I had to do some production work with DynamoDB this morning. It wasn’t particularly complicated work: run a query, get a couple of rows, change two attributes on each one. I could have used Dynamo-Browse to do this. But I didn’t. Despite building a tool designed for doing these sorts of things, and using it constantly for all sorts of non-prod stuff, I couldn’t bring myself to use it on a production database.

I’m wondering why this is. It’s not like I have any issues with using Dynamo-Browse for the non-prod stuff. Sure there a bugs, and things that the tool can’t do yet, but I haven’t (yet) encountered a situation where the tool actually corrupted data. I also make sure that the code that touches the database is tested against a “real” instance of DynamoDB (it’s actually a mock server running in Docker).

Yet I still don’t have the confidence to use it on a production database. And okay, part of me understands this to a degree. I’ve only been using this tool for a handful of months, and when it comes to dealing with production data, having a sense of caution, bordering on a small sense of paranoia, is probably healthy. But if I can’t be confident that Dynamo-Browse will work properly when it matters the most, how can I expect others to have that confident?

So I’d like to get to the bottom of this. After a bit of thought, I think there are three primary causes of my lack of confidence here.

The first is simple: there are features missing in the tool that are needed to do my job. Things such as running a query over an index, or the ability to impose a conditional check on updates. This is a legitimate concern in my opinion: if you need to do something, and Dynamo-Browse doesn’t support it, then you can’t use Dynamo-Browse to do that thing, plain and simple. It’s also the easiest concern to address: either add the feature, or say that feature is unsupported and don’t expect people to use Dynamo-Browse if they need it.

I think the second cause is a lack of insight into what the tool is actually doing. Even though I built the tool and tested it during development, there’s always this feeling of uncertainty in the back of my head while I’m using it when the stakes are high. That feeling of “when I do this, although I think the tool will behave this way, how will the tool actually behave?” Part of this, I think, comes from a decade and a half of being burned by technology as part of my job, and growing a healthy (?) sense of distrust for it.1

I’m sure some of this will resolve itself as I continue to use Dynamo-Browse, but the only approach I know of gaining assurance that the tool is working as intended is if the tool tells me what it’s doing. Logging will help here, but I think some features that provide the user the ability to check what’s going to happen prior to actually doing it would be useful as well.

The third cause is probably a lack of controlled end-to-end testing. There does exists a suite of unit tests with a decent (maybe not good, but decent) level of coverage, but it does not extend to the UI layer, which is a little problematic. It might be that more testing of the application as a whole would help here.

This means more manual testing, but it might also be possible to setup some automated testing of the entire tool end-to-end here as well. What’s going for me is the fact that Dynamo-Browse runs in the terminal, and is responsible for rendering the UI and handling the event loop instead of palming this off to the OS. Looking at some of the features that Bubble Tea offers, it might be possible to run the application headless, and simulate use by pumping in keyboard events. Verifying that the UI is such may be a little difficult, but what I can test is what is actually read from and written to the database, which is what I’m mostly interested in.

I’m still unsure as to what I’ll do to address these three causes of concern. This is still a hobby project that I do in my spare time, and some of the mundane tasks, like more manual testing, sound unappealing. On the other hand, I do want to use this tool for my job, and I want others to use it as well. So I can’t really complain that others choose not to use it if I cannot feel comfortable using it when it matters most. So I probably should do some of each. And who knows, I may actually get some enjoyment out of doing it. I certainly would get some enjoyment from knowing that others can rely on it.

  1. Someone once said that an insane person is one that does the same thing twice and expects different results. That someone has never worked in technology. ↩︎