How my most hated question became my favorite. And why learning is better than knowing.

Musing for:

Why learning is better than knowing

As a new computer science graduate, I was ready to prove my value in the “real world” of software development. But I was in for a surprise.

Tools and third-party libraries didn’t always behave the way one would expect. Documentation was sometimes unclear, incomplete, or just plain wrong.

And sometimes, I mis-remembered what I had read or experienced.

As I was troubleshooting, I would step through the program with my partner in development.

He had two questions he loved to ask when I described how a third-party system would respond to my code.

1️⃣ “Are you sure?” (And I would say, “Yes” or “Pretty sure.”)

2️⃣ “Did you check?” (And I would often say, “No, but I will.”)

I would estimate that somewhere around 90% of the time, double checking would prove me right.

But that 10% when I was wrong happened often enough that “Did you check?” became one of the most valuable questions of my career.

The pain and frustration saved by learning that 10% of my assumptions were wrong vastly outweighed the time spent confirming the 90% that were right.

I recently had a conversation with a former colleague who told me that his favorite memory of our work together was when I pushed him and his team with the same “Did you check?” question. What they learned by uncovering a faulty assumption solved a problem that had plagued them for weeks.

Being right 90% of the time can make double-checking your beliefs feel like wasted time. But is it?

Are you sure?

Did you check?

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