It's easy to assume that a someone needing user support is not using the application correctly. What if there really is a bug?
We've all seen the acronyms used by support techs: ID-10-T errors, PICNIC, PEBKAC, and so on. On the one hand, they're pretty mean-spirited (but kinda funny). On the other hand, support techs can legitimately be exasperated when rude, frustrated users scream at them to solve problems that aren't their fault. Yes, some support techs really do have to walk users through the most basic of operations like making sure the computer and monitor are plugged in and powered on. On the OTHER other hand, it is the job of support techs to bridge that knowledge gap.
As consultants, we are often called upon to support our own or someone else's software. We have to be the opposite of that acronymic stereotype. Users aren't idiots; they're experts in something we are not proficient in and vice versa.
Once in a while, we are on the receiving end of customer support, and these experiences can be real eye-openers. I remember one instance where we discovered an undocumented limitation of a mature third-party application.
ONE: Don't just "break the system"
I remember my very first QA task when I started here three years ago. I was testing a client’s internal employee management system. I had never tested anything before, so I asked my project manager, “How should I QA the software? What does that mean?” He answered simply: “Do your best to break the system.” Okay, I thought, should be easy enough. So, when I sat down at my computer, I opened the user management screen and did my best to mess with it – invalid email addresses (example: firstname.lastname@example.org, ned@winterfell, harryunderthestairs.com), phone numbers with too many or too few digits. And I made sure to document in Notepad every “error” I found this way.
After about an hour of this, I proudly sent my list to the developer. Look at all the bugs I found! A few minutes later, the programmer walked over to my desk and explained gently that these were not the only types of bugs I should be looking for. While it is worth knowing which fields catch invalid data types and which do not, this is only the beginning of the testing process.
"There are only two hard problems in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things." - Phil Karlton.
The above quote, while somewhat tongue in cheek, wears the ring of truth. Naming things is hard. Even when you put enormous effort into consistent and clear naming, you will invariably end up with some muddy and inconsistent caverns in your code. And when you are unfortunate enough to inherit code from someone (or multiple someones) who put no effort into their naming...You're in for a world of pain. If you have been programming for any length of time you know what I am talking about.