Programmers are People too

With social media, it’s so easy to be critical with a perceived sense of anonymity.  So often, you see people just chuck crap without really thinking it through or wondering about the consequences or how the target of their ire might receive the message.

A common target in our digital world is programmers or the company that they program for.

A long time ago, and in a web far away, I had written a number of pieces of software.  They were called Doors and ran on major Bulletin Board System like PCBoard or Wildcat!  If you’re long of memory, you may recall “Bay Street Bulls” or “Pyramid of Cheops” or any of the others.  I think there were probably 12 or 13 of them in the height of production.  They were written to have fun and all of them had a social, competitive aspect to them and many BBS operators used them as a way to garner users.  They’d be tested and retested on my own BBS and a friend’s in Windsor before they were released to the world.  The last thing that I wanted was to release something with a bug or a problem with the code.

Every now and again, a hiccup would happen or I would add a new feature to the program and new versions had to be distributed.  It’s a process that all software developers go through.

Like virtually everyone who has a tablet these days, I use it to play games where the interactions are another way to stay in contact with family, friends, and potential acquaintances.  We live in a very volatile software world and there always are updates available.  It’s just part of the fun of staying on top of things.

Recently, I upgraded (or rather auto-upgraded) to a game that I play with my daughter.  It’s called “What’s the Phrase” and distributed by Zynga.  Recently, it updated itself.  But, when it came to making my next move, I received a message indicating that their server was busy and to try later.  No problem…I tried later and the server was still busy.  After a while, it was pretty obvious to me that there was a problem with the code.

And, in fact, there was.  Within a few days, there was an announcement that a version 1.20 was released and fixed an issue with a busy server.  I upgraded to have life continue on.  But, another problem appeared.  It kept crashing on startup on my iPad.  Now, the thing about Apple products, and I’m sure that you know, is that their claim to fame is that it “just works”.  Sadly, there’s little to be done to debug problems when the software doesn’t work.  No blue screens or error codes.  Just unhappiness.

So, I did what is common practice. 

  • I tried again. No success.
  • I checked to make sure that there was plenty of free space.  No success.
  • I forced quit the app and started again.  No success.
  • I deleted the app and reinstalled.  No success.

I started to poke around and found that there was a Facebook group with over 500,000 users.  Surely, if there was a problem that wasn’t limited to me, there would be others reporting it.  And, there were a few.  And, more than a few were nasty about it.  Very nasty.

I had run out of ideas myself so I sent a message indicating that I was having a problem and almost immediately got a message back from Jon who offered to help.  Now, I don’t know Jon – he could be a programmer, or a support person, or just a player of the game willing to help.  Either way, if he’s got a solution, he’s my current best friend.

He took some time and walked me through the above steps and I followed along thinking I may have missed something but I hadn’t.  There was no solution in sight.

We parted and I figured that was it.

In the next day or so, he asked if I wouldn’t mind Skyping to work through this.  What the hey…  I’m getting nowhere myself.  It turned out that the Skype call was from a name I didn’t recognize.  It was an engineer from Zynga located in Toronto.  We reviewed things and I could tell that there was skepticism on their end.  This came to an end quickly.  I held my iPad up to my web camera and showed my steps.  I could feel the disbelief on the other end but they said that they would take it under advisement.

A little bit of progress and I was impressed that the two of them gave that amount of time to me.  In the meantime, I’m now getting warnings that I’ll soon be forfeiting a game to my daughter if I don’t make a move.  We Petersons are a competitive lot so you don’t know how tough that message was to take!

On cue, Jon was back and wanted an email address for contact.  I got back to him and got a link to an older version of the program to download and use until a fix was forthcoming.  Did I mention that I’m getting this special attention out of potentially 500,000 others?  (and probably way more…)

That got me back into the game and life went on.  Then, just this week, I get another contact from Jon indicating that a version 1.21 would be released this weekend and to stay in touch should I have further problems.  As soon as I found that update, I grabbed it and voila, the issue was fixed and I’m now firing on all cylinders.

I didn’t ask but I wonder if those people who were so nasty with their comments had received the same immediate high level of support.  It never hurts to be nice and I’m so glad that I was with these gentlemen.  They reciprocated and supported their product with an absolutely high degree of concern and professionalism.  My hat’s off to them. 

I’m not sure that there’s a lesson in this or not.  But, I’d like to think that being kind never hurts.  Programmers and companies don’t deliberately release software that’s going to cause grief to the end user.  Like everyone, they want to be successful.  Is it too much to ask that they be contacted politely?

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