Chinese Idiom Stories for Software Professionals: #35 A bird startled by the mere twang of a bowstring (惊弓之鸟)

Living in fear

Zhimin Zhan
4 min readOct 1, 2022

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Image credit: https://www.sohu.com/a/385232028_241009

This article is one of the “Chinese Idiom Stories for Software Professionals” series.

Story

Geng Ying was a famous archer in the State of Wei. He went sightseeing with the King of Wei. At that time, a bird was circling around in the sky, uttering sad and shrill cries now and then. The King looked up at it for a while and said to Geng Ying: “ Can you shoot that bird down?”

“I can shoot it down without using an arrow,” Geng Ying said.

After a while, the bird flew near. Geng Ying pulled his bow to the full and plucked the bowstring. At the sound, the bird fell to the ground before their feet.

The King of Wei said in surprise: “You can shoot down a bird without an arrow. Your skill in archery is really wonderful.”

Geng Ying said: “Your Majesty, this is not due to my good skill, but because this is a bird of bad luck. It wailed sadly and shrilly, and flew tiredly. It was already wounded, and for a long time could not find its companion. Therefore it couldn’t stand the least fright. As soon as I twanged my bow, it thought it had been shot and fell down of its own accord from the sky.”

Meaning

This idiom is used to describe those who frighten easily, due to past experiences.

Examples in Software Development

In software development, the most intensive time is towards to the release date. I witnessed and had been part of many what I call ‘release panic syndromes’. That is, with the deadline approaching, the team’s panic level rises. A minor issue would startle the team, “Oh, no”. As you can imagine, working in that atmosphere would only cause more issues.

Here is a typical scenario. Many defects were found from the last round of manual testing by the testers. The manager started prioritizing the defects (or adjusting some to features), and programmers rushed to fix just the critical ones. Testers restarted the…

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Zhimin Zhan

Test automation & CT coach, author, speaker and award-winning software developer. Help teams succeed with Agile/DevOps by implementing real Continuous Testing.