Shame vs. helplessness

On Monday I got a bug report: I had broken something due to a stupid oversight. I felt ashamed.

On Tuesday I got another bug report: I had broken something else by making a deliberate change based on reasoning that was completely, obviously wrong. I felt even more ashamed.

On Wednesday I got a third bug report: some poorly factored code — not mine, for a change — had, unsurprisingly, turned out to have perverse error behaviour. Over the course of the day, one of its authors made a series of misguided attempts to fix it, introducing at least one new bug in the process. Watching, I felt even worse than I had about my own stupid mistakes.

Of course: this is an effect of (the illusion of) control. A problem is scarier and more frustrating when you don't feel you can do anything about it. I could imagine avoiding my own mistakes by being smarter or more careful or something, but I have no such illusions about my ability to prevent other people from making mistakes. So I feel helpless about them, and that's more unpleasant than feeling ashamed of my own stupidity.

(Both of my stupid mistakes, by the way, were in code I didn't want to write. It's easy to pay attention to code that does something you care about; it's harder when you don't actually want the functionality you're implementing.)

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