Developers & The Art Of Being Wrong

By | January 10, 2011

In my position as a development manager, I am privileged to lead a small group of talented and bright people. Part of the fun of my position is the continual struggle to balance everyone’s strengths and weaknesses (including my own) against a workload that changes based on the needs of the business that we are in. One of the things that makes this easier for me is the fact that my team has done a great job of mastering the art of being wrong.

Artistry Of A Different Bent

We all, as developers, give a lot of lip service to the artistry with which we inform our code. There is great merit in that – it is one of the things that keeps me passionate about what I do. But this artistry and passion is near worthless in the face of not being able to be wrong gracefully, even exuberantly. There is no equal interchange of ideas with someone who is always right. In our field, it is too easy to hide behind our IDEs, in our cubes, behind the legacy systems that we have maintained for years whose nooks and crannies we have plumbed late at night while fixing that critical bug. It’s too easy to run and hide behind statements made on the strength of these areas of code that no one else has seen. People who choose to do this, who choose to hide in these unexplored recesses of their job, find it all too easy to not admit their mistakes, especially when they could be the cause of much pain for the other developers helping them maintain what they work on.

But the simple of truth of things is that we are what we do in the dark. And this certainly applies in software development.

As developers, we need to shed the stigma of being wrong and instead embrace it. Think of how much better roundtable discussions would go when you know that if someone is wrong, they will say so. Not only that, they will say why. Now instead of being something to hide from, being wrong becomes an opportunity to learn; not just for one, but for the team. Developers on the team who use other’s mistakes as an opportunity to build themselves up are a cancer that needs to be aggressively treated, and cut out if needed. There simply is not enough time in the day to deal with that sort of garbage.

Embrace & Extend

If you find that you have made a mistake, embrace it. Learn from it. Ensure that your team members know that you made the mistake. Wear it with equal parts humility and resolve. Humility because it is, after all, a mistake. Resolve because you will learn from it, not repeat it, and help the rest of your team do the same.

This is the start of the art of being wrong.