Beta karma or “My name is Bill”

I’m not a software developer but I dabble a bit in scripting. My Exchange setup script for Entourage has gotten me a few nice remarks and I even learned at Macworld that it’s being used by folks at Conde Nast and the New York Times.

Back in August I wrote an updated version of the script, version 3.0, and E-mailed it to some folks who had contacted me originally looking for assistance or just sending me kudos. They got first crack at beta testing this new version. One of these folks had even asked me earlier for the changes that I had made. I got responses from everybody saying, “Thanks!” or “I’ll test when I can.” Great!

A few months later and several requests to others to help me test and I still hadn’t heard from anyone about their experiences. I guess karma didn’t want me to write the update.

Beta testing must suck for developers. What they want to hear is, “It breaks when I do this.” What they get is either silence or “Hey, can you put in features X, Y and Z?”

One developer of a product that I’ve helped beta test before, we’ll call it “Widget”, recently said:

To be honest, we’ve never gotten very good Widget testing out of the smaller private betas. Most of you aren’t regular Widget users and/or willing to beta test Widget’s features against your work servers. When we set-up a Widget server for the Widget 3.0 beta, we got almost no Widget-related bugs from the testers using that server.

Well, I know a little bit about how that developer feels. I even posted a message about my updated Exchange setup script to a local user group asking if anyone wanted to test. I still got nothing.

Fast forward a few months to late December when I received this message from another company that makes “Gadget”:

We wanted to let you know that we will be running a Beta program for the upcoming 7.0 release of Gadget. We are looking for participants and are writing to ask if you are interested.

I signed up and in a few minutes had the link to download the software. I started testing that day with some live production work that I knew I could afford to redo if necessary. By the end of the day I had sent in just three bug reports. Nothing major. Just “It breaks when I do this.”

That evening I received this from the primary developer of the Gadget software:

Hey Bill-

It has been a very long week here, and I wanted to take the time to thank you for the bug reports you submitted today. As strange as this may sound, they’ve been the highlight of my week.

Thanks for helping us out. Your level of detail and attention to detail are wonderful.

I received that message on a Friday, so I can only assume that if my messages were the highlight of his week then that poor guy must have had a really shitty week. Over the next few weeks I submitted about 20 different problems in all.

Earlier this year at Macworld I was speaking with the person who had invited me to the Gadget beta and he told me that I had single-handedly saved their beta program. Their developer’s problem had been just like my own. Little to no feedback. For the first time I kind of understood how the Widget guy must have felt.

Then karma stepped in.

A few days ago I received a request from a guy named Mike for a modification to my Exchange setup script to make it more compatible with Exchange Server 2007. Not only did I send him a tweaked version of my old script but I also sent him a tweaked version of my new script. I did this Thursday morning before work. Just a few minutes of work.

To my surprise I received this just a few hours later:


Thanks for your very quick response.

I’m very impressed with the new version which is what I have tried out tonight.

I have two small issues that I thought you’d might like to hear about.

Karma had done me a solid.

Not only had someone tested my script but he had also given me some great feedback. I replied to him:

Hi Mike!

You don’t know how happy I am to have you test and hear your results. Thank you so much!

Coincidentally, the day I replied was also a Friday and Mike had just made my week. Now, I knew how the Gadget guy had felt.

From now on, whenever I accept a beta invitation I’ll make sure the developer gets at least a few bug reports just in case he’s having a bad week. That’s what karma’s all about.

I’m looking forward to having my new script tested and posted in a few days.

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