Lighting Fires under Bugs

It’s been way too long since I posted on this blog. It seems I’ve fallen into the 140-character vortex like so many bloggers. I will endeavor to work on that in 2017.

I’m often asked “What’s up with this bug?” or some variation. This is often the case when a reported software defect is stuck in a status other than “fixed.” I then have to get in there, figure out what’s stuck, and somehow get it unstuck.

I’m almost never the first responder. By the time I’m called in, people smarter than me have already been looking into the problem, and my job is to light a fire under the bug. That is, there may already be enough information known to get a fix, it just needs the right spark.

Sometimes, that job requires that I find an appropriate person to assign the bug to. I try to add some new value (other than point a finger) when asked to light these fires under bugs. In some cases, I hack together a feeble fix, then a “real engineer” comes in and fixes it up for production. In rare cases, my code gets checked into the trunk.

I feel like this is one of the most important jobs for the Engineering Manager, but I haven’t read much material on the subject. It’s not a task where I get to display superior technical acumen, or simply throw managerial weight around. It requires patience, thought, and a bit of luck–much like lighting a campfire in the rain.

One thought on “Lighting Fires under Bugs

  1. I’d be interested in talking to you (and other people who do this) about this. Though I’m an engineer and not a manager, I try and do similar for bugs I’m poked on, as well as triaging Firefox::General (I’m behind right now, post-January-1-bug-deluge) and some more topical components in “my” area. I essentially end up having lists in my head (“for graphics problems, ask Milan. For JS things, poke :jorendorff. For scrolling/zooming, try :kats. For …”) which feels like it doesn’t scale particularly well. It would be useful if there were a more obvious way of getting a domain expert to look at a bug under which we want to “light a fire” that doesn’t require all of us to have lists in our heads of who might have the best kindling, to stick with the metaphor. :-)

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