Welcome back to our monthly series Tech Talk where we explore the origin of tech words!
"There's a bug in the system," is a phrase you've probably heard a lot when speaking with IT. It acts as a frustrating catch-all tere. Sometimes it means, "I don't know what's causing the issue, but I need something to blame to get you off my back." And other times, it means that there is a known flaw in the software causing the problem. You never know when to trust this word.
There's a fun story about where the term “computer bug” came from. One day Grace Hopper, a famous computer scientist, was trying to figure out why her computer wasn’t working. Yes, even famous computer scientists get computer problems. She finally identified the problem…an actual moth had gotten inside her computer. She then literally “debugged” her computer and taped the moth inside a logbook for posterity. While this event did occur, it’s not the origin of the word bug. (Grace Hopper also didn’t find the moth. She just enjoyed telling the story.)
We know that Thomas Edison used the term “bug” in the late 1800s to describe flaws in his inventions. In the 1900s, “bug” was widely used in engineering fields from mechanical, electrical, and computer to describe human made design flaws with unknown origins. Linguists aren’t clear on exactly why “bug” came to be used to describe flaws in engineering, but there is a suspicion that it came from terms like bugbear or bugaboo. A bugbear or bugaboo were small little monsters like a goblin or gremlin who would cause mischief and havoc. Basically, these smart engineers refused to admit they made a mistake and faulted mythical creatures for the problem.
So even 200 years ago, people blamed some unknown imaginary third party for a problem like today’s IT professionals often do. But at NextPoint IT, we strive to only use the term "bug" to mean an actual known issue with software or hardware. Otherwise, people start to distrust us if we use “bugs” as an excuse for not knowing the answer. We'll own situations where we don't know, but we'll also promise to figure it out. Honest communication is the keystone at NextPoint IT.
Credit: Tim Ludden