by Leon Rosenshein

6 Stages Of Debugging

  1. That can't happen.
  2. That doesn't happen on my machine.
  3. That shouldn't happen.
  4. Why is that happening?
  5. Oh, I see.
  6. How did that ever work?

Not quite the 5 stages of grief, but surprisingly similar.

First, Denial. It's impossible. The user did something wrong. It's not my code. The sunspots did it. Come back when you've got real proof that this is my bug and I there's something for me to fix. To get through it, trust that the bug report is identifying an issue. It might not be what the user thinks, but there is a problem. The user was surprised, which means you need to do a better job of expectation management.

Then on through Anger and Bargaining. My testing didn't show that problem. Who's fault is it? Just fix DNS. Get the user to be more careful. Get someone else to do a better job on scrubbing the inputs. Yes, the system you're in needs to be taken into consideration. The problem could be elsewhere so it makes sense to step back and get a slightly wider perspective. Is the problem related to other, similar issues? Is there something more systemic that could/should be done? Make sure you're putting the fix in the right place.

Depression. How did we get here? What did I do wrong? How could I have prevented this? It's something that needs to be fixed. So what can you learn from this? Keep track of where you missed the mark or made assumptions about things. Identify what could be different in the future.

Acceptance. it's your problem to fix, so make it better. Take everything you've learned about the issue to this point and apply it. Own the issue, and share the learnings. Help others not miss the mark the same way.

The last stage of debugging, "How did that ever work?", has gone beyond grief. Now you're looking at the entire system and wondering what other bugs/features are lurking about. At this point you're an explorer, learning new and exciting things about your system. When you get to that point the best thing you can do is tell us all what you learned.