The annoying coffee machine – Part 2

Another important software engineering lesson, this time about controlling technical debt

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One of my first blogs was about the annoying coffee machine in our house, and how it controlled our lives with its constant stream of instructions. As is normal in these situations, one learns to live with it, somehow. You start to anticipate annoying behavior, so when you hear the water beginning to flow, you know there will be that annoying beep asking you to press a button to start the second part of the water flow. So, you already get up and run to the coffee machine, sometimes even managing to press the button before it beeps (strong feeling of satisfaction). You even learn not to always ask yourself, “But why can’t this machine start the second part of the water flow itself?!” The ultimate Zen moment will be when I finally stop asking that question. Working on it, but not there yet, in all honesty.

But then, after six or so years of continuous good coffee and annoying beeps, the machine suddenly stopped working. No single possible combination of buttons pressed would bring it back to life, although nothing seemed to be wrong with it, at least visibly.

When we called the vendor, we got the question: “When was the machine last serviced?” “Well,” I answered, “We’ve been using it for six years and thought we treated it rather well.” Then came a brief, slightly patronizing smile from the other side of the phone: “Well, it did rather well then going six years without a proper service!

Not easy to accept our daily dedication as a total lack of maintenance, but then again, one needs coffee. Of course, the vendor had a solution. They would send somebody to collect the machine, provide a replacement, perform the servicing, and bring it back. Let’s say good coffee comes at a price…

It turned out that the machine had built up some serious ‘technical debt.’ It wasn’t visible from the outside, as performance was flawless until it totally failed. If only the coffee machine engineers would have built in something that would have allowed us to keep track. We thought we were maintaining it quite well, until the invoice clearly told us otherwise.

We’re now back to our normal routine, perfect coffee with a slight touch of unplanned, annoying maintenance. Still a lot of ground to cover for engineers all over the world. Please let us enjoy our coffee.

If you need help keeping your technical debt under control, please give my colleagues and I at SIG a call. As I’ve tried to explain above: it’s for the greater good of humanity.

 

 

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