back to article Ever wondered why tech products fail so frequently? No, me neither

It's not working. Sorry, this has never happened to me before. Actually it has, frequently, but let that pass. Can we try again in a few minutes? Foolishly, I agreed to help an ex-colleague with some user acceptability testing this week. It's a chore I swore I'd never do again, such that for my own digital publishing projects …

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            1. sandman

              Re: Software testing?

              Don't tramp city streets in Vibram-soled walking boots - they're really made for tracks/mud/rock/grass, etc. I had the same problem with my walking boots - they're due to be sent off for their second re-soling. :-(

          1. JohnFen Silver badge

            Re: Software testing?

            Indeed. This plays into the utterly bizarre truth that it's very, very expensive to be poor.

          2. Unicornpiss Silver badge
            Alert

            Re: Software testing?

            "Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

            I don't disagree with that, at least not entirely. Look at financial products--the richer people with good credit get the loans with the best interest rates. (if they even need a loan at all) They also get the credit cards with the most benefits and no fees and can afford the education, attire, and schmoozing to get a job that pays better and has better benefits.

            It's the poor that always get crapped on by life (and by the rich), and it's extremely difficult to escape from the vicious cycle that keeps the poor where they are.

            When I was young I worked with a guy that had about 2 cents to rub together and one day he was fretting about having to go to court. Which prompted him to say something I've remembered all these years-- "It's easy to get stuck in jail when you're poor." Nuff said.

            1. 404 Silver badge

              Re: Software testing?

              "It's easy to get stuck in jail when you're poor."

              True statement. Public Defender= Jail

              I don't care if you have to pawn your kids temporarily, get a real lawyer.

              :|

            2. martinusher Silver badge

              Re: Software testing?

              I've actually had quite good luck with my purchases, the problem is that because stuff doesn't break down I can't convince the wife it needs replacing. However, I do have one big beef with technology, and that's software. I've spent most of my working life writing embedded software, code for 'things' that you switch on and then leave for a decade or two. They get a lot of testing; sometimes its frustrating, you're wondering about adding Ricin in the QA guy's coffee, but its unfortunately necessary. Then I have applications code to work with; its as if the 'rapid prototyping' or whatever its called actually means 'hose the code at the side of a barn wall and see what sticks'. There seems to be no thought given to resource management, error handling or any of those details -- I'd guess that the general philosophy is 'if it doesn't crash (runs overnight) then its obviously OK'.

              The fact that certain organizations make code that 'just works' just serves to highlight just how bad a lot of the other stuff is. Abuse of Javascript should be a hanging offense.

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: Software testing?

                "use of Javascript should be a hanging offense."

                FTFY. No charge.

            3. Robert 22

              Re: Software testing?

              Also, people of limited means, if they do try to save for retirement, are likely to get steered into financial products having high fees.

        1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: Software testing?

          "What, pray tell, is "the Vimes boot thing"?"

          Jake, fortunately you never claim to be an expert on economics, so you don't get your Internet Economist card revoked.

          If they don't teach the Vimes Boot at Harvard Business School, that will be because they attribute it to a US author.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Software testing?

            Voyna, I got my MBA in '88, before Vimes was known to the public ...

            All, I must confess to a cardinal sin. I have not yet read the Discworld series. I've read a chapter or three of a couple of the books, enough to know that I'll read them all eventually. In fact, I have the complete set in the "Barrister Bookcase" over my right shoulder that also contains a bunch of other books that I intend to read some day. A couple years ago, the Wife etched the top glass panel with the words "In case of retirement, Break Glass".

      1. LeahroyNake Bronze badge

        Re: Software testing?

        Steel toe cap leather boots that can pass as shoes if required. Screwfix £20 polish up nice as well. They lasted longer than the pair I bought for a funeral.. £15 reduced from £80 apparently, lasted the night until the heel fell off in the taxi home.

        As for sockets, Snap-on for the useful stuff that I wear out / break / screwdrivers, knuckle bars etc it's worth paying 4x the price for a lifetime guarantee and have never been refused a replacement :)

        1. whileI'mhere

          Re: FailCEO

          THIS! "Screwfix £20 polish up nice as well."

          Bought a pair of own-brand steel toecap 'Chelsea' style boots from Screwfix for £40. Would have expected to pay 2-3 times that at a 'shoe shop' selling brands. Workwear can often be very economically viable.

        2. Montreal Sean

          Re: Software testing?

          Snap On are really nice, wish I could afford them.

          I go for MasterCraft (Canadian Tire's house brand). They are reasonably priced and have a no questions asked lifetime replacement warranty.

          I've used their standard (non-impact rated) deep sockets with my impact wrench for years when working on my cars, and if they've cracked I've had no trouble getting warranty replacements.

          That said, if I was doing car repairs professionally I'd definitely go with Snap On!

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Software testing?

            SnapOn are good tools, but I rarely have time for the truck to come when I have a broken tool that needs replacing. So I use Craftsman, as there is almost always a local Sears store (and now OSH, Ace et alia) that is open when I need a replacement. The "free replacement" thing seemed important to me 40-odd years ago, when I started buying my own tools, but I've only had to use the option a couple dozen or so times since I started building the collection ... That said, Craftsman quality has been slipping. I might choose to move to SnapOn for new purchases.

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Software testing?

      I'd rather spend $100 on a good (if minimal) socket set, than $19.95 on a "197 piece chromed vanadium tool set with fitted case

      Actually for socket sets buying the cheapest crappiest one makes sense if when a socket you actually use gets knackered you replace that part with a really good quality one so after a while you have a socket set where the ones you need are of high quality and the ones you never use are crap.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Software testing?

        "the ones you never use"

        What are these mythical sockets that I never use? I never heard of such a thing. Sounds like a daft concept to me.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Jake

      They know about you. The manufacturer of that $19.95 197 piece fragile tool set puts the reject parts in smaller boxes and sells them for $99.99.

    3. John Lilburne Silver badge

      Re: Software testing?

      The problem is perfectly outlined here:

      "Evidently, they are my fault for not testing within the narrow confines of the script and can therefore be safely ignored."

      QA tends to know how some functionality is supposed to be used, so they won't typically try to open a lock with a screwdriver. But apply the screwdriver to the lock and it will immediately bust apart.

      At one point I'd take on a task of destructive testing some new code functionality I call it "Hammer & Smash" now most wouldn't use a negative, or zero tolerance but does the software accept one, and what happens afterwards? In other cases you'd apply the code to some situation that it was not designed for and watch it drive a 15000 rpm spindle into a ton of metal.

      Not a realistic example come the cry. Perhaps, but given enough time I could produce a realistic example that invokes the same bug. There are situations that aren't being handled. Fecking fix em.

      1. tiggity Silver badge

        Re: Software testing?

        Fuzzing is quite popular these days as a test method

        Simplistically, chucking any old stuff at an API etc and see how well it copes (or not!).

      2. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: Software testing?

        "QA tends to know how some functionality is supposed to be used, so they won't typically try to open a lock with a screwdriver."

        QA that does this is seriously incompetent QA. A good QA person is actively looking for ways to make the product malfunction, not just doing "happy path" testing.

      3. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: Software testing?

        We have an application called "monkey" that randomly* splats mouse clicks and keypresses into the AUT.

        It finds so many issues.

        So far it hasn't produced a work of Shakespeare, but we live in hope.

        * Yes, it logs everything it does and can repeat sequences as needed.

      4. EarthDog

        Re: Software testing?

        Yes what he was describing in the article was "happy path" testing which tells you nothing. And makes the assumption the dev. teams knows what the happy path actually is (don't get me started on arrogant developers who think they no more than the users ).

        Negative testing must be done and is often done best by naive users who do not know of the happy path.

        A negative test may pass by failing if it handles the negative test gracefully. Like trapping bad input, preventing it from harming the rest of the system, and giving the user appropriate feedback.

        What the writer described was really bad QA practice.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Software testing?

          Boots? Get the best quality you can. Eat rice & beans instead of meat for a couple weeks if you have to in order to get the best. You'll survive the diet just fine, and your feet will thank you for years thereafter.

          I wear Ariats around the livestock, my normal work boots are RedWing (steel toed and standard), and my logging hobnails are Hi-Tec "Magnum", which are no longer available, alas. (I got my three pair "for the price of one!" ~19 years ago in a close-out at the factory store in Riverbank, CA ... I had to add to hobnails myself. Best boot purchase ever.) All my current collection have been re-soled at least once, except one pair of the Magnums.

          The way I see it, boots aren't properly broken in until they've been through at least one set of soles. The exception to this rule is my wellies, which get replaced every couple years. They are made by the Muck Boot Company ... Look it up if you're not familiar with the name. Worth the price, if you need a good set of warm, dry wellies that you can wear all day without destroying your feet.

    4. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Software testing?

      "You gets what you pays for"

      If you live by that motto then you are consigning yourself to never getting a bargain , and most likely not being able to afford things.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Software testing?

        Trust me, Jeltz, I know a good bargain when I see one. Sometimes I'll wait a year or more before finding the right price on a piece of equipment. Haste makes waste ... unless it's an emergency, of course. But I can't remember the last time I had to make an emergency equipment purchase.

        I can afford what I need, when I need it. Part of the reason for this is because I only buy equipment once.

    5. Halfmad

      Isn't that what users are for?

      Absolutely going by every game I've seen released on PC in the past couple of years. Ironically the indy games seem to have better support and fewer game breaking bugs than the big studio guff.

      Long live Rimworld (Google it, I'm not being rude, much.)

    6. mr.K
      Unhappy

      Re: Software testing?

      Let us assume that cheap equals crap, and this if for the most part true. Then it doesn't follow that expensive equals quality. Actually on scale from one to five where one is the cheapest the highest average quality often can be around two. Where a large part of the fives are the same junk as ones, but with better branding. The caveat here is of course that this is only true for the average within each price range. The highest quality products you will still find hidden among the fives. My problem is that I am happy to pay 200£ for a pair of boots, but actually getting a good pair that last at a minimum ten years of regular use is unlikely.

      I blame the stupidity of consumers. We accept buying products without specifications.

    7. Unicornpiss Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Software testing?

      These days I find it best to not buy the cheapest nor the most expensive version of an item.

      That way when it fails prematurely (as it still does), I'm at least not kicking myself for spending a fortune or blaming myself for the failure because I cheaped out on it.

  1. chivo243 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    I have a solution!

    Stop buying so much cruft! Sure your breakdown percentage will remain the same, but frequency will decline ;-}

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Games testing? Don't make me laugh!

    "Stand in this corner and jump 1000 times"

    Its not fucking fun!

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge

      Re: Games testing? Don't make me laugh!

      Just get speedrunners to do your testing. They'll have the whole thing falling apart in a minute or two.

  3. smudge Silver badge
    Alien

    The Dabbs Luck

    With your luck, there is no way the Puppeteers will let you breed.

    1. RockBurner

      Re: The Dabbs Luck

      Too late (IIRC)

      1. 404 Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: The Dabbs Luck

        Here's to the Dabb's kids! May they far exceed their warranty!

  4. Alan Johnson

    Test is part of engineering!

    "Put this down to poor engineering if you like but that's too glib to be a full explanation. I prefer to blame inadequate prototype testing, where design flaws, manufacturing niggles or, in my UAT example above, a system's unsuitability to real-world requirements might be nipped in the bud."

    Test is NOT The solution to all quality issues but test is part of engineering and the monitoring and control of build quality and consistency is part of production engineering so yes it is poor engineering somewhere whether it is design, implementation, production or shipping, unless it was a deliberate trade off of quality against cost which I doubt.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Test is part of engineering!

      Most of the problems at any stage can be put down not being given enough time to do anything.

      QA aren't allowed to deviate from their script as they might find something which could hold things up.

      1. Blank Reg

        Re: Test is part of engineering!

        Having done software QA I know that you really need to be a sadistic bastard. Your goal has to be to break the software, not follow some silly script. Users don't follow scripts, they will do what seems obvious to someone that didn't write the code and never read the instructions.

        Sure,you do need to test that things work correctly when you use the software in the expected manner, but never assume that users will do what is expected.

        And good QA engineers don't just throw bugs over the cubicle walls to development, they should be offering suggestions on how to improve the user experience as they are often the first people to use the software that weren't involved in writing or designing the software.

        1. dajames Silver badge

          Re: Test is part of engineering!

          Your goal has to be to break the software

          No, the software is broken already. Your goal is to find out where.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    UAT Testing

    In my experience of doing UAT the defined script is usually something someone has already tested beforehand. I prefer the tried and trusted method of UAT which is "go and break it if you can", much more reliable and sets a challenge.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: UAT Testing

      Well yes,

      Evidently, they are my fault for not testing within the narrow confines of the script and can therefore be safely ignored

      We teach kids in primary science at about 8 years old to think of a fair test. But Dabbsy's quote (above) however tongue in cheek does confirm my own suspicion that products are only tested according to some vague dream about how the product should be used. For the rest it's tough luck and should have been more careful.

      A few minutes before I read this I was watching a TV programme in which the most recent passport design was being criticised because they've put the chip where it's most vulnerable, but then blame the public when the sodding thing stops working and ask them to pay for a new passport. Or the handles on my Bosch fridge-freezer that were designed to be used with an upturned hand, which, according to the engineer, is why they kept breaking, until they redesigned them

      And I know the control panel on my new Canon Pixma is going to get broken because they've designed it so that it has to be lifted up like a flap to actually print with the damn thing..

      ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

      I also use this as an opportunity to moan about my (also Bosch) dishwasher,which was designed by/for people who never have soup, cereal or anything else consumed from a bowl, because there isn't actually any slots that a bowl will fit into.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: UAT Testing

        "...products are only tested according to some vague dream about how the product should be used. For the rest it's tough luck and should have been more careful."

        Hence the long list of disclaimer and Do's/Don'ts in the documentation before you even get to the actual instructions.

      2. itzman

        Re: UAT Testing

        I also use this as an opportunity to moan about my (also Bosch) dishwasher,which was designed by/for people who never have soup, cereal or anything else consumed from a bowl, because there isn't actually any slots that a bowl will fit into.

        Don't worry, it will be beyond economic repair three months after the warranty expires.

        Then you can buy the new model which wont take 12" plates either.

      3. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: UAT Testing

        @ Terry 6

        Bosch (and Philips and others) design what they want you to have, not so that you can have what you want. They have what I now call Windows syndrome; they have a commanding position in the marketplace, think they know better thanmere customers so make and sell stuff that often not totally fit for purpose. They will also brook no criticism, I know I've tried writing to them, you don't get any kind of meaningful reply.

        On the shoe front, Redwings in the US make outstanding shoes and boots, not cheap but keep going for years and made to be repairable.

        I have a mate who is a cowboy and works in Texas and New Mexico, he swears by them and anything that stands up to working with cows is going to be good. I know you can buy the riggers boots in the UK, don't know about the rest of their line.

        '

    2. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: UAT Testing

      Too bloody right!

      UAT testing should be 10 mins on script.

      Then over to the actual important stuff -

      Does it do what I need it to do?

      Can I break it? if not, can I get it to do something unexpected?

      If it is an upgrade - Does it still do what it did before (correctly)? or did they break that too?

      Give UAT to the people who actually use the system day to day, just like any changes should be what the users can demonstrate a need for.

      The end users should be the ones who are tasked with signing off the UAT- it is their own fault if things don't work properly afterwards if they skimped on testing.

      That should fill out the time sheet nicely too.

      Yes I do feel strongly about this, why do you ask?

    3. Scoured Frisbee

      Re: UAT Testing

      That's why professional software testers automate everything they can, so the next time they get to break it by doing something else. Now if someone can point me to a vendor that has enough testers to automate and also meet schedules I will buy only from them henceforth.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: UAT Testing

        Microsoft, they get every single user to test it whether they like it or not.

      2. EarthDog

        Re: UAT Testing

        though the trap in automation it is regression testing only. Unless you are very clever about using random input and cross products of tests.

    4. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: UAT Testing

      I know that some companies employ a team of specialist testers who are, basically a bunch of people who hate the industry, the people who work in it and everything that they do. They get so much satisfaction from finding faults in products that they will approach the task of "here's something - try to find a way to break it" with unparalleled zeal.

      1. Alistair Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: UAT Testing

        In our co we had an EA for an exec who could not for the life of herself, her firstborn or the Exec manage to compete *anything* without calling the helpdesk for assistance (sending an email with an attachment was a 10 minute call to HD). When said exec left, she was moved sideways to lead a QA testing team for an application set that is core business. Perfect.

    5. LDS Silver badge
      Angel

      Re: UAT Testing

      My user acceptability testing is done to discover which users are acceptable to the software. That solves a lot of problems.

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: UAT Testing

        My user acceptability testing is done to discover which users are acceptable to the software.

        "Unix is user friendly. It's just picky about who it allows to become a friend."

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