We are often told how making mistakes and learning from them is necessary for growth. It is a common sentiment, but important. A quick online search led me to qoutes from renowned people emphasizing lessons they learned from their own mistakes. I’d like to share a story of a mistake I made early my career and its profound impact on my professional experience since then.
I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to co-op with a Metatec Corporation in Dublin, Ohio, around 1993. This engagement allowed me to work with some awesome software engineers and leaders on projects that, even today, I find cool. Our team focused on harnessing the then budding technology of CD-ROMs, using them to store indexes of what then was considered large amounts of data and multimedia. This software was often rebuilt with fresh data to serve as digital periodicals.
I was gradually given more responsiblity – from building minor tools, testing software, building features, and handling the CD-ROM mastering process.
There were several monthly clients onboard. Each client build required a detailed set of steps, ensuring the final product was error-free. After several error-free months, complacency set in.
Gradually, I began to overlook certain tests and process checks. That was my first mistake. My second? Assuming everything was fine month after month — until it wasn’t.
Eventuallay for one client, one month we discovered that our product, distributed to thousands and costing tens of thousands of dollars, refused to install. The blame was solely mine. I had omitted crucial steps of the process, resulting in a CD-ROM that was essentially an expensive coaster.
I felt so horrible. My negligence hadn’t only affected me; it hurt the reputation of my firm and my blameless and hardworking colleagues. I had let the whole team down.
When I was summoned to my director’s office, I assumed I was in for “bad things”. But instead of an outburst or a pink slip, he simply instructed, “Fix it.” His disappointment was obvios, but instead of reprimand, he offered a another chance. My director shielded me from external criticism, emphasizing learning over blame. It was what I needed.
My time at Metatec was instrumental in shaping my professional outlook. While I learned a ton from some great minds, this mistake was also an important teacher.
The lessons I learned I have kept with me over the years:
- Do not underestimate the importance of testing and quality checks.
- Paying attention to detail can help prevent unforced errors.
- Avoid shortcuts, no matter how trivial the task seems.
- Understand the profound impact of how you treat others post their mistakes.
Ever since that day I have worked to be thorough and build quality software. I have tried to learn the best practices of software engineering that help make it possible. I have endeavored to treat people in the best way for them to be successful like I was treated at Metatec. Whatever professional mistakes they have made, I’ve made more so I know how they feel.