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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ant Hill Or Hornet's Nest? The Deal With Software Bugs


The word causes some peoples' skin to crawl, even though by and large, most bugs are harmless. But the creepy-crawlies betray the fear we have of bugs that can destroy: hornets that sting, termites that eat through walls and floors, those crazy bullet-ants whose bite feels like a blast from a .357. In fact, the same goes for software bugs. Most are harmless, but the ones that aren't...

Software Bugs
Software Bugs (Photo credit: FastJack)

Well, let's just say they can cause huge issues.

Understanding Software Bugs

What is a software bug? In short, it's a programming error in a computer system. These glitches can go unnoticed, and some programming flubs don't have any effect at all. The majority of software glitches are minor, and get ironed out in the testing phase of a program's creation. Creating a new piece of software is difficult, and with the variety of code languages and the level of competency necessary to create a successful program, it's expected that a new program will have a glitch here or there.

"We're still working all the kinks out" is a phrase commonly heard in the programming world. Yet, when software bugs go unnoticed, they can have unintended consequences. Big consequences. Huge consequences.

When Software Bugs Really Bite

Software bugs have caused everything from hospital patients receiving insane doses of radiation (4 died), the largest non-nuclear explosion in history, and a haywire patriot missile that killed 28 soldiers and injured nearly a hundreds. But that's not all. Consider the time
  • ...a software bug resulted in ATMs spitting out "free money," causing people to queue up in scores to get their take of the goods.
  • ...a systems glitch caused a cell block full of dangerous criminals to open, allowing the inmates (if they so wanted) to walk free. (Did we mention that it happened to the same prison twice within a week?)
  • ...massive casualties in videogameland occurred due to a software bug that spread like a modern-day, virtual bubonic plague. Bodies lined the streets. It was an MMORPG bloodbath.

Software bugs may not always be serious, but like a sniffle that turns into pneumonia, neither are they to be ignored.

What's the Take-Home Point?

Here's the deal. Software bugs may well be expected in the early part of a program's testing, but they can be absolutely devastating when the program controls a sensitive system. In the instances where human lives, personal information, and large amounts of money are controlled by a program, there's no excuse to allow for buggy software to make it into a real-world scenario.

The creepy-crawlies you feel about software bugs may just be justified after all. When a single company can nearly go under due to a $440 million glitch, the take-home point is clear: Test. Test. Test. Studies have shown that the earlier a bug is detected in the process, the less money it costs overall to take care of. The later a bug is caught, well... You can survey the damages for yourself in the infographic below created by RankPop.

qa testing
Featured images:
  •  License: Image author owned 

Brandon William Peach is a writer across many topics, including religion, pop culture, literature, marketing, politics, human rights, and animal welfare. His work has been featured at RankPop, RELEVANT Magazine, Lure of Mac, I Think I Believe, Existimatum, and much more. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonPeach.

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