Tribute to Software Quality

The world lost a fellow named Watts Humphrey in the month of October.  Mr. Humphrey was known as the father of software quality, a topic that for most people is unlikely to stir strong emotion, and I suppose that could mean he excelled in his mission.  If the phrase “software quality” conjured up for most people feelings of anger or disregard, then perhaps good old Mr. Humphrey should not have felt proud of his nickname.  Instead, and especially in the last 10 years or so, software quality has been so important to world commerce, human health and safety, and human leisure that one can seriously ask the question, “Without optimal software quality, what would we have?”  In helping us arrive at this point, where we take for granted that things just work, we should hit pause and ponder for a second how remarkable that is.  When we start our cars, or turn on our iPods, or order up a movie on cable, we don’t close our eyes, cross our fingers, and hope for the best.  We may do that when we watch a shuttle launch but I think that anxiety has more to do with the explosive that is set to be ignited than it is about the quality of the software that is controlling it.  But for the everyday computerized tasks and machines of our lives, we don’t think about the behind-the-scenes process at all.  We take for granted that these things will produce the result we expect.  Yes, I know about software bugs but I also know computing and computing processes are more sophisticated than they have ever been, and increasingly glitches get fixed before we even know anything happened.  For all of that, we can thank people like Watts Humphrey who toiled away in unglamorous occupations, thinking of logical ways to improve how machines and people can work better together.