Troubleshooting? Start Simply First

Last night, my father called.  From the sound of his voice, something was happening that prevented him from reviewing his email.  Again.  Now, my father is, shall we say, elderly but by no means old.  He often works with wood and I would guess, from what I’ve seen, that beautiful music can be heard as he teases together his creations.  But, if “that dang box” doesn’t boot up just so, or “all the little pictures are gone”, then he gives me a ring.

Who Ya Gonna Call?
I welcome the call as they live two states away and I catch up on what’s new.  Tonight, his monitor was “just blinking”.  I give him a lot of credit.  He re-booted the machine, and he cycled the power.  In his mind, something complex had conspired to deprive him of his email, and he clearly needed the help of an expert.  Instead, he called me.

If you have done this sort of thing for your family or for a colleague, then you probably have a list of possibilities in your mind to resolve this.  That’s natural for a tester who knows their domain.  We come across an odd application behavior so we begin a mental construction of causes.  Each cause may need investigating and we may even assign probabilities of success to help prioritize our search.

I have done this, and I have seen other testers and even developers do this.  In some cases, there is a team self-aggrandizing discussion on the possible causes of some issue.  They relish in their knowledge of the technology and of the system before they begin troubleshooting.

Try Something Simple
I’ve recently taken a different approach.

“Dad?”, I asked, “can you check that the cables to the monitor are securely seated?”

I heard some grunting as he attempted to move the monitor to check the cables.  He mumbled something about cables on “the tower” and mentioned that he had moved it around a little about a week ago.

When I hear a high pitch “HA!”, I’m thinking something went well.

Clearly rejuvenated, he remarks, “I see pretty pictures on the screen now.”

Start Simple
Testers and Developers, I applaud the depth of your of your domain knowledge and your technical know-how but sometimes an issue might be as simple as asking if it’s plugged in correctly.  Some variations on that question are:

  • Do we have the correct value for a configuration setting?
  • Does the name of an XML node and the name we use in code match?
  • Did you verify the application was deployed to the server?

Investigating the simple things won’t take long and it serves as a foundation for more complex and valid explorations.  Give it a try!


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