Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Souza's law and the difficulty of providing quality technical support

I spent a year of my postdoc writing SLControl, a fairly sophisticated piece of software for acquiring and analyzing data to do with muscle mechanics. It implemented real-time control loops with 100 ┬Ás latencies and allowed us to perform completely new types of experiments.

Writing SLControl was a good investment of time; I, or somebody in my lab, has used it almost every day since 2001. However, providing high quality support has been a challenge. The software does complex things and it's normally connected to even more complicated experimental apparatus. Trouble-shooting requires a lot of experience.

Another problem, I discovered is that people sometimes want to use SLControl for things that it wasn't originally intended for. I discovered this early in the development process when somebody called me up to ask how to fit a 3 parameter exponential to their experimental data. Their measurements had nothing to do with muscle mechanics (SLControl's niche) - the data was just some list of numbers from a fairly random experiment. Maybe it was to do with flow in a river or something. The person requesting help had googled "3 parameter exponential", found a match on the SLControl website, and decided to call me for help.

That, in a roundabout way, gets us to Souza's law. Every time you include a text field on a website, somebody will eventually use it to ask for tech support :-)

Read more on the brilliant MathWorks blog.


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