How Should You Feel When You Find a Bug?


How you feel about bugs can affect how productive your work is, how you feel about your job, and how others feel about you. In this column, Bret looks at how we respond to finding bugs and how a neutral, professional attitude can make a big difference.

Ordinarily, finding bugs in the software we use is annoying. Even minor bugs can cause delays and interrupt our work. Nowadays, software is sufficiently pervasive and sufficiently buggy that many people encounter software bugs as an everyday occurrence. This, of course, is the reason professional software testers like us are employed. Our job is to find those pesky bugs before the software is deployed to the end users. If we do a good job, the users will encounter fewer annoyances and feel better about the software. But how should we testers feel when we find bugs in the software we test?

Happy to Find Fault
Some testers gloat when finding bugs, especially embarrassing bugs that prove those programmers aren't so smart after all. These testers may share their findings in office banter, jibing emails, or blaming defect reports that open with "Here's the latest screw-up."

This delight is an understandable feeling. Programmers often organize their status hierarchies on the basis of knowledge and technical ability. To gain status, you have to either prove your abilities on their own merit or else tear down the abilities of others.

But this kind of behavior tends to backfire. No one likes to have their mistakes aired in public. Once this trend gets rolling, it's too easy to make a mistaken call that only invites retribution. And regardless, animosity only makes the testing job more difficult, making programmers less likely to provide the information and cooperation that testers need in order to be effective.

So if you're feeling gleeful, you're wise to keep your feelings to yourself. But you might find your job more satisfying if your feelings weren't so at odds with the programmers you're working with.

Sad That the Project Is Failing
Some testers find it depressing when they find lots of bugs. They have a hard time feeling good when they find more and more evidence that things aren't going according to plan. This reaction is especially likely when project plans provide little time for testing and debugging—and when that time gets squeezed by delays in getting the software into test. With little time available to fix and retest, the testers are truly in the position of providing nothing but bad news.

So these feelings of dismay are understandable. But it is important to know that the tester's job is to focus on failure, and therefore, they often have an excessively gloomy perception. This is an occupational hazard and one reason why it's often a mistake to have testers make the go/no-go decision. (But they should have a say in the decision.)

Testers' feelings of dismay may also be heightened by the realization that the more bugs they find, the more they'll be expected to work long hours retesting the repairs. The real trap of these feelings is that psychologically people aren't good at finding things they aren't expected to find. Testers who are expected to find problems are more likely to find them than testers who are simply expected to "verify that it works."

So although these feelings may not get in their way of feeling a part of the team, they can contribute to ineffectiveness-eventually leading to job dissatisfaction and the feeling that their purpose is merely to provide scapegoats for the inevitable problems.

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