One of my favorite books is ‘The Meaning of Everything’ by Simon Winchester.
It’s the story of the creation of the world’s first dictionary – the Oxford English Dictionary. I won’t spoil it for those of you who click on the link the link below and buy the book, but it is a fascinating story of enterprise, intellect, and passion to achieve the impossible.
The journey began in 1857 and was ostensibly the world’s first Open Source project. Hundreds of volunteers and assistants worked for a great many years (again I won’t spoil the story – as the overall project lead time is astonishing) to research not only all of the English words in existence, but also establish their meanings and crucially, their etymology.
With only paper records of historical books and journals, the open source army sought out the earliest references across known English literature to establish the exact timeline of each word’s development in language.
And, being an Agile Open Source dictionary development team, they completed this Epic project in Sprints – letter by letter. They worked remotely using small paper slips as ‘tickets’ and the postal service as their Internet, making thousands of ‘commits’ to the central library of what was to become the OED – the definitive word database and the meaning of everything.
From time-to-time, we hear of new words being added to the OED. Words like respawn, man crush, neckbeard, clickbait, headcam, soft launch, ethical hacker and onesie have made their way through a lexicographic change control process to be approved into the live, production OED.
One now familiar word that is relatively young by language standards is Glitch. The earliest known references are around 1962 – when it was used in the book Into Orbit – an account of the United States first human space programme.
John Glenn contributes the quote to the book:
Literally, a glitch is a spike or change in voltage in an electrical current
Later in the book, it is explained again and is simply said to be a slang word for a “hitch.” – as in everything went without a hitch.
Since the appearance of the term in the context of electronics, glitch has passed beyond technical use and now covers a wide variety of malfunctions and mishaps.
This morning for example, I awoke to this news story on Sky News:
Netflix glitch gives sneak peek to ‘House of Cards’ fans
20 episodes of the popular TV show were released accidentally to fans online due to a ‘technical glitch’.
And on the same day in the news:
United Airlines glitch charges flyers $75 for a first-class trip across the Atlantic
Glitch lets young Lee’s Summit student see porn on school computer
Glitch delays price updates on NSE – Technical glitch caused entire system to slowdown for about 15-20 minutes post open auction
Samsung Smart TV glitch added Pepsi ads to home movies
I’m not making this up – these are all glitch stories within a 24 hour period.
There have been scarier ones too – relating to Air Traffic Control, Banking and Security systems apparently failing for no known reason.
So where do glitches come from, and why are there so many of them?
As we know, computer glitches don’t happen by themselves. Systems are complex and the people running them are – well, human. Mistakes happen – it’s pretty much a given.
Ultimately, a glitch is a convenient generalization that PR firms use to gloss over the stuff that really went on. The mistakes, the process failures, the lack of change control, the indiscipline, the sloppiness.
But you don’t want the be the person who gets sacked for your company having to issue a Press Release like the ones above. It’s not your fault that your SAP systems are complex and your company wants to deliver more change for less.
If you’ve read the DevOps bible – The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, chapter one pretty much encapsulates this scenario – on Bill’s first day in the job of Head of Operations, a payroll failure means that his company are front page news and in trouble with the Unions for not paying factory workers on time.
For every one of the news stories above – of which there are thousands per year – there’s a scapegoat*
*Leviticus 16 – “But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.”
So here’s some free career advice for those of you who don’t want to get sacked from your well-paid SAP job for causing a ‘glitch’
1. When you ‘approve’ an SAP change – actually check what is being changed.
Check properly. Thoroughly. Consciously. Leave no stone unturned.
Don’t just scan the change request form. Don’t simply hit reply to an approval request email and hope everything is going to work.
That’s how glitches happen.
That’s how critical business processes stop working.
That’s how people like you get sacked.
2. Don’t rely on your SAP testing team to find problems.
Shift quality left in the SAP dev lifecycle Put checks and balances in place to trap obvious glitch-creating issues right at the start..
If you can, make negative requirements like error-trapping and failure recovery part of your specs or user stories.
If you think of testing as the place where problems get found, you’re heading for headline news at some point in your career.
3. Know what’s being changed and therefore what needs testing for everything in your SAP project or release.
If you know the exact scope of changes – you know what to test. This means you can help your test team to create the right scripts.
If you don’t, then you’re flying by the seat of your pants.
That spreadsheet you use to track SAP changes isn’t going to cut it. It’s wrong. Out of date.
It’s rubbish – and you’re kidding yourself that you’re really in control.
4. Have a roll-back option for your SAP changes
Unfortunately, SAP doesn’t have an undo button. So, if you do push a glitch to production, you have a major problem.
You have to re-develop a fix and have it approved and migrated to production to fix the first glitch. And when you hastily fix things, there’s always the risk of creating new glitches. What you really need is a way to back-out SAP transports.
Either you do the things above or you need a good PR firm for when that glitch news story breaks – and a strong resume to help you find your next SAP job.
I’ll leave you with one word from the OED with two meanings:
Meaning 1: An occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.
he seemed destined for a career as an engineer like his father
Meaning 2: Move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way:
the coach careered across the road and went through a hedge
mid 16th century (denoting a road or racecourse): from French carrière, from Italian carriera, based on Latin carrus ‘wheeled vehicle’.