Testing & Software Blog

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

The Volkswagen emissions scandal

Great blog post by James Christie on the implications of the Volkswagen emissions scandal for the software testing profession.

What interests me about this is that the defeat device is integral to the control system (ECM); the switch has to operate as part of the normal running of the car. The software is constantly checking the car’s behaviour to establish whether it is taking part in a federal emissions test or just running about normally. The testing of this switch would therefore have been part of the testing of the ECM. There’s no question of some separate piece of kit or software over-riding the ECM.

This means the software testers were presumably complicit in the conspiracy. If they were not complicit then that would mean that they were unaware of the existence of the different dyno and road calibrations of the ECM. They would have been so isolated from the development and the functionality of the ECM that they couldn’t have been performing any responsible, professional testing at all.

I’ve always maintained that a good tester needs to be able to speak truth to power, and any tester who simply says whatever the project manager wants to hear is not a worthwhile tester. But Christie follows that to its obvious conclusion, and raises some very important questions on the testing profession’s moral and ethical responsibilities. This is something the testing community doesn’t talk enough about.

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Why tank stories make great tech myths

Interesting guest post on Charlie Stross’ blog by M. Harold Page “Why tank stories make great tech myths“, comparing the history of tank warfare with software development.

However, you’re a sophisticated lot, so call the above “A word from our sponsor” and let me tell you why I think tank stories make great tech myths.

First some examples…

We all know the one about the Panther and the T34. The Panther is the better tank, when the Russian mud hasn’t knocked it out, when it doesn’t need shipping to Czechoslovakia for repair, when it’s not being spammed by cheap and cheerful T34s.

That’s a story that ought to be taught to engineers and software developers. Sometimes perfect means “delivered now”. It’s reputedly the Duke Nukem Forever story, but that’s just the most anecdotal example of chasing perfection at the expense of practicality. I’m sure you guys have others.

He doesn’t develop the metaphor quite as much as I’d have liked, preferring to talk about actual tanks. But it’s still an interesting read,

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The news that the VW scandal caused nearly 1m tonnes of extra pollution raises some serious ethical issues for the software industry. It’s hard to imagine that people coded and tested this functionality without understanding what they were doing was illegal.

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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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