Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On the other side of the fence

I've been having problems with my teeth recently. Fortunately, none of it has been painful, but cycling home from yet another dentist's appointment this afternoon, I suddenly had a thought that the experience I was having with my dentist might be a bit like the experience of a non-developer who encounters a bug in the Moodle quiz. Allow me to explain.

I think it has been a total of four trips to the dentist over the summer. First I went for a regular check-up. That revealed that one of my fillings was cracked, so there was another appointment to drill it out and redo it. Then a filling in another tooth fell out one Friday evening, so I could not get anything done about it until the following week, and over the weekend a bit of the tooth next to the hole broke off, which was really worrying. (Luckily, as I said above, it was not painful.) So anyway, that required a big filling to fill the resulting hole. Then part of the new filling broke off, so today's appointment was to re-do the missing bit. Hopefully that remedial fix will work. If the new bit breaks off again, I will have to go back to have the whole filling drilled out and redone.

With all this going on, I fear I have been starting to have unkind thoughts like: "Is my dentist competent?" "Should so many things go wrong over a few months?" "How do I know if this is normal?". This is exacerbated by what appears to me to be a slightly casual attitude on her part. I expect that these really are routine problems, and rather boring to her. I, however, am worried, so I would have appreciated a more concerned-seeming bedside manner.

As I say, it was just after I had climbed on my bike to go back to work this afternoon, that I had the epiphany that this is probably how someone feels when they come to the Quiz forum after encountering a problem in one of their Moodle quizzes. To them it seems like some terrible problem that has them really concerned. They describe their symptoms, and I read it and think "oh yes, the problem is probably in that bit of code, let me do a quick fix." And then maybe I screw up and introduce a regression, but when that is pointed out, it too is easily fixed. To me it seems like some routine and minor matter, but I have never really thought how the process of fixing bugs feels to someone who is not a software developer, and who does not really understand what is going on. Will they still trust Moodle?

Now that I have thought about it, will I do anything? I fear I am unlikely to change my 'bedside manner'. My time seems to be more than taken up with actually doing the bug fixes, and other development, to spend too much time being nice to people. Still, I will try to make a bit more effort in future know I now how it feels to be on the other side of the situation.

Before finishing, allow me to point out (particularly to American readers) that all these trips to the dentist have cost me very little or nothing. In particular, the two recent appointments to replace the filling that had (partly) fallen out cost me nothing. Thank you NHS. I hope the new government does not cut you to death.

While I am writing, I will also share the news that I finally bought an apartment of my own over the summer, after years of renting. It is very nice, and worth the hassles of dealing with solicitors. Hopefully now that the stresses of dealing with the move are behind me I can concentrate more on Moodle development, although there are still a few minor things to deal with like getting some more furniture. Over the weekend I ordered some new sofas, including some bright orange cushions. I can't think where I got the idea for such a daring colour ;-)


  1. Loved the post! I am all for increasing empathy in the developer community. Thanks.

    Also, congratulations for the orange cushions! :) (And for the apartment.)

  2. Tim, you do a great job on moodle.org forums, patiently explaining people the reasons of their problems and helping them to solve them. There is no need to feel bad about your way of communicating with the community. You ARE nice to people, though sometimes in a very Tim-specific way :-)

    I am actually thinking about quoting "My time seems to be more than taken up with actually doing the bug fixes, and other development, to spend too much time being nice to people." on my blog.