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Intermittent problems are the worst type of problem. They are not even definable. They could happen at any moment and the reasons are unclear. In my world of web development, they have the ability to cause me a great degree of stress.
This is probably something I should be drilling into my Computing and Web students a little more. Beware of intermittent or inexplicable problems! They can really get you down.
Take an e-commerce website, for example. It is ticking over nicely, working well for your client. It pulls in several £1000 per day. The website works. Sure, it could work better; that conversion rate could do with a bit of an increase, but we’re working on that. Then, out of the blue, several customers start complaining to your client that the checkout isn’t working, or the login feature isn’t working.
You check the website back-end to see if orders are still coming in. Yep, there was an order 10 minutes ago. Ok, the site is still “working”, so what’s the problem? Hmm. Check the web statistics to see if the conversion rate has dropped for today. Nope, looks fine. I mean, it has dropped a little, but it isn’t the lowest it has been this month. Taking the stats are face value, nothing seems to be amiss. But there definitely is a problem. More calls from customers are reporting problems on the site.
Let the frantic troubleshooting and forum research begin. You can’t replicate the problem yourself. You’ve tried several different browsers on different operating systems. A colleague of yours can replicate the problem, but you have no idea why it is happening for them. Some forums suggest various configuration changes. You start fiddling with settings and hope for the best.
You wish it was all a bad dream and you would just wake up.
These are the worst kind of problems. Eventually, they can get fixed, usually through experimenting with configuration changes and doing more research. You will have nightmares for weeks to come about not knowing the reason for the problem in the first place, but you’ll learn to live with that.
To my students, I would simply say: be aware that things like this can happen. Be prepared to meet these issues face on, don’t be intimidated and don’t be beaten. Think outside of the metaphysical box, and do your research. Chances are, several people have experienced the problem before.
But why do things like this happen? Well, most of the time, it is due to complexity. Complexity is often the enemy of clarity (but not always). Complexity wages a dichotomous war against itself. It is a struggle between advantages and drawbacks.
This applies to life as well. The more complex your life, the more chances of things going wrong. For example, if I didn’t have an iPhone, I would never risk being exposed to the emotional turmoil that results from cracking it’s screen, getting it stolen, or dropping it in the toilet. But the advantages outweigh the drawbacks, right? I’ll leave that one for you to ponder.
As for me, I’m going to spend the next decade trying to reduce the complexity in my life that has been escalating for the last decade. But no, I won’t be getting rid of my iPhone quite yet.