So you made a mistake at work?
And the agony is killing you!
Well, at least, you now have an answer to a common interview question: What’s the biggest mistake you made at work? What did you learn from it?
Let’s set up a scenario for starters. I am at work, listening to my playlist and typing out the code I was asked to deliver, with full gusto, ahead of time. Just when I was thinking how awesome I am, an ominous mail arrives.
It says, I introduced a nasty bug in the source code (due to a silly, stupid mistake). I removed a line of code( initialization of a variable) I was not supposed to touch. I roll my eyes in disbelief. I am in denial at first. I check my perforce history. A quick diff, and there lies the damned code. Arrggghh….I remark.
The Emotional turmoil
How is this even possible? Why would I ever do that, What was I thinking? The feeling of awesomeness gives way to a sudden diametrically opposite feeling of being a loser. I think to myself, ”Why do such things happen to me?” Self-doubt and fear set in. My impostor syndrome takes control of me and I am thinking “ Aaah… They finally found out”. Sounds familiar?
Hang on with me for a while then.
I take solace in this John Wooden quote from this amazing article from Forbes:
If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.
It consoles me enough to start retracing my steps and internalizing what went wrong .
- So many iterations of code reviews?
- Each iteration comes with a list of probable improvements (which we welcome), making code changes inline with these suggestions, then testing every possible scenario.
- For every feature we go through this process at least 5 times. Yes, we improve the code massively every time.
I have worked really hard to make this code perfect, hence a silly mistake makes me feel helpless.
I do a quick Google search and read 25 Biggest And Most Embarrassing Mistakes Ever Made. The sadist in me is thinking, at least I didn’t make a Titanic mistake. I had loved the movie and the mention of Titanic brings back memories of the epic love story of Jack, Rose and the Unsinkable ship.
I am heart-broken.
That image of a ship breaking into two, the scene where Jack is freezing , Rose on the log of wood, and so many jumping into the water. In perspective, my mistake and my concerns seem small to me. Therefore, I let it go. I move on.
Letting it go
Maybe in this scenario, the famous quote by Alexander Pope should be like :
To err is human, to forgive yourself divine
Letting go of your doubts and fear and regaining your confidence is the biggest forgiveness you can give to yourself.
But not without learning from it and adapting so you never make that mistake again. Well, that takes courage! I take inspiration from economist and Financial Times columnist Tim Harford’s book, Adapt:Why Success always starts with Failure?
He rationalizes that there is a benefit to making mistakes and failing: the chance to get over our egos and come back with a stronger, smarter approach. And by reacting wrongly to the mistakes we make, we lose out on this benefit. So we should just accept them, learn and move on. Wow, Isn’t this some perspective?
Scott Berkun, in this article gives an alternative perspective on how to learn from mistakes. He emphasizes the importance of admitting our mistakes(If only to ourselves) rather than blaming others or the universe. The society has been instrumental in shaping our minds to shame any failure or mistake. But this thought process is an enemy of achievement. Because any difficult goal has frequent and inevitable setbacks. Therefore we depend a lot on overcoming and learning from our mistakes to achieve anything worth while.
My mistake taught me a simple yet powerful lesson: Do a Perforce diff of your workspace changes with the latest version of the file, before every check-in. Make sure with focused attention that every change is intended.
While this article was born out of my agony in making a simple mistake, it lead to a far more discerning outcome for me: I learnt a lot about the psychology of failures and mistakes. To that end, I am sharing a few more resources I curated for the research, which I think you might like: if you just made a mistake and want to make sense of it or just want to feel better.
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