Just because you failed doesn't mean you weren't right

And this is why we test the tests

Who, Me? We take a break from busted backups in today's Who, Me? in favor of laser-guided missiles and a reminder to check every element in your test plan.

Our story takes us back many decades, when laser-guided ordnance was new and our hero, who we will call "Herman", was working with both a well-known military organization and an equally well-known German manufacturer.

For the uninitiated, "this sort of weapon follows a laser beam projected by an airborne or less commonly ground source laser onto the target," said Herman.

In those days the technology was in its infancy, and a demonstration was needed to show that it would work as expected. The demonstration would involve six of Germany's finest military pilots, a large and empty Italian test range, a tower housing the German team and their laser projector (aimed precisely into the middle of the test range), and a calibration tower with a precision theodolite, run by the Italian range team, to ensure the trajectory and targeting was as accurate as advertised.

There was also a very senior Luftwaffe officer, issuing orders to pilots over a communications link.

Herman recalled: "In flies the first aircraft, releases [dummy] bomb, lands in a satisfactory cloud of dust... But from the Italians in the observation tower came the unwanted word: 'Missed!'"

The officer was not happy. Again and again the pilots tried, and again and again came the response from the Italians in the observation tower: "Missed!"

With every dummy bit of ordnance now used, the project was clearly at risk of failure and rethinking would be needed. Grim-faced, the Germans retreated to their production facilities with the remains of the dummy ordnance and the projector which had so singularly failed to impress. Six very expensive months passed during which time the hardware and software was redesigned and rebuilt.

"Finally the flying circus was back," said Herman, "with the same officer in charge for the same setup."

Again the first aircraft went in. Again the first dummy bomb was dropped. And again came the word over the radio: "Missed!"

Rather than burn through more runs, the officer instructed his pilots to circle and await further instructions. He stomped over to the calibration tower, climbed the ladder to the shack on top, and went in to check on the Italian team.

He emerged seconds later, "jumping up and down in rage, shaking his fists in the air."

"What he found was this. Two Italian calibration officers; a table pushed against an open window, on which were a heap of comics, propping up at one end a broomstick into which a nail had been driven at each end, and which constituted the 'precision sighting device'."

We imagine there was some form of German exclamation uttered before the officer asked: "Where is your theodolite?"

"A shrug of Italian shoulders was the response. 'It broke three years ago. We sent [it] to Milano, but it never came back...'"

There are few languages that can hold a candle to German when it comes to angry shouting, but have you ever struggled to understand why validation was failing, only to realize the problem was in the test and not in your carefully crafted code? Tell us your tale with an email Who, Me? ®

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