Zen and the Art of Perpetual Failure in Information Technology

One of Canada’s best national paper ran an interesting article on the struggles some women IT professionals face in dealing with what the author calls a fear of failure or the impostor syndrome.  Fail Forward CEO Ashley Good shares some good insights into how not just women, but also men in IT have difficulty in dealing with failure.  The complexity of software architecture make failure an inevitable part of coding.  Sure, test driven design has helped removed huge bug-removing jags, but code still breaks.  Learning what to do with failure is part and parcel to life as a geek.

The precious fear of failure: How successful people can learn to value the fact they don’t know it all | National Post.

I have yet to meet any geezer geek, male or female, who does not have a story to tell of some huge “snafu” which has occurred.  As a young coder in the oil industry towers of Calgary, Canada, I recall the first time I bought the mainframe down with an overlooked “divide by zero” error.  For you young geeks, we now live in an age where bringing a system to its knees, for everyone, right across the company with one line of code is a rare thing.  Years later I comforted a distraught new coder who’d done the same thing. “Everyone is down”, he said with a shocked look on his face. “Yup … they have to reboot the mainframe … don’t worry man … everyone has done it.”

Female IT workers likely struggle more with impostor syndrome given the societal crap they have to put up with, but I also I wonder if women are also more articulate in expressing their emotional states than men.  I’ve learned a lot from women, who’ve articulated problems which have not occurred to me as a male.  I therefore believe that many older IT females likely have much to teach everyone about the universal experience of dealing with the psychological aspects of information technology work.

I will ask some what their thoughts are on this post, so rather than hearing the female-experience-through-male-brain we can explore the wisdom of the older female IT worker.  I suspect one of the first gifts they bring is that by expressing the fear of failure and the impostor syndrome, we can overcome it.  I have observed that some males deal with it by  being the overcompensating “know it all” lest someone discover their secret.  I’ve also seen others hide some failures, only to cause bigger problems down the road for the team.

“The pencil is mightier than the pen.” – Robert M. Pirsig

It’s been 25 years since “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig was published.  It is a metaphysical exploration of the nature of quality explored around the story of a computer manual writer who has a mental breakdown and later goes on a motorcycle road trip.  It is considered an icon of American literature, and includes some themes relating to failure, but also explores some amazing insights into the human condition.  Hey, I love stuff like that.  I just one clicked a kindle copy and am going to read it again.  I last read it in the mid-80’s when I was 19, and taking Ed Thompson III’s philosophy 110 class.  Reading it at 49, with a lifetime of success and failures should be a deeper experience.