Bugs? What bugs?

Posted on 2008-August-22 in programming

The following story happened to me some years ago in a company I will not disclose to protect the innocent.

I was part of a group of users and we had been given a budget to spend on computer-related issues like getting new laptops, RAM or extra software. The group would meet every 3 months to discuss how to spend the budget. During one of these meetings, the guy in charge asked around:
"So all accounted for, we have about a thousand left. Any other ideas for potential purchases?"
A girl raised her hand and said:

"Yes. I happen to be programming a lot in Fortran and I am having a hell of a time debugging because there we have no decent Fortran debugger available here. There is one available though, and it would cost about a thousand. Would that be something you would be willing to purchase?"

To which the guy promptly answered:
"Debugger? To remove bugs?"
"Well... yes."
"No way. The easiest way is to do just like I do. Do not put bugs in your programs, that's all."

A long silence followed, glances were exchanged across the room and nobody knew if he was kidding us.

Apparently not, because he decided to close the session and waved off the Fortran debugger request with a sigh.

We later laughed our asses off about that one. Maybe we should have sent the guy around the world to teach how to make software that never has bugs, planes and cars that do not crash, food that is always tasty, you name it.

The story has more depth than this, though. One of the main principles in engineering is to steer away from all possible problems and defects when you design a system. So yes, putting less bugs in your software is definitely a trick of the trade. The only point he missed was that bug-free software simply does not exist, neither do crash-free planes or eternally tasty food. Go get a debugger.