how these companies are run by “financial engineers” people know a lot about debt structures and taxation but nothing about software businesses. They’re not interested in investing or capturing new markets, but maintaining cash flow.

He concludes:

These companies are a success by some criteria: the people running them and the people who buy them stand to make lots of money. Financially they look good – except the debt. And customer continue to use the products they want to use. They exist, they employ people. By some criteria they are a success, we should not forget this.

They can be miserable places to work in because real engineering is not a consideration. And pity the poor customers who are being led up the garden path about future products.

It’s a longish piece, but it’s well worth the read.

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Fiasco at a Cashless Fesitval

A lot of rock festivals are going “cashless” with electronic pre-payment cards for all financial transactions on site. A big downside is the way it introduces a single point of failure that can cause things to go seriosuly pear-shaped when you have large volumes of people, with the worst case scenario being tens of thousands of people unable to buy food or drink.

And when it does, people will live-tweet the fiasco on social media.

Now, I’ve only got one person’s account of events to go on, but the comment that they managed to serve precisely four people in a half-hour period suggests something has gone badly wrong with the IT system.

It may have been hardware or software that hadn’t been tested under load. It may have been staff who were insufficiently trained in its use. But whatever it was, the end result was a customer service disaster.

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The Sneakiest Way Prosecutors Get a Guilty Verdict – Yet more proof that PowerPoint is responsible for the decline in Western Civilisation.

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When the customer changes the requirements

Before the customer added a requirement

This must be a familiar situation to any software developer. You come up with a clean, elegant design that meets the customer’s stated needs. Then at the last minute they come up with a new requirement.

After the customer added a requirement

So you end up with this. Someone I won’t name has described it as looking like “the world’s most disturbing sex toy”.

Coming up with an elegant way to add a corridor connection on the front of a train is a challenge that’s defeated generations of industrial designers. Even the better results have been functional rather than beautiful. But it does help if the door at the front had been a requirement from the start.

(Photos from Transport Briefing)

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Autoplay Video Ads Must Die

SpamI know websites that don’t rely on paywalls need to raise money somehow, but I know I’m not the only person who is thoroughly sick of the auto play video ads with audio that have started infesting many big media sites of late.

You know the ones I mean. They’re the ads that suddenly erupt in the middle of the screen as you scroll through the article. Until a couple of days ago you could click on the [x] in the corner of the ad so you could shut them up before the audio started playing, but now that option has gone away.  It’s as if the people running the ad server noticed that everyone was closing them the instant they appeared, so took that option away.

If, as many people do, you’re listening to music while surfing the web, these things are intensely annoying. Your only option seems to be to close the browser tab without reading the rest of the article. Which is precisely what I’ve been doing.

I’ve seen them so far on The Guardian, The Independent and Forbes, so it’s not confined to bottom-feeding clickbait sites who are cynically concerned with selling eyeballs and nothing else.

Charlie Stross once said that all advertising devolves to the state of spam. Which would imply that, much like your typical make-money-fast or fake Viagra seller, these people know they’re ruining your UX, and just don’t care. Or maybe it really is just a case of sufficiently advanced stupidity being indistiguishable from malice.

What’s a more pertinant question is whether the management of The Guardian or The Independent care.

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Who remembers the day when computer viruses were spread in the boot sector of floppy disks?

Posted on by Tim Hall | 5 Comments

You can tell you’re a tester if you go to the pub and all the conversations are about ISO29119. The consensus that the reason the online testing community is overwhelmingly anti is that the pro-ISO29119 camp are just too boring to be on Twitter or write blogs.

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Angry Weasel on ISO29119

Angry Weasel provides the most succinct summary of what’s wrong with ISO29119 I have seen to date:

A lot of testers I know are riled up (and rightfully so) about ISO 29119 – which, in a nutshell, is a “standard” for testing that says software should be tested exactly as described in a set of textbooks from the 1980’s. On one hand, I have the flexibility to ignore 29119 – I would never work for a company that thought it was a good idea. But I know there are testers who find themselves in a situation where they have to follow a bunch of busywork from the “standard” rather than provide actual value to the software project.

Quite.

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It is hard to get to grips with them in argument because they constantly shift their stance and reinterpret the meaning of words to help them evade difficult questions“. The context is a blog by James Christie about ISO 29119. But it’s a far wider truth. Professional cliques and ideological sects have long used jargon words as an in-group identifier. But it always frustrates communication when they insist on applying new jargon-meanings to perfectly good existing words.

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Testing and The Facebook Effect

Like many testing professionals, I don’t post as much about my work as I sometimes feel I ought to. An insightful post from Adam Knight entitled “The Facebook Effect” provides a good explanation as to why.

It’s always considered a no-no for any professional to criticise their employers on public forums, and rightly so. This is a problem for those of us in testing; our very job revolves around breaking things in interesting and innovative ways. It’s difficult to talk about your work in public when so much of it is about the bugs you’ve been finding. Your employer may well not want the world to know about that huge security vulnerability you just discovered.

This places us in something of a double-bind at times. While spilling too much information about current projects could be a seriously career-limiting move, not having a positive online presence can have exactly the same effect. I’ve actually been told I’m less likely to be hired if I’m testing in secret!

Fortunately Adam Knight does come up with some practical suggestions for sharing professional knowledge without compromising your employment.

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