Favorite Bugs

I was watching the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark” the other day and it reminded me of one of the first (and favorite) software bugs I ever found. “Raiders” features John Rhys-Davies in one of my favorite roles, the character Sallah.

One of the first projects I worked on as a green tester was a customer-facing inventory kiosk for a major book chain. I wouldn’t say I knew what I was doing at the time as I hadn’t yet honed my skills but I knew enough to try a few things to see how it would react.

One of the functions of this particular piece of software was the ability to look up in-store inventory based on various search criteria such as Author, Title, ISBN, etc. I chose to run a simple search for “John Rhys-Davies”.

So I entered the name and clicked “Search”. Lo and behold I killed the system. Not just this kiosk but the whole system went offline. If this had been production I would have brought down every kiosk in every store nationwide.

Now being green to testing I didn’t know why this particular search killed the system but I quickly learned the reason. The system had a real hard time dealing with special characters. The hyphenated name “John Rhys-Davies” brought this to our attention.

Shortly after finding the issue I printed out a photo of “John Rhys-Davies” and captioned him “The Patron Saint of Software Testing”. That photo remained on my desk for 10 years as a reminder (and a great topic of discussion).

My second favorite bug was found on the very same system. The company had decided to add a printing feature so customers could print out title information and shelf locations within the store.

I wasn’t technically on the project but the kiosk was in our QA lab and I had some time. So I went up to it and ran a search (probably John Rhys-Davies!). Once the search was returned I clicked the “print” icon.

The kiosk had been outfitted with a small thermal printer the kind you might find on a cash register. My expectation of the printer was it would print the information on a small 3×5 sheet. But when I clicked “print” that’s not quite what happened.

What happened was a 2 foot long sheet of paper shot passed my neck at about 100mph and landed 6 feet behind me! Surprisingly it contained the correct information, but it could have resulted in a nasty paper cut to my neck. Since it didn’t cause injury I just busted out laughing. One problem though, no one else witnessed it.

I made sure I could recreate the issue a few more times before calling my boss in to see the cool new bug. I didn’t tell him what it was I just said “You have to see this!” And when he did, he too about fell out of his chair laughing. He actually called the CIO down to the lab to witness it. After the CIO stopped laughing he calmly stated, “This is not going into my stores.” The issue, it turns out, was an incorrect driver for the printer.

I’m sure everybody has a favorite bug or two. What’s yours?


2 Responses to “Favorite Bugs”

  1. James Bach Says:

    These are good stories. Do you see any general principles illustrated, here?

    • John Kotzian Says:

      I think with both examples up-front testing would have caught these. At the time the concepts of Software Testing were limited not only with our fledgling QA department but the entirety of IT. Couple that with poor planning and unreasonable project deadlines it was inevitable that the development team would just “throw something over the fence”.

      For me, it was a golden learning experience and something I kept in my mental database to check against future projects.

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