The Great TSL Bug-Hunting Competition

July 12, 2015

A few months ago, my company upgraded our core application from Rails 3 to Rails 4. Despite the best efforts of the Rails maintainers in making the transition as smooth as possible, we still anticipated many subtle bugs and breakages.

Our application has a lot of moving parts, as is the case with most companies that have a core application. Moreover, every developer was familiar with a few key parts of the code, but nobody knew 100%. As a result, we were wary of the abilities of the dev team alone to think of every edge case that could potentially break the application logic.

The solution that we ultimately came up with led to one of the most fun, productive afternoons during my time at TSL: We held a company-wide bug-catching competition. For one hour, everybody suspended what they were working on, and tried to produce bugs in the staging environment. These bugs were logged in a Google Doc to avoid duplication. The winner was promised a prize, a task which we graciously delegated to our project manager.

There are about twenty people in the company, and everyone interacts with a different part of the application each day. Even if we didn’t find every subtle crack in the system, the bugs that we found during the Bug Hunting Competition covered the majority of the application that we used internally and externally. Twenty combined employee hours is costly, and this idea is probably not suitable for companies that have more people, but consider whether a QA tester could have produced as many bugs in half a week of work. Another clear advantage is twenty fresh sets of eyes, as opposed to one.

The bug hunt was great for a few other reasons. There is often a feeling of insulation between the product development team and the non-technical team. In many ways this is good – in addition to an organizational barrier (i.e. the project manager and/or scrum master), there ought to be a psychological barrier so that developers are not constantly having to be the “bad guy” and explain to their non-technical colleagues why they can’t take a feature request over a water cooler conversation. With the bug hunt, the non-technical parts of the company were involved in a valuable problem-solving process for the tech team, and it was a nice reminder that at the end of the day, product ownership extends beyond the people who write the code. Everyone at a company should take pride in the product, and helping to find and fix the problems before they reach the client is a really valuable step – one that should involve non-technical team members whenever possible.

All other “business benefits” aside, the competition was also really fun. It was a nice way to build team solidarity, and people had a lot of fun competing for the top spot. Although we (hopefully) won’t need to upgrade our Rails version anytime soon, the bug hunt is something we may incorporate into regular business processes.