Re: Scalding vat of liquid tungsten

Subject: Re: Scalding vat of liquid tungsten
From: Jean Weber <jhweber -at- WHITSUNDAY -dot- NET -dot- AU>
Date: Wed, 5 May 1999 09:43:05 +1000

Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com> wrote about influencing software
engineers by asking tactful and appropriate questions. Here's one of my

One day I was interviewing a software engineer, who was showing me the
latest working version of a product that was just about to ship. At one
point in the backup-to-floppy procedure, the usual warning comes up: "This
will erase any information already on the diskette. Do you want to proceed?"

I said, "what happens if the user pulls the diskette out at this point?"
(thinking the first thing a user will want to do is double-check that the
diskette is blank). The engineer said, "Oh, they wouldn't do that." I said,
"I always assume that some user will do whatever is the stupidest thing you
can think of. Can we try it?"

Grudgingly he agreed. So we pulled the diskette out and clicked something
(I don't recall now what it was) and -- interesting and unintended things
happened, including some corruption of the database.

A couple days later, the engineer phoned me to say that at first he was
really angry with me (I'd noticed), but that after thinking about it, he
was vastly relieved that _I_ had done that, rather than a paying customer.
He invited me to come back and do some other testing for them. My
credibility had gone up many points. I'm sure that if I'd stayed on that
project, he at least would have asked my opinion on design aspects rather
earlier in the development cycle.

As Geoff Hart likes to say, I'm paid to be the village idiot. It's part of
my job description. Handled correctly, the trait helps me influence people
(and occasionally win friends).

Other tactics work in other situations.

Regards, Jean
Jean Hollis Weber
The Technical Editors' Eyrie
mailto:jhweber -at- whitsunday -dot- net -dot- au

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