Sunday, January 6, 2013

An Ounce of Prevention

In my many years as a technology professional, one of the worst trends I have observed is the preference for the quick fix. This is the patch, the work-around, the extra step or two that compensates for an otherwise flawed process.

There is an old adage that suggests there is never enough time to do it right, but there is always enough time to do it over.  This is clearly now the order of the day.

How many times does a road crew have to fill the same pothole before realizing the street has to be repaved?  We have become so adept at creating ways of avoiding problems, we forget to back and fix their root cause. One of my favorite road signs is the one that says BUMP ahead. If you know there is a bump, don't hang a sign, fix it!

This mindset carries over into technology. Apparently it is  easier to dump raw data into a spreadsheet and massage it until all the missing or incorrect values have been resolved. But do we ever take the time to track back to the source of the bad data and put new processes in place to avoid storing them in the first place?  No, instead we dump the same flawed data month after month into a spreadsheet. In fact, we build macros to automate the correction process.

I've observed in some of the new programming tools we have lost the ability to check a return code. Those of you who may have written programs will recall these special variables set to specific values after an operation. A return code of zero (0) usually meant success, while other values would indicate a reason for the failure. Looking at these codes would enable you to take the appropriate action to recover from the failure or warn of bad results.

Even if error codes are available, often it appears they are not being used. It makes me wonder if error checking gone the way of memory optimization.  Now it only matters that the process ends, whether it did what it was supposed to or not.

An employee of mine many years ago reported that he had completed his assignment to write a piece of code. He had entered and compiled it successfully, loaded and executed it. It ran, he told me, so he was done. He then went on to mention it produced the wrong results, but he still considered his assignment complete. You can't make this stuff up.

We have to return to the discipline of getting it right the first time, or addressing the source of problems. Let's not continue to focus on mitigating the symptoms, let's instead get in there and cure the underlying disease.


Captain Joe

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