Software bugs cost more than double Eurozone bailout
Cambridge UK research from the university’s Judge Business School and local company Undo Software has highlighted the enormous cost of one of the world’s most glaring technology taboos.
The Judge research, conducted in collaboration with Undo Software as part of the MBA programme, showed that, on average, software developers spend 50 per cent of their programming time finding and fixing bugs.
When projecting this figure onto the total cost of employing software developers, this inefficiency is estimated to cost the global economy $312 billion every year.
Greg Law, CEO of Undo Software said: “To put this in perspective, since 2008 Eurozone bailout payments to Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain have totalled $591bn. This is less than half the amount spent on software debugging over that same five-year period.”
Undo has created new technology that helps developers who write code for Linux (though Windows is on our screens, Linux is everywhere else, from our phones to the backbone of the internet). Undo's technology records in very fine detail everything that a program does and, much like CCTV, allows the developer to rewind through the recording to exactly where their program went wrong.
The company calls this technology reversible debugging. Researchers at the Judge Business School conducted a survey and found that respondents who used Undo's reversible debugging technology spent an average of 26 per cent less time debugging.
Greg Law said: “I find it astonishing that so few seem to care about the costs of software development: it's such a huge drag on our industry and on the wider economy.
“I guess many just view it as an inherent part of software development, but it need not and should not be so. It's like debugging is some kind of taboo within the industry. No-one wants to admit they have a problem.”
Law says the truth is that software developers are only human. When writing complex code, they make errors, meaning their code generally doesn't work first time, or when it does latent bugs might raise their heads in the future.
The process of correcting code to make it work is called debugging. One reason debugging takes so long is because it's hard to locate the root cause of an issue. Computers execute billions of instructions a second and finding the one defective instruction is like finding a needle in a haystack.
Law says that without intervention, the problem is only set to get worse. Sustained software industry growth means the current $312bn will soar in the next decade. According to Bloomberg industries, between 2007 and 2011, the software industry grew by 34, 38 and 63 per cent in the US, UK and China, respectively.
Over the same time period, there has also been a global rise in programmer wages and an increasing need for customised software, putting upward pressure on the cost of employing a programmer, Law added.
He said: “The research conducted at the Judge Business School brings to light a problem all software developers are familiar with, and yet one that sees managers, politicians and the press turn their heads in boredom – at least until now.
“Knowing the cost of bugs is equal to $312bn a year – a figure which is only set to rise – is bound to grab attention. Technologies that reduce debugging time, such as reversible debuggers, mean developers will no longer be driven mad by killer bugs and have the potential to make a real impact on the global economy.”
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Greg Law