Public Mistakes are Cool

Stephen Brennan • 24 April 2017

Confession time: I’m vain. While I write a blog because I like to write and share things, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the occasional publicity resulting from a successful post on Hacker News or Reddit. I get to open up a Google Analytics tab and watch visitors enter my site. How cool is that?

An interesting result of this is that I sometimes have the opportunity to read Internet comments about my own work. As we all know, Internet comments can range from wonderful, positive remarks (some of the time) to harshly critical, or downright mean (somewhat more frequently). That’s the nature of the beast, and you quickly learn to have a thick skin.

Frequently, my articles feature mistakes. I’m only human, and I’m frequently wrong. Besides just making a mistake within an article, I also occasionally write articles about my mistakes (my most recent one, for example). Those will inevitably attract more comments than others, because it’s easy to criticize a mistake.

This is really too bad though, because I think writing about your mistakes is really valuable. People blog about their accomplishments all the time! I do it plenty; it’s fun to share your achievements! But emphasizing success and hiding mistakes gives people an unrealistic idea of what the tech world is like. It contributes to the Imposter Syndrome that many people in our industry feel.

A well written explanation of a mistake frequently reveals a technical misunderstanding. If classrooms teach us nothing else, it’s that lots of people have the same question or misunderstanding, but are too afraid to raise their hand. I learn the most from my mistakes, so it makes sense that other people would learn a lot from them as well.

I would love to see more people write about their mistakes. Teach me what you did wrong, so I can learn from it as well! Ignore the comments; if your mistake is really that obvious to the commenters, it’s probably because you did a good job explaining it!


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