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Thoughts on quality engineering

Throughout my career, I’ve noticed that quality/test engineering is usually seen as a bottom-of-the-barrel discipline, something that someone should want to be promoted out of rather than someplace to end up. I find that really strange.

It takes a lot of skill to look at other peoples' code and write tests to exercise it and determine correctness, and to do it well. And to have exacting standards about code quality and testability of the code in the first place.

Nearly everywhere I’ve worked, though, test engineers have been incredibly junior and not particularly skilled. Which made it part of a self-fulfilling vicious cycle; test engineers do poor-quality work (and don’t seem to bring much value to the actual product development), so low-calibre programmers end up being put in those roles, and so then they continue to do poor-quality work. Test engineering seems to be treated as glorified QA in most places.

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Keeping it personal

I just read this great essay by Matthias Ott. It does a great job of summarizing the state of affairs of blogging and social media, and how we can try to escape the current orbit to get back to where the web was meant to be.

I especially like the bit about “Don’t do it like me. Do it like you.” Because that is exactly why I’ve been building Publ the way I have; I have specific goals in mind for how I manage, maintain, and organize my site, and these goals are very different than what other existing blogging and site-management software has in mind. The fact that I post so many different kinds of content and that they need different organizational structures to make sense makes this a somewhat unique problem. I’d like to think that Publ is a very general piece of web-publishing software, but it’s probably so general because I have such specific needs. Which makes for an interesting paradox, I suppose.

I guess what I’m saying is that I want to see more types of web-based publishing where the schema and layout fit the content, not the other way around. But it also needs to be able to interoperate with other stuff, while still making sense from a producer-consumer UX perspective.

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Mastodon instance rambling

Lately most of my social networking has been via Mastodon, which is basically an open source, semi-distributed equivalent to Twitter. When I first joined a few years ago I got an account on the flagship instance, but not much later ended up switching to queer.party. Unfortunately, queer.party has had several scaling issues – similar to a lot of the other small instances – and while it hasn’t gone down entirely, it’s so backlogged that it’s gotten to be pretty much useless.

On Mastodon there’s a general feeling that anyone with a mastodon.social address isn’t savvy because they don’t “get” Mastodon, that the whole point to it is that it’s distributed and you don’t have to be on a single central instance and so on. But the problem is that most of the instances – and there’s quite a lot of them – aren’t run in a way that can be expected to scale over time.

Most instances are maintained as a spare-time thing by someone, but instance management is more and more becoming a full-time job. I am incredibly grateful that Maffsie is willing to run the instance even on that basis, don’t get me wrong! But all the same I’d like to be on an instance where it doesn’t regularly go down or have massive backlogs (7 hours, at present) or random weird federation problems.

The problem with Mastodon in this case is that any Mastodon instance, regardless of the user count (or a user limit), will continue to grow without bounds for as long as it’s being used, and as the ActivityPub network grows, the amount of stuff that every instance needs to keep track of will grow too.

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