Slightly Less Worse Ways

Posted on March 11, 2015 in Software • 2 min read

When I attended college I observed some people around me that became satisfied with their status quo. They felt they had learned enough and that was the enough for them. They felt they knew everything they needed to know. Maybe that was hubris, maybe it was laziness, I'm not quite sure. The word I used was stagnation.

I knew I wanted to avoid at all costs. This has stuck with me to this day, but I've continued to evolve it by adding on little mental hacks and mantras as I went. I try to do what I can to keep hubris at bay because I've found it to be one of the warning signs of heading down an ill-fated path.

One of the things that's befuddled me in recent years is the concept of things that are the "best" or variations therof. In the software world one of the most common bests are Best Practices and I've seen a lot of them come and go. They're the best...for a while...then they're gone. Maybe we should call the "Best for Now Practices," but it's not as catchy.

I have a strong belief that "best practices" in the absolute sense will always be elusive. Mostly because of the human factor. There's always going to be something we don't understand fully, something we misunderstand, or something we just plain did wrong.

That leads we to that saying that I've crafted over the last few years that flips traditional thinking on its head:

"I've only found a slightly less worse way of doing things."

Now, that's doesn't mean I think everything I do is absolute garbage. In fact, I'm very proud of all the work I've done having not been traditionally educated in computer science. I say that because it forces you to assume a certain measure of fallibility in yourself. I've found that thinking you're infallible is the express bus to screwing up. You're no longer willing to look for mistakes in what you do and nature will step in and remind you that you're human (or at least it'll give it the old college try).

It also means you constantly strive for improvement because you're always striving for better. You seek it out not because you're fed up with something, but because you know it's out there and you want it because it makes you better.

Another gain from this is that every mistake is an opportunity for improvement. I'm a big proponent of learning from your mistakes and making sure you have the opportunity to make those mistakes in a safe environment (by safe, I don't just mean free from harm to others but also free from shaming those who screw up).

Lastly, it's an acknowledgement of entropy in our lives. Things break down. What used to work doesn't work anymore or at least not as well. Knowledge becomes outdated and needs refreshing. You need refreshing.