Creating software is a lot like building a race car

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I really like technology – I think that’s pretty obvious. My parents knew when I was 14 and building my first computer that I was going to a “computer guy.”Since then I’ve built a lot of things, including a race car I scratch built several years ago.  Melding technology with my interest in building things has led to some interesting results. 

The first time I took my race car out it raced well until about the 3rd lap, when it stopped running. I meticulously rechecked the details. The fuel filter wasn’t clogged, the fuel pump had power, the engine had spark, and the engine control unit was working. Unable to start the car, my buddies and I pushed the 1200 lbs onto the trailer I brought out.

After the car was loaded on and strapped down my girlfriend asked, “You checked the gas, right?” Seriously? Of course we had! Then I realized no, nobody had checked the most obvious factor. Sure enough,  it had simply run out of gas.

Did you check the gas tank?

The software I began building a year and a half ago has evolved a lot.  It’s also been the source of many did-you-check-the-gas situations.

Last Monday I was reviewing some of the changes a developer had made on our subscription page – we were both looking at the same screen and couldn’t figure out why the changes weren’t showing up. We checked the version of code we were working on, the information in the database, even restarted our development environment – nothing fixed it. The developer started chuckling – he saw it before I did. He pointed at the address bar – ‘You’re looking at production, Dummy.‘  Oops! Expecting our production servers to have development changes didn’t work so well!  There’s a lot to be said for making sure there’s gas in the tank before checking things like the fuel filter.  It’s easy to overlook things we should see as obvious when we expect things to be difficult or problematic.

I can laugh at those circumstances now, but in the moment they sure can cause a headache! It’s a good reminder to see the whole picture though; we continue to evolve our software because our we want to build the best option for our customers. Sometimes though, we try to build a helicopter rotary system when what we need is a car with a functional amount of gas in the tank.


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