You're Not Perfect: Admit Your Mistakes

Working in IT is always quite an interesting experience. You get to work with a ton of different people from varying backgrounds and skill sets. Sometimes you work with people who have been doing IT their entire life, and sometimes it was a complete career change for others. However, it never ceases to amaze me how many people from any background are embarrassed to admit their own mistakes.

Growing in any profession means making mistakes. It’s inevitable, and everyone makes them. The critical point is realizing when you’ve done something wrong, fixing it, and learning from it. Ever meet someone who seems to just be great at everything they do? Maybe it seems like they never screw up? That’s because of years of experience and learning from every mistake they’ve made.

So a few things I want to get out there:

1. You’re allowed to make mistakes – Like I mentioned above, everyone does it. Perfection can be a goal, but it’s not realistic. Stuff happens – sometimes something may get messed up because of unknown circumstances, or maybe your own carelessness.

2. Admit fault – One of the most important things about making a mistake is admitting that you did it. There is nothing worse than people who try to hide their mistakes or blame other people – there is just no sense in it. There is a lot more respect for people who are able to admit their mistakes to others, yet this seems to be a fairly rare quality in my experience.

3. Figure out what went wrong – Whenever you make a mistake, you need to own it. Take responsibility for hunting down exactly what went wrong and determining how to fix it. It’s possible that the issue was inevitable, and something you couldn’t plan for. However, in many cases a lot of simple mistakes are preventable by just exerting extra care, planning, or taking the time to do better research.

4. Fix it – This goes along with what I said in #3 – but take ownership for your mistakes and fix them. Don’t pass them off to other people. Don’t pretend you don’t know whats going on. Just say “I screwed up, but I’m going to fix it”.

5. Learn from it – After everything is done, take a step back and look at everything that happened. What can you learn? Everyone hates that sinking feeling that something just went wrong, so why not try to prevent yourself from having to experience that again? Take note of what could have prevented the issue. Make sure you never make that mistake again.

6. Share the knowledge – The only thing better than learning from your own mistakes is being able to learn from others, so that you never make the same mistakes. If you’ve done something that is worth sharing, then do so. Take a few minutes to sit down with your team and explain the scenario – what went wrong, how it could have been prevented, and what lessons you’ve taken away from the incident. You have the power to help less-experienced people to learn how to be better – make the right impression and show them that it’s okay to admit fault.

A lot of this may seem like it should go without saying – that it all should be common sense, right? However, in my experience it seems like a lot of IT admins are more than willing to try and hide their own mistakes, because they think it will make them look bad. In my opinion, hiding your mistakes makes you look far worse than having the ability to admit fault.

In one example, I recently worked with an individual who immediately began blaming the network team for an issue he was experiencing. They claimed that the firewall wass blocking their communication between two systems where they were trying to install an application. The individual started complaining to management that the network team was holding up their progress because of an incorrect firewall configuration. The network team did everything they could to help troubleshoot – but ultimately it seemed like an application issue. The next day, the admin just came in and said “Oh, I don’t know what you guys changed but it started working today – so thanks!”  Did the network team change anything? No. And it was found out later by another admin that the application was mis-configured the whole time. This guy lost a lot of respect from both management and his peers – just because he couldn’t admit fault.

As another example, I had a previous co-worker once attempt to remove software from a production database cluster in the middle of the day. Of course, this happened to be our busiest database cluster, which ran the backend for a vast majority of our customers. When the software was uninstalling, it dropped all network communication to the database cluster – which forced all customers in the data center offline. The second he realized that something was wrong, the IT admin informed his manager of what he had done. He took ownership and led the issue until it was resolved and customers were back online. The next morning, he made it a point to give a quick summary to the entire IT staff of the issue – and admitted that he screwed up. While it doesn’t change the fact that he made a huge mistake, this approach led to a much quicker issue resolution. He would have been in far more trouble if he had tried to hide the fact that he caused this outage event.


What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in your IT career? How did you handle it? Share in the comments below!