Quote of the week – (not) working

If there’s one thing worse than a program that doesn’t work when it should, it’s a program that does work when it shouldn’t.

Bob Archer

I am sure that someone said this long before I did, but I can’t find a quote expressing quite the same sentiments.

At least with a program that doesn’t work you know it doesn’t work. You might not know why it doesn’t work, or how to fix it but you still have the knowledge that it doesn’t work. A program that does work when it shouldn’t will, of course, work right up until that big demo to the CEO or a major customer. Or, it will start exhibiting a problem right before code freeze and, upon tracking down the source of the problem, the poor engineer will discover code that has never worked and needs to be completely rethought.

The interesting thing is why the code appears to work. Sometimes two bugs cancel each other out (mostly), sometimes (as in my most recent example) it’s accessing memory after it was freed (very shortly after it was freed) – that worked on 7 out of 8 platforms. Sometimes the code isn’t being called at all – I have often been surprised at a break point that wasn’t hit, or looked at the profiler results to discover that a function that should be called thousands of times hasn’t been called at all.

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