This isn’t so much a complaint as a set of observations: Sometimes, as a webdev, diagnosing and fixing issues on a live site in production gives me sympathy for NASA scientists dealing with remote space probes. And, that’s because I generally don’t have direct access to the servers. Instead, my access is mediated through sysadmins whose primary communication channel is trouble tickets. (Occasionally, I’ll be lucky enough to have someone I can pester more directly, but that’s a privilege that I try really hard not to abuse.)

So, I build my own replicas of production sites, as best as I can. I deploy exploratory rovers into those environments, and try to account for what could happen based on everything I know up to this point. Once I’ve done all I can to prepare, I fire up the comms dish and beam out a request to the distant probe. This takes time because I have to wait until the receiver is in alignment, and there’s a transmission & reply delay due to distance. (In other words, I file a bug and wait for someone to pick it up. That takes awhile, because we’re all busy people, and I’m a telecommuter who can’t just go tap someone on the shoulder.)

I cross my fingers and hope I’ve built up a good-enough model of the remote environment, and maybe I’ll find that my hypothesis will be validated. If not, well, then I at least hope I haven’t broken anything, and hope that there’s new information in the reply that I can assimilate into my replica environment here back at home for an improved next attempt.

But, I’m not entirely sure how to improve this situation. If I had direct access to production servers, I’d be able to do more. However, if I had that access, I’d be expected to do more. You know, like wear a pager and wake up at 4am to fix an alarm condition. I’ve done that job in the past, and I don’t envy anyone who has it now.

There are also, I imagine, trust and confidentiality issues: even though I write the code, I’m not necessarily qualified to be in contact with certain kinds of sensitive data on a daily basis. (And by not qualified, I mean not bound by a certain class of contractual or legal obligations and not subject to certain kinds of training. I’ll say you can trust me, but trust is sometimes a formalized thing.)

Still, some days I like to imagine that what I’m doing is trying to debug the behavior of a robot in orbit around Mars. It keeps me from putting too many dents into my desk with my forehead.