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Tea Parties, Perspective and Expectations or What Makes a Bug? (Rhythm of Testing)

On December 16, 2013, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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I’m writing this the evening December 16.  This is the anniversary of an event that gets a lot of attention in a fair number of middle school and high school American History classes.  It struck me as I was thinking about this while walking to the office today, that while some people consider this a watershed event, in reality, it was part of a continuum of tumultuous events that happened in a fairly short order. 

December, 1773

Consider two descriptions: 
1. Militant Anti-government terrorists destroy massive amounts of private property in Boston Harbour.
2. Freedom-loving Patriots destroy hated symbol of unjust oppression by dumping tea in Boston Harbour.

Both describe the same event, each from a distinct perspective.  Both engage in hyperbole, ostensibly to make a point.  The facts of the matter are these:  Between 30 and 130 men, some dressed as Mohawk warriors, boarded three ships owned by the British East India Company, over powered the anchor watch and threw 342 casks of tea into the water. 

There are bits that often get left out of the narrative.  For example, the tax on tea was originally passed in 1767.  At the time, Britain was in deep financial trouble as a result of the Seven Years War – what is taught as the French and Indian War.  Much of the expense of the war was to defend these same American Colonists from the French.  It seemed reasonable that some measure of tax be levied to pay for the bills of the war.  The East India Company argued against the tax, and through a series of negotiations and compromise with Parliament had them offset for a period time. 

These expired in 1772.  The taxes were modified slightly in the Tea Act of 1773.  The East India Company tried to extend these “tax breaks” again, and offset these taxes.  The government of Lord North refused.  They suspended some, but not all of these taxes – some 10% of the value remained.  This worked out to be 3 pence in taxes per pound of tea.  In doing this, there was a “minor change.” The salaries of some colonial officials would be paid from these funds.

The East India Company attempted to cover the taxes themselves, to simply pay the tax and keep the retail price the same.  To put it gently, the colonists would have nothing to do with it.

There was outrage.  There was fury.  There was anger directed at individuals in the colonies and in London.  

Never mind that among the people who were most vocally opposed to both the tax and the actions of the East India Company to minimize the impact on the colonists, their customers, were smugglers of tea. 

Perspectives

The perspectives around the facts drive the narrative. Both of the above descriptions, the ones about “terrorists” and “patriots”, are accurate depending on the perspective of the individual.

Let us consider how this same “details” impact software.  One customer likes a given feature, one does not.  Which one is right?  One complains of “bugs” and demands a fix immediately.  One refuses to consider any change at all.

I’ve actually encountered that.  Two equally large customers – one likes the software as it is and the other demands changes.

Which one has the “bug”?  How do you count that?  The description of the software and the promises of the sales staff could easily be interpreted either way. 

When people demand “bug free software” I wonder if they have any idea what that means?

A bug is a bug only if everyone involved with the software agrees it is a bug.  

A bug is not a thing – it is a description of a relationship.  That relationship describes a variance between expectations, perceptions and the actual behavior of the software.

In setting expectations, we must be able to anticipate and describe perspective of the persons using, or responsible for using the software we are working on.

Do we understand how people use the software?

We understand what how we think they use the software.  We may understand how we think they will use it.

If our perspectives are wrong, if our expectations are wrong, we are exercising – and looking for “expected results” that may not be what anyone else would describe as “expected.”

 

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