Assuming It was Correct

by Dwayne Phillips

Take care when assuming that something was done correctly at some time in the past.

“I’ll copy this, modify it, and move on,” said a brave and trusting person.

Perhaps “this” was done correctly in the past. Copying and modifying is a good, time-saving tactic. What, however, if this was done incorrectly in the past? Copying further spreads the error. But if it has existed for so long, surely it was correct, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

I am installing software on a computer system. The right way to do it…yikes this isn’t working. But this is the right way to do it. Perhaps the computer system was not setup correctly. No wonder the installation procedures don’t work. Therefore, we will have to install this software incorrectly so that it is incorrect in the same way that the computer system is incorrect. Well, we have it working. All is well. Pity the poor fellow who comes along next week and tries to install something on top of this incorrect software which is on top of an incorrect computer system which is on top of an incorrect…

There are many systems that appear to work correctly, but are incorrect. Something or other was done incorrectly, but the result was good or good enough. Folks moved to the next thing in their long list of next things to do. No one ever went back and made the incorrect system correct. The next person who walked in the door had to do their work incorrectly to match the incorrect system.

How do we ever exit this loop of incorrectness that we assume is correct? We probably won’t, but we can.

This is hard work. Wait. Stop. Fix this. Now. And let’s hope that making the system correct won’t break everything that was installed incorrectly to match the former incorrect system. If it does, repeat the difficult process. Wait. Stop. Fix this. History provides us examples of how someone “bit the bullet” and exited the loop of incorrectness. Join that history.

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Dwayne Phillips

Engineer, computing, consulting, writing, teaching, and a few other things in an effort to make us all better and smarter.