Greg Kogan


The Fun of Troubleshooting

Cartoon by Greg Kogan, published in Harvard Business Review.

“I should do something about that,” I thought. A client’s Google Analytics account was missing data for the past 15 days, and I just noticed it first thing in the morning…

I decided it’s worth sparing a few minutes to identify the scope of the issue — what data is missing and how much — then plan to fix it at an appropriate time…

Some minutes later I learned that 15 days of data was missing, limited to the marketing site and not the blog or app. “Let me at least rule out some obvious causes…” Would be a shame to let this problem go on for several more days if it could be fixed in a few minutes!

Those first ideas didn’t work, but ruling them out let me hone in on three areas of the analytics stack. Might as well try to isolate the issue so that I know where to look when I really sit down to fix this…

Cartoon by Greg Kogan

Some more time later I figured out the problem was originating from Segment — a tool that collects analytics data and distributes it to other destinations such as Google Analytics. With each packet of data (a “hit”), it includes the URL where the hit took place. But it was sending relative paths instead of the full URL, and Google Analytics was rejecting these hits because it was configured to expect a full URL like and not /path/

Then I was curious why this happened. After all, nobody changed the settings in Google Analytics or Segment. The only flurry of activity in recent weeks was on the site itself. Off I went to look at the site’s commit history in GitHub…

An unknown number of minutes later, I see it: Deep in the list of edits, there’s a seemingly harmless change to how the pages’ canonical URL tags are generated. Instead of showing the full URL they were changed to show just the page’s relative path…

I wrote, pushed, and verified a simple fix with the joy and excitement of a runner sighting the finish line.

A quick fix that was a lot of fun to find.

The final piece of the puzzle was in place, and I was now looking at the completed assembly with miniature pride. If it was any easier then it’d be a chore; any harder and it’d be a frustrating distraction. This problem had just the right-sized steps for conquering, with joy as their reward.

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