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Gamma Science

Bugs

Learn to make Geek-friendly Bug Reports, and get on with your day!

The head of the Geekforce and I are discussing Bug Reports, like you do, which is the subject of today's blog post!

And I am internally cringing. Because I am guilty, guilty as sin, of all of the things that make the soul of a stressed software engineer die another inch or so!

So ask yourself, have you ever uttered any of the following gems?

  • "It's just not working!"
  • "I don't know, I think it hates me!"
  • "It doesn't work like the old system, and I hate it. I think it knows..."
  • "Out of Cheese Error."
  • "It's an Intermittent Fault"
  • "Everything has gone wrong this morning (insert five-minute rant about your terrible day) and now the system has died on me!"
  • "It was working fine before the update, so you lot must have broken it"
  • "And then it gave me this error message, so I just closed the window, and turned it off and on again."

or the classic "I don't know, it's just f****d!"

Because if, like me, you have, some poor Engineer's shoulders have just slumped an impossible millimetre or two more. There's a reason Software Geeks have a reputation for lack of empathy, and it's partly from dealing with this kind of effervescent wit before the seventh cup of coffee, or worse, after six on a Friday evening!

I now know, to my cost, that of all the many legitimate outlets for my pre-caffeinated attempts at humour, the bug report is one of the most self-defeating! (Unsolicited sales calls with a suspicious pause at the beginning, on an echoey line, inquiring about the health of your PC, are still fair game, you'll be pleased to know!)

Let's keep our eye on the prize right? What are we trying to achieve here? OK, we might WANT sympathy, or a shared giggle, or someone to wave a magic wand or whisk us back in time to the halcyon days of "the Old system", but the Geekforce is fresh out of keys to the Tardis, and they broke our last magic wand on the head of the last person to accuse "the System" of malevolent hatred to their faces. And I was saving that for tax return time!

But actually, what we NEED is for the bug to be fixed, so we can get on with our day!

The Geekforce is on your side here! They want to get on with their days too!

So "I was doing this, and this happened" is heaps better! Still not great, but better!

In order to fix your bug, your Geek will need to be able to reproduce it.

They will need to know a bit about the context you were working in. No, no no! not how awful the new open-plan office is, and the smell of fish from your colleagues' lunch, but what machine you were working on, what Operating System, and what version. Did you have other stuff open in the background? Have you changed any settings recently?

So; I was running (Software) on my (Make of Computer, include the model number if you can) which runs (Operating System) with (X and Y programs) open in the background.

They also need to know what may have caused the problem, so a precise description of the activities that led up to the failure is essential.

And I did; a, then b, then c...

It may sound basic, but what you were trying to achieve (the Expected Result) and what actually happened (the Actual Result).

Instead of just the (a guess on the part of the system affected) and (Actual Result), with this your likely to be told, that yes, that what the system does. Which is obviously true, but unhelpful.

If your computer has been helpful and given you an error message, take a screenshot of the error message, or take a handwritten note of exactly what it says. That error number might be gobbledygook to you, but to your Geek, it is gold dust!

E.g, the system gave the following Error Message (Fromage Supply Error #09348976487)- I too am a sad Terry Pratchett fan! It comes from spending all this time with Geeks!

Confession time! This last was my bugbear. (See what I did there?) I'd panic, because something has gone Wrong on the Computer, close the error message, try a few hamfisted idiot solutions of the turn it off and turn it on again variety, because of not wanting to bother the Geekforce, and only twenty minutes later, when I have made the problem worse and forgotten exactly what I did in the first place, would I contact the relevant Geek. There are Reasons this is not useful. Ask me how I know! (Clue, it's about 36 hours of my life, I'm never getting back!)

Which leads me to the next point. If you are doing something and something goes obviously wrong, STOP! Don't just push buttons randomly (Guilty as charged) and try to fix it.

Instead, screenshot the error message, or anything else unexpected that happens on your screen, then mentally backtrack what you were doing when the problem occurred, and make a note before you forget. If you can safely get out, and get back in again, repeat what you were doing exactly and note whether the problem repeats itself. Intermittent faults are much harder to diagnose. In fact, "Intermittent Fault" often simply means "key piece of information on what actually caused the problem is missing".

That's why the context is so important, it gives clues to all the little apparently unimportant things. You might think you've got a "Cheese Slicer v2.1", but if error code #09348976487, is related to a version 1 "Cheese Slicer" - it is what they call a clue. (The Geekforce can look this up. Sometimes. )

Maybe enough to remind you, at least when the Geeks ask, that you didn't trust the new "Cheese Slicer" when it arrived, so didn't unplug your trusty old one. And in the months since you've upgraded it's fallen down the back of the desk, into human obscurity. The computer still knows it there and it's still interfering, but you've forgotten it completely.

Last but not least, your Geek will need an idea of the priority. Something that stops the entire system from working on the last day before a business-critical report is due, is probably more important than something that affects a minor part of the program that makes your workflow a little more convenient. Though your chances of getting the latter fixed in a cheerful and timely manner may well depend on how easy you make it for the Geekforce to help you!

So make your friendly IT Geek happy today. Save your humour for the unsolicited bloke on the echoey line trying to get you to let him log into your PC to "fix" it for you, and learn to give useful bug reports, so we can all get on with our days!