When Do Your Defects Become Obvious?


It's been a heck of a week. My office is in my basement (a walk-out basement with lots of light–it doesn't feel like a basement). Earlier this week, I thought I had a leak in the foundation–there was a small damp spot in the rug.

I called the basement people to make appointments. Of course, the appointments were for over a week away. My office is now beginning to smell of mold. Ugh. Luckily, one of the people told me to pull up the rug so I could see where the water was coming from.

Mark figured out how to pull up the rug (between the baseboard heaters and the carpet being tacked down and the pad glued down underneath, this was not a trivial matter). Now we can see the wet spot, which is larger than I imagined. But, pulling up the rug helps the floor dry out (as well as the rug and the pad).

A couple of days later, I realize the water is not coming from the middle of the floor as I'd originally thought, but was coming from a wall, near one of the baseboards. Another day later, we realize the water is coming from a hole in the pipe that feeds the baseboard (forced hot water baseboard heat).

Oh. Now I know what to do. This is the kind of leak I know how to fix. (Not me personally, but I know who to call.) The heating guys fixed the pipe yesterday, and the insurance company's fixit-guys disinfected the carpet and installed the dehumidifier to eliminate the water in the rug and the wall.

I still can't work in my office; it's too noisy and smelly (but good smelly from the disinfectant). Monday, they'll come shampoo my carpet, and then all we'll need is insulation back in the wall where the baseboard is, and my office will be fixed.

The point of this long story is that defects can take a while to become obvious and the symptoms don't necessarily point to the actual cause of the problem. We finished that part of the basement 14 years ago. We hadn't had a problem with the heater there, and I've been in that office for almost 12 years. But the joint in the pipe just wasn't strong enough and after heating the room for 14 years, gave way.

The fact that I saw the water in a place that wasn't the source of the leak wasn't a surprise, but again, mimics what happens when we find defects in software systems. Defects cause problems in lots of places and determining the source of those defects is harder the longer the defect has been in existence and the longer it's been active.

So, I'm in the kitchen, not in my comfy chair with my phone at my side. I may move to the couch later, because these chairs are not made for sitting in for hours at a time. I'm not as productive as I normally am–but my office will be fixed and habitable soon.

The lesson for me is: as soon as you detect a defect, start looking for the cause. If I'd noticed the wet spot in the floor the day it occurred, I might have been able to trace it back to the pipe. (Probably not, the rug masked the origin of the leak. But maybe.) So in order to start looking for the cause, I want to make my defects as obvious as possible as early as possible. Easier said than done, but in software, it's much more possible than with houses.

1 thought on “When Do Your Defects Become Obvious?”

  1. Rachel Silber

    So in order to start looking for the cause, I want to make my defects as obvious as possible as early as possible. Coincidentally, I was reading Fail Fast through a link I followed just a few days ago. There’s a good bit more detail on the idea. I just thought I’d connect the dots here, so to speak.

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