Developer Tea

Fail Mode

Episode Summary

Imagine for a moment that you are a hiring manager who needs to determine who is a good addition to a team of developers. You need to make a judgement call. That's what we're talking about in today's episode of Developer Tea

Episode Notes

Imagine for a moment that you are a hiring manager who needs to determine who is a good addition to a team of developers. You need to make a judgement call. That's what we're talking about in today's episode of Developer Tea. In today's episode we're talking about track-records of failures and how that maps to your progress today.

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Episode Transcription

Imagine for a moment that you are a hiring manager. You're in charge of figuring out who is a good addition to a team of developers. Now, you may actually find yourself in a position like this. Maybe not necessarily a hiring manager, but maybe you are involved in the interviewing process. And at some point, you have to make a judgment call. You have to decide, is this person suitable for a job? Now, there's a lot of criteria you may use. Some obvious things like, can we get along decently well with this person? And do they have some basic skills that are necessary for the job? But in today's episode, I want to discuss a less understood topic, the idea of a track record of failures. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea and my goal on this show is to help driven developers find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. I want you to take a moment and think back to a failure. Make this something that's outside of your career. Maybe sometime in your early life education or maybe even a relationship failure. And I want you to think about the feelings that you had when you were experiencing that failure. Describing these feelings can be a little bit difficult, sometimes even painful for us, because failures are often accompanied by some kind of loss or negative experience. A failure on its own doesn't necessarily cause a negative experience, but the judgment of ourselves and the judgment of others can result in a sense of loss. We try to do something, we're trying to achieve some kind of outcome, and then we don't achieve it. This is difficult on our pride. It's difficult on our planning. It can be difficult on logistics. Let's say you fail a class, for example. Now you may have to rethink your next semester. Maybe you have to take a summer class or even delay graduation. And in the moment, these failures seem like catastrophic events. They can be very difficult for us. But now I want you to step forward in time, all the way to even the present. And I want you to consider the things that came from that failure. If you're like most people, you're going to answer with something positive. You learn something in your failure. Or maybe you had an experience of serendipity, that timing of delaying your graduation. Perhaps you credit that with why you have the job that you have today. There's definitely post rationalization effects happening here. In other words, looking back on your failures and because you're doing okay, you color those failures in a positive light. But there's also some simple truths in the reality that failure is a teacher. We're going to take a quick break and talk about today's sponsor. But then we're going to come back and talk about why looking at a rate of failure is a bad way of judging a person's track record. We'll talk about that right after we talk about today's sponsor, ImageKit. If you're looking to optimize the images on your website or in your app to improve the performance, the page load time, and the SEO, then is a complete solution for this. It offers real-time image optimizations and transformations with a global content delivery network, making image management and optimization really simple. It allows you to deliver great user experience and better search engine optimization. It integrates with any platform like AWS, S3, Magento, WordPress, Shopify, pretty much anything else. And you get features like automatic format selection, compression, resizing, smart cropping, etc. So if you use the coupon code Developer Tea, you'll get $100 worth of credits. And you can get started absolutely free. Head over to to get started today, use the code Developer Teato get $100 worth of credit. That's $100 of credits. That's a lot of credit over there. Again, you can get started for free at Thank you to ImageKit for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. I want you to think back to that failure that you thought about earlier. For many of us, when we revisit these situations, we can understand how that failure occurred, or at least we can make sense of it. We can remember that either we made a very bad decision and now we know better, or we can remember that someone else, or something else, happened that was incredibly unlucky. Perhaps that class that you failed was a result of a teacher that, for whatever reason, didn't seem to like you very much. But most of the time, the mistakes that we made in the past, we can revisit and understand and kind of conquer. Now, if you think about another person's mistake that you've witnessed, let's say a coworker, a family member, how often are you likely to blame them for the mistake versus another person? Now, this is going to be influenced by a lot of factors. For example, if you already like the person, then you're very likely to not blame them for their mistake. If you don't know who they are, then the easiest thing, the cognitively, most lazy thing, is to blame them for whatever that failure was. Now, there's a lot of psychology at play when we talk about failure. The further distance that we have from our own failures, for example, the more likely we are to accept that we may have had some kind of fault in it. This is why we can easily look back at ourselves from 10 years ago and say, how silly we were, but we're less likely to look at ourselves from a year or a month ago with the same level of judgment. Another interesting psychological phenomenon that's at play here is that people generally believe that they are smarter than other people, and they generally believe that they're more adaptable than other people. We see ourselves as dynamic and changing, and we see others as static and unchanging. The result of this is that when we see someone who has failed before, we may expect them to fail again, but we see our own failures as isolated instances, unlikely to repeat. Additionally, we don't like the idea of failing. Something, at least from an evolutionary perspective, is a dangerous thing. You can imagine that at some point in human history, it was very important that the people that you are in some kind of social group with, let's say your hunters and gatherers, if you're in a group of people who are also hunting and gathering, a string of failed hunting missions would be really dangerous to that group of people. We know that failure is a threat, so we have a strong incentive to identify reasons other than ourselves for our own failures, and we also have a strong incentive to identify whether someone else is prone to failure. It doesn't hurt us to blame someone else for their own failures, but it does seem to hurt us to blame ourselves for our own failures. All of this results in very murky waters when it comes to why a failure has occurred, and whether a person can be a good developer in the face of failure. Whether you are a hiring manager or a developer yourself, it's important to recognize that failures often happen purely as a result of chance. It's very difficult to know why a failure has occurred, but we do know that statistically speaking, it's much more likely that failure has occurred as a result of random circumstance than bad choices. This means that bad things, bad outcomes can happen in the face of good decisions. Someone who is, serially successful, has also probably had serial failure. So it's important that we separate our judgment about failure away from the failure occurring, and instead try to put our energy, our judgment, energy into understanding how the person responds to failure. What is the step after the failure? Because if you decide whether a person is hireable or if they are a good worker based on the frequency of failure, then there's a lot of noise in that system. If instead you try to understand how the person responds to failure and how they learn from it. That is a much more direct signal. How a person chooses to respond is less the product of chance and more the products of intention, whereas failure is often the product of a lot of things that we can't really unravel. Now the interesting trick in this episode is that we're not just talking about how you judge others if you were hiring them. We're also talking about self-judgment. As you reflect on failures and as failures occur in the future, it's important to accept that sometimes failure just happens, even with our best intentions, even with our best efforts. We don't always have direct control. What we do have is control over our response to failure. What we do in the face of failure is what gives us the opportunity for success. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Again, a huge thank you to ImageKit for sponsoring today's episode and providing you the listeners with a $100 worth of credit. Head over to and use the code Developer Teathat's all one word and check out for a $100 worth of credit. If you're enjoying today's episode and you don't want to miss out on future episodes like this one, where we talk about things like decision making and the face of failure, encourage you to subscribe and whatever podcasting app you use. Another way that you can help this show is to leave a review in iTunes. You can find a link to do that in the show notes. This show would not be possible without Spec is a network built for designers and developers who are looking to level up their careers. Head over to to find tons of other great content, especially good podcasts for designers and developers. Thank you to today's producer, Sarah Jackson. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and until next time, enjoy your tea.