Honor Thy Errors

Errors are an essential part of biology. Countless species on this planet could never have evolved if it wasn't for the intentional errors (mutations) in their genes that slightly change their DNA with each new generation. Errors can benefit software projects too, because errors allow you to acquire knowledge in situations that might be crucial somewhere down the road.

Yesterday, my partner and I were driving north to friends of ours who live on the other side of the country. We would be staying there for the night. Halfway through the journey I took a turn onto a wrong highway, and I didn't notice this until at least fifteen minutes later. Afraid of being blamed for a bad sense of orientation –something I usually enjoy accusing my partner of– I didn't tell my partner anything. I just hoped and prayed feverishly that some other highway would take us into the right direction, without us having to go all the way back. Fortunately, luck was with me, and I could stop sweating. My little detour had probably cost us no more than 10 minutes on a trip of 2 1/2 hours. My partner (having a terrible sense of orientation himself) never noticed a thing, and our friends even complimented us for our speedy arrival. Since everybody was happy enough, I saw no point in telling anyone that we could have been there 10 minutes earlier.

Today, on the way back home, traffic information on the radio told us that we were to expect a nasty traffic jam, located exactly on the part of the highway that we had accidentally never seen yesterday, because of my detour. So, I told my partner not to worry, because, being the knowledgeable and experienced driver that I am, I knew a little detour that would only cost us 10 minutes extra, but would save us the trouble of ending up right in the middle of a traffic jam. And so it turned out that I could use the new knowledge that I had obtained because of my previous error. And my undeserved reputation as a driver with a great sense of orientation survived yet another day.

Errors are not always unwelcome. Though there is some direct cost associated with them, their indirect benefits can be huge. So, don't worry too much if your software project took a wrong turn somewhere. Correct the error and honor it. Because a wrong turn today may give you crucial information for tomorrow!

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