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This morning, I transferred a set of changes I made from one demo environment to another that had an older version of that set, but something went wrong and a co-worker lost a large amount of the changes she made so far on that demo environment. We fortunately had a backup made last night, but it wouldn't import without making some manual changes first.

In the end, I cost a co-worker 1 hour in work from this morning she had to reimplement and another 2 hours to restore the backup. I didn't make a backup this morning before I did my transfer, which I'll do from now on, but I feel bad about what I did and want to compensate for my gaffe by bringing a few bags of candy bars to work tomorrow. Another co-worker told me that it's not needed and that I need to take more precautions next time and warn people before I do it.

Should I make some compensation, or should I not worry about it?

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In a company I used to work for we had what we called the "bagel slap" basically when your mistake costs someone more than 30 minutes of time you're obligated to buy them a bagel. We found it a nice way to establish an appropriate level of compensation for time lost. It also ads a real cost to mistakes which better motivates you in preventing them. (plus when you've lost time because of someone else, it's nice to know you're getting breakfast the next working day) –  RualStorge Jul 3 at 18:12
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Shit happens, apologize, correct, and make sure not to do it again. If you really want to do something, offer to take them out to lunch or something. I wouldn't give them candybars though. –  Doc Jul 3 at 18:17
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I'm exactly telling him to ask her out. That is the 'opportunity knocking' part. –  dotancohen Jul 4 at 12:10
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@dotancohen that sounds just a little inappropriate for a workplace. –  alroc Jul 4 at 14:52
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She has X hours of work-time per week regardless of your mistake. That mistake might cause her boring work but it does not cause her more work. This is mostly a loss for the company. –  usr Jul 4 at 15:42

10 Answers 10

up vote 66 down vote accepted

Screw the candy bars. Send her an apology, figure out exactly what happened and make damn sure that you have your transfer procedures down pat going forward. They might not be so tolerant the next time you do it.

No need to compensate. Somebody is going to do it to you, and you should be just as gracious about it as she was. Over a period of years if not months, your screw ups and your colleagues' screw ups should even out.

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If the transfer is a non-trivial manual procedure, automate it into a one-step fool-proof script. –  kevin cline Jul 3 at 20:50

I think bringing in doughnuts, candy, etc. as a mea culpa when you accidentally mess something up is a nice goodwill gesture. Of course not messing things up in the first place would be better, but that's life for most developers.

One thing I'd point out is that it is the responsibility of every developer to back up his/her work on a regular basis. I once lost a day of work, and it taught me to make backups of work directories on a semi-daily basis (every 3 hours or so).

Sure, you could have discussed things with your coworker, but a demo environment, like test or dev environments, should be considered more volatile. Your coworker should have communicated to the team that there was work-in-progress on the given environment, and should have made a backup/image of that environment at the end of the day.

Bring in the candy and apologize, but use this event to get a conversation going with your team about how to avoid this in the future. Hint: "Don't mess up next time" isn't a valid outcome of these discussions.

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If someone made me do a few extra hours of work on an app I support, and they brought me a candy bar, I'd be insulted. "You can't buy me, hot dog man!" –  corsiKa Jul 4 at 17:45

First, don't talk about "compensation" and give her a few candy bars. It somehow sounds like "I think your 3 hours of work are worth 3 bars of candy". Talk of a "token" of gratitude or regret or something like that.

"Thanks" should be enough, but buying her something reinforces the message of "I realize that my actions affected to you and I regret that"

IMHO, the most important thing is not the time spent but how it could alter its status. In case it is not already known or properly documented, make sure to explain your boss what happened (if possible, in front of her), so that your boss know that the three hours lost were not her fault.

Apart from that, do not over worry. Try to be more careful and, principally, think about what caused the issue. Not the forgotten commit (people forgot things all the time), but the issue that caused a missing commit so costly.

Maybe the changed-the-server-at-last-hour-without-testing. Maybe even her did-changes-to-the-database-without-scripts. Or the did-not-stablish-a-procedure-to-know-which-servers-to-update (it depends of your environment, of course).

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I would start with an apology to the coworker as a courtesy, bringing in some sort of treats would be nice but is not necessary for such a small incident. No one likes to lose work, but in my experience losing 3 person-hours of work is not that big of a deal.

If this type of collision is happening frequently enough, you may want to investigate setting up a lightweight version control process, as this type of scenario is one of the challenges that version control tools are meant to address. Manual backups are easy to forget, but if you have version control in place and someone forgets to place their changes into the version control system, the error is clearly on them, not on you for overwriting their manual changes with your copy from the version control repository.

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We fortunately had a backup made last night, but it wouldn't import without making some manual changes first.

You're presumably not going to hunt down the person whose "fault" it is that backups don't restore smoothly, and expect compensation from them? Once this starts it might never end ;-)

Your coworker is correct that it's not needed. Professionals don't (and can't) compensate for their mistakes with candy. But if it's something you want to do and you're confident it will be taken in the right spirit then there's no harm in giving candy to colleagues. Well, maybe except diabetics.

Don't see it as compensation, though. Firstly it's not adequate compensation for three hours work. Secondly it doesn't mean you don't also have to do the right things. Thirdly, if you do it on a whim that's one thing, but if you assert that this is the right thing to do when you make a mistake then you're saying something indirectly about everyone else who makes mistakes (i.e. everyone else).

Finally, what it cost isn't your time or her time. It's all your employer's time that you each have already sold, for money that you each received. You were doing your job (albeit badly at that precise instant) and she was doing her job (albeit not what she was planning at the start of the day for those 3 hours). This happens in a company. People create work for each other, sometimes by accident. Part of your job is to solve problems, even if they were caused by your colleagues. So she didn't do it for you, she did it because it needed doing for the company and she was the right person to do it. It's not for you to pay her, in candy or otherwise.

But, you know, assuming she likes candy then she'll take it. And having bags of candy bars on her desk is a good way to be popular with the whole office for a while, which might be the real reward for her. I would recommend buying a product that you know for a fact she likes and eats at work. Anything else might end up awkward or somehow weird. A gift you don't like is technically called a "curse".

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You and your colleague were both victims of an error-prone process. It's frustrating, but unless she had to put in unpaid overtime, it didn't really cost her anything. Maybe you could fix the process by writing a script to prevent these errors in the future.

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When mistakes happen in the workplace, you need to look at the mistake from 3 angles, and you'll need to consider the ramifications for each one.

The Business Level

There was a problem, and it's going to impact the company somehow. Maybe it's losing time, a client, or reputation, but you definitely were the cause, and it's definitely going to give your supervisor a headache.

In situations where there's professional impact, you may get directions from management such as working extra hours, or skipping break to ensure things catch-up. Managers or co-workers won't care about snickers, they just want things running smoothly. Even if they don't ask, staying late to make sure things get caught up is a bit of an unspoken agreement.

The Professional Level

You've impacted your co-workers on a professional level. Usually lost work or a similar setback. The important thing here is that it doesn't impact anybodies personal lives, just their professional ones; the impact will only be felt until quitting time.

If this is a first-time issue, especially if you're new, apologies are good in order, but overall it should slide. If a co-worker is really thorny over your first mistake, that's their issue.

If you've caused issues before, or in rapid succession, you should consider compensating them on a professional level; offer to take some workload off, buy coffee if they missed their brake, and generally try to ensure their day goes smoothly while they iron out your issue. You might be offering to work late (without explicitly saying it).

In either case, make sure they know you'll take any heat from higher-ups (if they don't already know) while passing information up the food chain. The biggest thing at this level is to learn from your mistakes.

The Personal Level.

Your mistake cost someone on a personal level; The most common you'll likely encounter is someone needing to work late because of your mistake.

As soon as you cut into somebodies off-hours, the minimum you should do is offer to stay until they're finished if you are able to assist. If it's only a few extra minutes, even hanging around while doing on your own work is a good gesture just so they know they aren't alone. Don't ask, just stay unless they specifically ask you to leave.

If you're making people stay late enough to conceivably miss dinner - pay for take out; even if it's a team of 7 hungry developers. Also offer yourself up to do coffee runs or errands while they recover for you.

In the event a co-worker is somehow going to get stuck for transportation (e.g. their carpool isn't staying behind) you should drive them if able, or at least offer to pay for a taxi.

Mistakes aren't pay-to-fix

Overall, a mistake should have an appropriate response; buying candy because you made an error isn't going to fix the issue. Sometimes a simple "Sorry I corrupted your build" is correct, other times you may shell out $80 for pizza because 5 people need to work late. Higher-ups won't care about gifts, they just want you to push and make sure the problem is resolved and eveyone gets caught up.

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At our place, people bring treats when they have birthday or sometimes to celebrate that a successful project is finished. In that light, bringing treats in a situation like yours might look strage. Thus even if it appears to be less than a candy bar, a simple excuse is probably more adequate. You might have supported her in the restore process (or do something like answering her phone while she's busy with it), but more often tan not such action won't even be helpful and so we're back to the mere excuse.

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Well that all depends if the elements are resentful. It is what it is when you gave back without return.

I'm a carpenter and I'm very skilled with my hands. There aren't a lot of us out there, and the green ones come and go. The rookies I measured cut and installed base crown for miles and miles, so dependability is not what you look for in a good carpenter.

You're either a driving and self-motivated 'wood head' or you're not. It's in your blood, or it ain't. My customers get my standards of craftsmanship through the old man that broke me out in the wood man culture.

So, to qualify my answer, I will say that if you are a helper, then the 'master wood man' is training you to count on your ability to learn the wood way and help the next rookie who comes along.

These are the days that a master carpenter is able to witness his skill set become another's way of making a living, and that is the reason you can't really blame someone for not pulling their weight. Someone carried me. And for that I can Cathy one being a wood man. Smokeone....

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this post is rather hard to read (wall of text). Would you mind editing it into a better shape? –  gnat Jul 4 at 5:00

I know that many people will say good things like apologize,compensate her time loss and some more positive shit like that.But it is not them who will need to pay for your mistakes.Mistakes is what makes us humans :) and mistakes happen by accident and not intentionally.So do not worry about it , it will probably be forgotten with time.If you apologize now it will look like you intentionally cause data loss and so you might even feel the pressure from coworker.Straight way is to relax have some fresh air and forget about what happened.

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In some cultures, a mistake will cost you your job, so I wouldn't take them quite as lightly. –  Juha Untinen Jul 4 at 6:54
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I can't agree with this post. Unless you have a reputation as a liar, if you go to someone and say "I realize this mistake of mine caused you [extra work/grief/stress/annoyance]. I apologize and be more careful next time" they will not think you did it on purpose. If anything, they're more likely to think you did it on purpose if you don't address it and leave them with doubt. –  corsiKa Jul 4 at 17:48

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