My Most Embarrassing Bug ...

6 min read

My day started like many others at Epic except that it was a support week for me. I’d grown more capable and could deftly handle most support calls from customers with no assistance and I no longer suffered from insta-panic when the front desk notified me that I had a parked call from a customer.

Take a deep breath, grab a pad and pen and steady myself for maximum attention mode. “Hi, this is Aaron."

"Hey Aaron, this is Dave.” (It really was Dave, one of the primary contacts from one of our customers. He passed away 11 years ago unfortunately 😢). He continued, “I just finished with the install and everything went well except I found something unusual that may be a problem.”

My stomach tightened and my pulse quickened. Weeks earlier, I had done the Cohort release packing and testing, so I was disappointed that I missed something.

DevOps and Stuff

During the period I was on Cohort teams were individually responsible for the distribution of their software to customers. There wasn’t a “Release Team.” My built-in predictive algorithm suggests you are considering how this isn’t just early “DevOps and Stuff!” 😃

Releasing Wasn’t Easy or Simple

There were some core utilities supplied by the Foundations team to export and import various MUMPS things including routines, global data, and Chronicles related data/meta-data. It was functional. It wasn’t easy or simple.There wasn’t any scripting or automation. There was no CI/CD. (Well, there was Carl Dvorak, but he didn’t pack releases then.) Continuous and automated deployments during the development cycle remained an unfulfilled dream for many years.

We tested the software on all of the system types used by customers, including 2 flavors of Unix, VMS, and DataTree. Fun times! (As there were only 5 Cohort customers, it was bad-luck that there was that much variety in MUMPS/OS combinations)

Each release step required detailed documentation so that the correct processes were performed exactly as specified. Pages and pages of hand-typed instructions in an editor with less-than-markdown formatting capabilities.

As part of a release, we’d MANUALLY analyze each completed project (and had moved successfully to a “build” environment). Anything new was packed and double checked (insiders: a shout-out to my old friends ETAN, ^%ZeRSAVE, ^%ZeRLOAD, ^%ZeGSAVE, and ^%ZeGLOAD!!).

Any single release could include hundreds of ingredients. Leaving one item out could result in a failed release and breaking a production environment at worst, or causing a bug in the application. (Yes, customers would ideally do a backup FIRST …). Thankfully, there was no rambling preamble in the documentation like websites with recipes these days.

For Epic staff that started after the mid 1990s, they enjoyed the new “integrated” release cycle.

Multiple Releases To Rule Them All

Before the single integrated Epic release became common — every Epic team released their software when they were ready. It wasn’t quite controlled chaos, but it was often frustrating (RPGers: maybe chaotic neutral?). For applications that were integrated in some way (like Resolute Billing with Cadence and Cohort), the lack of an integrated release was annoying and confusing for customers and Epic internally. While not a constant source of consternation, the challenges of non-synchronized release schedules included two common issues:

  • Foundations/Chronicles version dependencies (App A was developed on Foundations 1.5, yet App B needed 1.6 — App A hadn’t been thoroughly tested with 1.6).
  • App A needed App B integration and was ready, but App B wouldn’t be installed for an unknown number of months.

The multiple Epic releases for different apps also impacted customers as they had to manage and schedule multiple releases. It wasn’t great.

What Had I Done????

In any case, I’d done the release packing, so it was on me for whatever had happened if the issue was related to my packing.

Dave seemed like he was in a good mood, so whatever he’d discovered wasn’t an emergency. The conversation went something like this:

“So, I discovered something very odd when I was looking at the new SQL support that I wasn’t expecting and also wasn’t documented. I was looking through the included SQL queries that were included and we will definitely will use them. Except …”

Here it is. I tentatively acknowledged, “yes?"

"I found a few queries named something like this:“


I was aghast.

Internal Only

Items prefaced with X_ had been a convention for years for internal only stuff that would not be released to customers. I’d mistakenly packed up the X_* stuff from development and shipped it as part of the release. X_ATC_ was the prefix I used for my items (another convention at Epic was to use your initials as an alias rather than your name).

Yay me.

Me: “Oh! That’s a mistake! Those are my test SQL queries I use when I’m exploring ideas. I rename them when I’m done. But, I definitely didn’t mean to include them.” I likely apologized way way too much.

He went on to list a few more that I’d included. But, the fact that I’d managed to include my test queries … slap forehead. I know there wasn’t anything embarrassing in any of them — they were just my playground queries.

”You can delete them or enjoy them.” I had already opened the editor to see what was in them. I may have never typed as fast as I had at that moment: what in Judy’s name had I shipped? (It was just as I said — just test queries that worked or were commented out).

We both had a good laugh about the mistake. OK, laughed with him but was not feeling the humor. It took me quite a while to get over the blunder. I hadn’t realized at the time that he was trying to be as serious as he could at the start of the call.

I got a minor scolding from my TL as it was a non-serious oversight and my own embarrassment served as a sufficient life lesson.

I suspect that I inadvertently ignored the test queries during release packing as I was so accustomed to seeing them everywhere — they became part of the working system. I had queries everywhere when I was testing the new Epic SQL functionality. I did write a release tool for the next release to delete the X_* queries if they were still present.

I thankfully did not repeat this mistake again. What’s your most do-no-harm embarrassing software bug?