Monday, April 13, 2020

Blood on the Terrace

On a Finnish summer evening, a group of friends got together on a summer cottage. They enjoyed their time and each other's company, with a few drinks. But as things unfold in unexpected ways, all things coming together,  one of them decided it was a good idea to play with a hammer. End result: hammer hitting a foot, lot of blood flowing to the terrace.
The other person on the terrace quickly assessed the situation, with a feeling of panic summing it simply: blood on the terrace. And what do you do when you have blood on the terrace? You go and get a bucket and a rag to clean it up. After all, you will have to do this. Blood on the terrace could ruin the terrace! All of this, while the friend in need of patching, was still in need of patching, bleeding on the terrace. "Hey, go get Anna", coming from the person bleeding on the terrace corrected the action and the incident became a funny story to recount to people. 
I could not stop laughing as my sister just told me this story of something she did. It was a misplaced reaction made under sense of helplessness and panic. How something that was necessary to do, but was not necessary to do right there and then turned out a funny story of how people behave. I'm telling this here with her permission and for a reason.
Misplaced reactions are common when we build software. Some of the worse reactions happen when we feel afraid, panicking and out of control. When we don't know what is the right thing to do and how to figure that out in a moment. And we choose to do something, because something is better than nothing. 
You might recognize this situation: a bug report telling you to hide a wrong text. You could do what the report says and hide the text. Or, you could stop to think why that text is there, why it should not be there and why it being there is a problem in the first place. If you did more than what the immediate ask was, you would probably be better off. Don't patch symptom by symptom, but rather understand the symptoms and fix the cause. 
While a lot of times the metaphor we use is adding bandaids, blood on the terrace describes the problem we face better. It is not that we are just doing something that really isn't addressing the problem in its full scale. It is that we are, under pressure with limited knowledge, making rash judgements out of all the things we could be doing, and timing the right action to the wrong time. 
When you feel rushed, you do what you do when time is of essence: something RIGHT NOW. What would it take to approach a report you get as your first step being to really pay attention and understand what the problem is, why it is a problem and if whoever told you it was a problem was a definitive source. Or if that matters. 
It was great that the terrace did not end up ruined. The foot healed too. All levels of damage controlled.