Living With Broken Software

I travel quite a bit every year. Over 20 trips in 2022 and five trips in the first quarter of 2023. To make life easier, I have a few routines that I use to ensure that travel goes smoothly and I don’t forget things. One of those routines is using a parking service near the airport.

This company used to have a fairly manual process, though it improved over the years. The pandemic forced them to move to more contactless service, which I appreciated. I could make a reservation online, get a QR code, and use that to both enter and exit the facility without interacting with anyone or handling money. A bit safer, but the big win for me was that this process was quicker for me move into and out of the lot.

This service worked great in 2021, but sometime in the spring of 2022, I was making a reservation on the mobile app on the way to the airport. After completing the form, I clicked submit and got an error. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I double-checked everything I’d typed and resubmitted.

Again, an error.

I tried a third time, feeling a bit frustrated. I’d stopped for coffee and needed to start moving to the airport. For some reason, I decided to check my email. To my surprise, I found a confirmation of the reservation. Actually, I found three, which necessitated me asking for refunds for the two I didn’t need, while then trying to ensure I actually used the correct QR code to get in and out.

Since then, I’ve used this mobile app multiple times to make reservations, and it always errors but sends a confirmation. I’ve sent a note to the company, but nothing has changed. The web app doesn’t seem to want to work correctly either but has different problems. I’ve tried a couple of other services, but I like this one. I just need to remember to make one reservation, ignore the error, and check my email.

The tech is broken somewhere. Yet it works. It’s mildly annoying for me, perhaps much more annoying to others. This might dissuade new customers from using the service, though the parking lot seems fairly full most of the time. It’s the kind of thing that I, as a software developer, would want to fix.

It’s also the kind of thing I could see management not caring about, and instead asking me to focus on new features or other bugs that are preventing customers from using the service.

There is often more work queued up for software than there are time or resources to tackle them. When anyone is building software, they are constantly making choices about priorities and focus. What do I work on? What should be done first? What bugs need fixing and what bugs can we live with? Working for a software company has helped me keep perspective on the larger picture for a business.

At the same time, I feel the frustration of a customer when things don’t work as I’d want them to work. Especially when an error is involved. This seems like it should be an easy fix, either catch the error and do something, or at least swallow it from the customer perspective. However, I have no idea how widespread this error is, or if I’m the only one for whom it doesn’t work. A good DevOps process would have instrumentation and monitoring to learn the scope, scale, and criticality of this, and other, bugs.

Either way, it’s been alternately annoying and humorous to me. It works, and I live with it, sometimes amused that it’s still occurring. Perhaps I’ll even miss seeing the message when or if it gets fixed.

Steve Jones

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About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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2 Responses to Living With Broken Software

  1. As you already know, in development we strive for perfection but must settle on “is it commercially viable” or “is it serviceable” because deadlines and budgets disallow perfection. What concerns me is when that same “It’s good enough” is applied to foundational software,. code that other applications really on like Microsites own Foundation Classes. “Good enough” software is one thing it’s another when you build “it’s serviceable” upon “good enough”. I believe this is the reason for a number of unfixable bugs at least in MS Windows.


    • way0utwest says:

      This is the opposite of DevOps. We should be improving all the time, and if we find issues, we keep working on them.

      At the same time, knowing the software business from the other side, there is always more work than resources, no matter who you are.


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