What is quality?

I just finished listening to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, abridged on Audible.

I didn’t like it. The narration was engaging but I got lost. It felt like intellectual wankery and it made me feel stupid for not already understanding the philosophical terms/frameworks used.

I don’t understand why you would divide human understanding into classical and romantic. Binaries aren’t useful for explaining complex human reasoning. The comment about, “maybe that’s why you see women riding bikes, but not ‘owning’ them?” rubbed me the wrong way, as a female motorbike owner who appreciates engineering too.

This makes the book inaccessible. I’m not the only person to think these thoughts about the book either.

It’s not my first adventure with philosophy, ethics was my favourite subject in my finance degree. I’ve learned through Philosophy Tube and crash course where they focus on accessible and easy to digest content, Zen feels high and mighty in comparison.

However there is an interesting question raised the book; what is quality? It even drives the protaganist in the book to insanity. As a software tester who is paid to help companies figure out software quality, I have some opinions, examples and stories to share.

Defining quality

From this reddit thread on the book:

Quality is the ability of something to perform its function

In the software testing space this definition is often used:

Quality is value to some person who matters

Many testers will say software quality is related to the lack of bugs. Ask a developer what is quality and they are more likely to talk about being reliable, performant, readable and testable. Quality is subjective, we all have a different understanding of what is good/high quality.

Sometimes to explain something it’s easier to describe what it isn’t or to provide examples of good and bad quality. As a mobile app tester there’s plenty of apps that I veiw as having amazing quality and some are luck lustre.

Measuring quality

Reviews are generally one of the easiest ways to get an indication of quality. Whether it’s average app store rating or crash rates, it’s not too hard to measure something to proxy in for 1 element of quality. I have this blog post on how to use an analytics framework to measure elements of quality for mobile apps.

Time spent in app

I spend a lot of time in TikTok, do I view it as a high quality app? Not really. The app serves it’s purpose and is really addictive. However I have found so many bugs in the video creation journey it leaves a bad impression.

The UI will constantly jank out on both mine and partners app. It’s still a well reviewed app on the app store and a huge global success but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to use as a content creator.

The amount of times I’ve been nearly finished editing a video, only to accidentally press back one too many times and have to start all over again is very frustrating.

Overall experience

If an app is a pleasant experience to use, makes you feel good about yourself and you keep coming back to it time and time again, this is an indication of high quality.

It reminds me of the nike run club app. It’s app to track your runs. It is one of the most heart warming in app experiences I’ve ever had. If you do any of the guided runs you’ll have a coach tell you they are proud of you when you start and even prouder when you finish.

I know this is the manufactured experience but it makes my brain chemistry go, “prrr, that feels nice” and it makes me feel so gosh darn good about myself.

Forced usage

Sometimes an app or a piece of software is forced upon us. There are no alternatives. Enterprise software anyone?

I recently went on a board game cruise with Princess cruises.

It was by far some of the best technology I’ve seen on holiday. We were given a madallion and the NFC technology felt like pure magic.

For example, your room door would open automatically when you were approaching your cabin, you could find anyone of your travel buddies while on board and it could be used to summon a drink anywhere. Cocktails delivered while in a hot tub was amazing.

However the app itself was a hot mess of quality. The order drink screen would constantly refresh and shoot you back to the beginining of the process, if you were 5 seconds away from adding a drink to your cart or browsing different categories there were plenty of frustrations to be felt with this bug. Connecting to the app the first time was a pain in the arse. Also frustrating to try and reconnect if you ever got booted from your session for some reason. Their reset password server was down for weeks during Chirstmas.

I understand how this happens, building new systems on top of legacy technology is very hard. I know. I’ve been there. It becomes a house of cards and the slightest error can bring everything down.

However there is also a certain level of resentment that builds up in users when they are forced to use software that isn’t enjoyable and there are no real alternatives.

Have you ever felt captive by the technology you had to use?

Have my projects been high quality?

I’ve worked on a variety of mobile apps and technologies. Do I think these apps are high quality? Some of them, yes I hold in high regard. Others have been a bit more meh/average but have still been useful and interesting to work on.

When I am paid to try to help teams find flaws in software it’s easy to view it as a bit meh. I can get a little jaded over how much bad quality software exists out there.

However a project doesn’t haven’t to be high quality accross the board for it to be high value to a business or people.

Do you have any projects you’ve been proud to work on? Or others where you felt like the quality was more average but it was still a good experience to work on?

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