If you are a developer, it’s inevitable. You’re going to make a mistake throughout your career. The tech industry is fast-paced, and a lot depends on the smallest of details. So, when you make that mistake, how do you effectively handle it, and minimize the damage caused?
In the spirit of being relatable, let’s start by discussing one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made throughout my four years as a developer at my current company. The incident occurred when our company was testing a new product with Google. To ensure everything rolled out smoothly, we were meticulous and spent months in the testing phase. Once the product was live, it appeared to have been rolled out without a hitch. Keyword, “appeared.” Weeks after the launch, it became obvious that there was an issue, which leads me to my first piece of advice:
Problem-solving at our company is a team sport. When the stakes are high and minutes matter, that is when we are expected to communicate openly, clearly, and honestly. At this moment, that is exactly what I did in order to pinpoint the issue as quickly as possible. While it might be human nature to hide your shortcomings, you have to bury that instinct deep inside of you in order to act in the best interest of the company.
Finding a solution is going to look different for every problem that arises - sometimes I am able to resolve issues within moments, other times there are third parties involved and the timeframe is simply out of my control. That is exactly what happened in this situation. Once the issue was pinpointed, it was a mad dash to get the issue resolved as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, we were at the grace of Google’s schedule, so the fix was not immediate.
Unlike our typical fires, the effect of this fire, unfortunately, proved to be more impactful. While I don't suggest dwelling on your mistakes, reflecting on them is important for growth. Once there was a clear path forward, the CEO and I sat down and talked. We took the time needed to understand how this mistake was able to happen so that we can prevent similar situations from taking place in the future. I know what you’re thinking, “Did you get fired? Demoted? A stern talking to?” None of that. As far as consequences go, that’s not what our leaders are about when they know you’ve followed proper testing protocols and were meticulous about your work.
Before you can learn from your mistakes, you have to accept full responsibility for your role in the outcome. Although some said to me, “Oh that mistake could have happened to anyone!” I knew that the error ultimately was my fault. That is why when it happened and I realized the scope of the situation, I took full responsibility and apologized to the entire team that day. Beyond that, not a single individual made me feel bad about the situation. Everyone was extremely supportive and sent me kind messages and even shared articles that showed developers making major screw-ups at other companies, we’re talking about deleting entire production databases.
If you take away one thing from my experience, I encourage you to not let your mistakes go to waste. What I mean by this is that you should take this opportunity to become better at your job and ensure you never repeat the same one again. Remember, you do not have to stop at self-improvement, don’t be afraid to share your experience with your peers. Now that I am in a leadership position at my company, I do my best to be as transparent as possible. What I’ve found is people respect the fact that you take accountability for your mistakes and appreciate that you’re willing to swallow a little bit of your ego to help them avoid making the same errors in the future.