Originally posted 2016-09-26
Fun fact: This article got quite a bit of attention on Hacker News, back in 2016. As of November 2020, it is still #42 on the list of all-time top links.
One Friday afternoon, early in my career, I was wrapping up some new features for the back-end of a client’s Rails app. Simple stuff. Confident in my work, I deployed the changes, closed my laptop, and drove out of town for a weekend of camping with friends. I had just arrived when my phone rang. It was my project lead, Kevin.
“The client’s site is down. What happened?”
Oh shit. Fuck. I had no idea. I was three hours away with no laptop.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I’ll take care of it. Have a good weekend.”
Like that was going to happen. I’d let the team down. I’d ruined someone else’s weekend. I beat myself up for days. Come Monday; I walked into the office certain I was about to be fired. The project lead walked over.
“Hey, Brian. How was your trip?”
He was smiling. There wasn’t even a hint of frustration or annoyance. “It was okay,” I said, waiting for the bad news. “Sorry about Friday. I completely blew it.”
“It’s okay,” he replied. “We’ve all done it.” He paused for a moment. “But what did you learn?”
I talked about the need for proper QA. About thoroughly testing my changes. About taking the time to make sure the job gets done right. After a few minutes, he held up his hand.
“Great. It sounds like you get it. I know that you can do better.”
And that was the end of it. Kevin never brought it up again.
Kevin gave me the space to screw up, as long as I learned from it. He jumped in, with his years of experience, and helped me out when I needed it most. And still believed I was a competent developer, despite my mistake. He saw my potential.
Now that I’m the one leading projects and mentoring junior developers, I often think back to that day. And I remind myself to be kind and see the potential in people. Give them a break.
Just like Kevin did for me.
Until next time,