Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Man's capacity for error

In my first job at a software company, I worked with a senior engineer named Leon. A PhD in Physics, Leon was known to toss out nuggets of wisdom with the laid-back intellectualism of a college professor. Here is one of my favorites, that became more meaningful to me over the years. I am paraphrasing here, but I think it conveys the gist.
I used to be a staunch supporter of Nuclear Energy. But it wasn't until I started working in software that I came to realize man's capacity for error. Intelligent people, well-educated people, people who cared about their work - made lots of mistakes! And that includes me! So even though I understand the protocols under which nuclear material can be handled safely, I have no faith in a human's ability to reliably follow those protocols.
My message here has nothing to do with nuclear energy. The point is that when humans are involved, errors occur. We call them bugs, and our job is to find them, or reduce their occurrence. Without anger or recrimination. We work to improve the quality of the things we test. That is the service we provide. That is our mission.