back to article Microsoft's anti-bug breakthrough: Wire devs to BRAIN SCANNERS

Microsoft is developing a new approach to splatting bugs in software before they take down production systems. It involves wiring up programmers to sensors that record brain activity, track eye movement, and test how sweaty the engineers are. If the developer is stressed – bingo, they're probably reading some rather hairy …

  1. Charles Manning

    If the developer is stressed

    They're probably reading some rather hairy code


    they're under excessive management pressure to get the work done


    they're trying to use Visual Source Safe.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      VSS! there's a name to tickle the Cthulhu gland!

      I well remember the feeling of disoriented terror when I read the MS recommendation that a dev group with our size of team and codebase (10 and 100k SLOC) should run a "fix" pass at least once per week, which in our case required about 18 hours running on the server hosting the drive containing the rats' nest of directories which MS nonchalantly called a database.

      Happily enough Wikipedia says "The final version of the product, Visual SourceSafe 2005, retired from mainstream support on 10 July 2012 with extended support ending on 11 July 2017" so very soon it will be nothing more than a developer ghost story

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: VSS! there's a name to tickle the Cthulhu gland!

        You say that, and yet we're still using it... Sort of.

        Every time there's a big release a quest begins to track down all the things that need to be rebuilt, most of them are in the developers hands, but a few pieces of ancient long forgotten code are still held in source safe, access to which is only allowed to a small number of individuals, with only a handful in the company who know who these individuals are.

        Basically if these few people (I think there are two left) ever leave. We're fucked.

    2. Mpeler
      Paris Hilton

      Re: If the developer is stressed

      I think Micro$oft's plowed this field before, say, around April 1st......

      (I can see it now, Ballmer saying "No chairs were hurt in the making of this film.")

      Paris, because she syps, er, sips Espresso, Prosecco, Pink Champagne.....

      (we share your pagne? ) (sorry)

    3. MacGyver

      Re: If the developer is stressed

      "If the developer is stressed

      They're probably reading some rather hairy code"



      "Microsoft, our code only contains bugs written by the most confident programmers."

  2. petur

    Too complicated

    Just install a microphone and trigger on 'WTF'

    1. solo

      Re: Too complicated

      Even better, install microphone to the manager and trigger on "I'd do that in minutes"

      1. Lush At The Bar

        Re: Too complicated

        "It's only a five minute job."

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Not enough data

    If MS is going to go 'white-rat' on these poor coders, why not include a plethysmograph too? Then they can tell when unauthorized pr0n is being viewed...

    Paris, because.. just because.

    1. stucs201

      Re: unauthorized pr0n

      You have authorized pr0n where you work?

  4. LaeMing

    The trick will be in the feedback loop.

    ie: Bad code electrifies the electrodes.

    1. wowfood

      Re: The trick will be in the feedback loop.

      I am patenting this, all I need is a cool backronym involving Pavlov.

  5. harmjschoonhoven

    Re: Experimental Procedure

    IMHO the difference between run-of-the-mill programmers and an ace is so large that the experiment is useless.

  6. veti Silver badge
    Black Helicopters


    ... you could train that same Bayes classifier to look at the code itself. That would probably be easier, all things considered.

    Unless, of course, the goal is less to do with "spotting dodgy code" than with "reading people's minds".

    Or maybe this is just thinly-disguised market research from Microsoft. Actually, that strikes me as most likely. What sorts of code do devs most like to work with, and if you give them a free choice of software, what will they pick? - now that's valuable data.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Alternatively...

      you could train that same Bayes classifier to look at the code itself

      I doubt Naive Bayes would be much good for identifying suspect source-code constructs, beyond what static analysis tools already routinely catch. But it'd be interesting to experiment with more-powerful classifiers like Support Vector Machines or Maximum-Entropy Markov Machines or stacked neural networks1.

      On the other hand, it's such an obvious idea that there must be a pile of existing research. I'm on vacation and feeling lazy or I'd have a look.

      1The last are generally known as "Deep Learning", but that term is so stupid I avoid using it. Which is how you know I don't work for Google, where it's apparently mandatory.

  7. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    // shouldn't get here, but WTF

    If it wasn't for "Screw this, good enough!", many projects would never get done or they'd only get by done by people who don't see failure on the horizon. It's not always an Engineering problem and it's not always perfectly solvable, as most problems with obvious answers are already solved. The difference between good code and bad code is whether you clean up old problems or try to bury them.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: // shouldn't get here, but WTF

      If it wasn't for "Screw this, good enough!", many projects would never get done or they'd only get by done by people who don't see failure on the horizon

      I'd like to see solid evidence to support that conclusion. In my own experience - and research I've seen appears to agree - most bad code is developed in ways that are less efficient than implementing superior alternatives would be. Copy-pasta is a great example: it's often faster to prefactor at the first sign of reuse and abstract the problem away rather than duplicating the effort.

      Certainly servicing technical debt ("clean up old problems") is crucial, but it's also possible to avoid a lot of technical debt in the first place and use fewer, not more, resources in the process.

  8. Allan George Dyer
    Paris Hilton

    Wait - How are they planning to use this?

    In field-tests on one team of developers:

    Dilbert - Constant levels of high stress = code tagged as consistently bad

    Alice - Generally low stress, with occasional peaks off the scale

    Wally - Zero stress all the time = code tagged as perfect

    Next generation systems all coded by Wally.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wait - How are they planning to use this?

      Wally has the "top right quadrant" personality beloved of some organisations' management. The "positive" type - an optimist who never sees any problems on the horizon.

      The people who then dig the company out of Wally's holes have the "bottom right quadrant" personality. Natural worriers - usually denigrated as the "negative" type.

    2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Wait - How are they planning to use this?

      On the up side, if you're an exceptional programmer who's immune to stress then you're going to rake it in.

  9. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Legacy Systems........ are like Filing Cabinets on Steroids. They don't Fly Future Operations.

    Mined Mind Message to Microsoft Majoring Minions ..... Cut down on the Coke and ACID use. IT FCUKs Head Quarters.

    And Code isn't Code without Bugs Creating Opportunities and Pathways to Perfect IT ..... and thus is discovered and/or uncovered to be AIDefault Practical Feature and SMARTR Virtualisation Facility in Beta Programming of ProgramMING Projects and New Orderly World Order Systems for CHAOS..... Clouds Hosting Advanced Operating Systems for Global Operating Devices/Universal Virtual Forces/Immaculately Resourced Assets.

    ROTM ..... a Second Coming Production Project for Budding Cummings?

  10. T J

    Simplest solution...

    ...surely is just to remove their 'products' from all hardware, everywhere, and replace them with linux based ones?

  11. king of foo

    terry gilliam for nadella now...

    Shame he didn't write his memos for him...

  12. E_Nigma


    A buddy told me that, ages ago, in Denmark, they had a guy who'd watch the people coming to work in the morning and if some of them looked to be in a bad mood or stressed, he'd send them home. The reasoning was that it was cheaper to send a dev that's feeling under the weather home (without any reduction to his pay) than to later fix whatever he messes up in such a state.

    1. Tom 7

      Re: Interesting

      And yet most places I've worked they seemed to prefer you stressed to they eyeballs and overworked rather than productive. A macho boss was much more respected than a productive one.

      But the best work I've done has been when I've been largely left to my own devices - and not doing important code when hungover or ill as per your Denmark mate.

  13. Dan 55 Silver badge

    As seen in VS 2013

    "If we reduce the contrast on the display and make the fonts harder to read, the developer will be forced to apply more brainpower to read and understand the code and will be less likely to slip up as a result."

    See... they're doing it for our own good.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I used to use the "Whiskey" method when trying to find any really elusive coding bug that instinct said had to be "obvious" and "stupid". If my thinking hadn't slowed down enough to spot the subtle error after the third whiskey - then it was time to sleep. It was then up to my subconscious to fathom it out for when I awoke next day.

    It couldn't be used too often - as the body would soon reduce the effects of the alcohol. One particularly nasty problem was solved that way - but my boss wouldn't refund the cost of the whiskey.

  15. stu 4


    top marks for the shitty parody animated GIF of exploding head from scanners.

    I think that was the first ever computer 'video' I ever saw - on my amiga in 1987.

    I think it took a whole disk, might have been more than one to load it and then played back the 20 or 30 frames.

    It was awesome.

  16. NP-Hardass


    How often are bugs committed by someone who confidently thinks they have done it right or has overlooked something? To think that bugs are primarily created because people are stressed out seems a little naive, sort of like their Bayes classifier :P

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Or...

      Or you'll have people like me who will consistently stress "Will this work, what will it break" even when they haven't made any major changes.

      So far 3 years on the job, and I haven't injected any major defects yet. *Knocks on wood*

  17. Alister

    It's easy to tell if devs in our office are having trouble with the code - they're the ones shouting ARSEBISCUITS or SHITARSE and banging their heads on the desk...

  18. Ottman001

    Presumably Microsoft had to put real effort into finding some really bad code because they wanted to test thoroughly.

    I find this all very difficult to believe.

  19. Irongut

    If we reduce the contrast on the display and make the fonts harder to read, the developer will lose their eyesight in a few years.

    Fixed that for you MS. Now are you going to pay for glasses for everyone that uses Visual Studio 2020?

  20. Martin Budden Silver badge

    If they reduce the contrast on the display and make the fonts harder to read, I'll be distracted from effective problem-solving. I work best when comfortable.

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