Mobile Development and Aggressive Testing: An Interview with Josh Michaels

[interview]

JM: The game started making satanic statements to their child and the person was concerned that someone had hacked into my code or hacked into the Ow My Ball! server in the cloud and had injected these satanic messages into the app. In reality, what had happened was that the game includes a sound effects recording feature. It's actually a feature I'm really proud of that lets you record yourself yelling Ow My Balls! so that when the character yells it it's you instead of the character.

JV: It's very interactive.

JM: This is a really neat feature. It's one of the first times any video game let you record your own sound effects. What seemingly happened is that one of this person's friends or family members recorded these messages into the game seemingly as a joke to annoy these people the same way they think that I annoyed them. There's a completely logical and rational explanation for how these satanic messages got in the game, but it's not that I put them there.

I had a bunch of interactions with this person and initially tried to calm him down and just tell her here's what wrong, there's a sound effects recorder. That made her even more defensive because now I'm pointing the finger at her family and friends as the people who are putting satanic messages in. I'm not trying to point the finger at them. I'm just like that's who did it. Someone who has access to their phone did it. It's pretty cut and dry how it went down.

JV: You have to explain this predicament to this person.

JM: Yeah. I can't come up with a way to explain that it's not offending them and at which point I started to basically think that this is someone who's screwing around with me because this whole thing is so fantastical. It's just so hard to believe that this person's perspective is real and at this point they're seeing that I'm the devil and that I'm injecting satanic messages into their kid's software. I basically broke down and sent a reply that was seventy-two point red font: I am the Beelzebub. I thought I was going to get a laugh out of it because I figured that whoever was trolling me was going to be like “Oh, he gets it. He gets it's a troll. He's playing along.”

JV: High-fives all around.

JM: It would be cool this guy gets it. It turns out I didn't get it because it was a real person. Later I went and looked him up on Facebook because that seemed like well maybe I could find him there and there's pictures of this woman and her family and then it was like oh man, that hurts.

JV: Oh my gosh. Time stands still; your heart stopped.

JM: When you see the person's face and you realize that they're human and it's not someone playing a prank on you but someone who really believed that their phone had been possessed by the devil. Look, I'm not going to judge that perspective. I guess it's possible, but in this particular case I think it was a pretty good joke by whoever played the prank initially. It just ended up blowing up in my face.

I learned from that that I should never, never mess around with the customers, assume that they're trolling me even if I think that the odds that it's a troll is really, really high because sometimes it's really hard to tell what's really and what's fake but you got to give people the benefit of the doubt.

JV: Definitely. Did anything good ever happen as a result?

JM: I got to tell the story to a lot of people. I guess it's probably not that ethical when I think about it. When it was happening I tweeted out the email on my Twitter account and got re-tweeted by a ton of big name developers. At the time, I tweet it I thought it was someone pranking me. I hadn't figured out it was someone real. It was funny that all these developers are re-tweeting it and that we could all relate, but when it turned out to be real the fact that it had reach so many people started to bug me more. I guess I'm making a penance by going around the country giving this talk now saying how bad it made me feel that this happened.

JV: It's important though. It's an important story to tell.

JM: It is important. On the other end of it there had been Magic Window reviews that have said stuff to the effect of thank you for letting Jesus flow through you to create this magical piece of software. If I got to deal with the positive I had to get the negative too, right?

JV: Totally. All right, Josh. Hey, thank you for taking time out of your day to talk with us.

JM: Thanks for having me.

JV: Yeah. Great talk. All right. See you around.

JM: Later.

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Jonathan Vanian's picture Jonathan Vanian

Jonathan Vanian is an online editor who edits, writes, interviews, and helps turn the many cranks at StickyMinds, TechWell, AgileConnection, and CMCrossroads. He has worked for newspapers, websites, and a magazine, and is not as scared of the demise of the written word as others may appear to be. Software and high technology never cease to amaze him.

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