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I recently got chastised in an e-mail because I pasted the wrong number. She asked me for the ID number of a test run that I submitted to a server. To view details about a test run, you have to run a very verbose command, like:

foo -bar TESTID -option2 pin -option3 wheel

I copy pasted the version that I keep in my notes, without replacing the TESTID with the appropriate one. And without it, her team was in the dark for the whole work day.

EDIT: The output was something like "INVALID TEST ID". It's not like they worked with wrong information for most of a work day and then figured out it was all for naught.

Quite obviously, I made a mistake. However, she could also have just queried the test server about jobs I recently ran. The syntax is quite simple and looks like this:

showjobs (MYID)

Edit 2: All managers have to review pull requests to areas of code that they manage. As part of the review, they have to run this command 3 times with different options, including one that'll show the tests that a user has recently submitted. It's not an arcane script that only a few developers very into the code would know.

This was the only test run I submitted this entire week, and it would be very easy to deduce that I meant to send that particular TESTID instead of the other. The showjobs command only displays tests run in the last 48 hours. The only output of this script is also the correct test ID.

To me, it seems unfair that she blamed the lack of a productive work day on me. It's not like she didn't know what MYID should've been (it's the first 6 letters of our work e-mail). I would understand if I had run dozens of tests this week, and she couldn't figure out which one was the correct one from just the showjobs command. But it would have taken her all of 30 seconds to figure it out here. A person with a better problem-solving attitude wouldn't have been set back by my typo at all.

Would it be unacceptable to defend myself by saying that she could've easily deduced the correct TESTID herself?

Edit 3: The attitude of assigning blame is wrong. I'd like to approach this with an attitude of moving forward and learning a lesson from this situation. With that mindset, I don't think there's anything to actually learn from a typo. I do think that there are some problem solving skills to share that I have learned from my experience being on her end of the situation.

Edit 4: Due to time zone difference, their work day starts around 3 am for me, long after I'm sleeping. There's no way I could've responded in time to salvage their day.

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    A typo is one thing, but is commonsense in short supply?" – Solar Mike Mar 1 at 20:14
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    Does she have the technological knowledge to understand the problem? – Peter Mar 1 at 20:15
  • Yes. Even if she didn't, she is a manager, and all managers are required to run this command as part of a sanity check when reviewing pull requests. She should definitely be familiar with its usage, output, and various options. – WestaAlger Mar 1 at 20:22
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    PS, if you are using your real name, you might want to change that. – mikeazo Mar 1 at 20:26
  • @ChrisStratton I edited my question. There's a big timezone difference, which is why I wasn't able to respond immediately to them asking for clarification. – WestaAlger Mar 1 at 21:26
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Look at it the other way round.

If you would ask someone for a test ID and you would receive an ID, would you cross check the ID with another command?

Why should you question the answer, if you got it from the right person?

In this case I think it’s your turn to take the blame, because you made a mistake, which cost another team a whole workday.

So apologize and be more careful in the future.

  • I would and I have cross checked jobs. In this case, it returns "INVALID TEST ID" because it's so old and the system filtered it out. I've been sent test id's that looked alright, but I figured out were not the right one and the person meant to send another. I had to sit there and sift through dozens of different test runs. It's annoying, but I don't think it should cause a complete shutdown of an entire team. – WestaAlger Mar 1 at 20:21
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    Maybe it shouldn’t have cost them a day, but the initial mistake was yours. To maintain a good relationship with them, just give an honest apology and move on. Trying to “win”this argument won’t help your reputation. – Simon Mar 1 at 20:25
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    Forget about it and move on. – Simon Mar 1 at 20:30
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    @WestaAlger Whether or not it's fair is irrelevant to whether or not you'll have to deal with it, and there is a fundamental issue with treating your mistake as inconsequential and your coworker's mistake as vastly more significant. There isn't a way for you to come out of this looking great, and efforts to emphasize that your mistake was the acceptable one will look weaselly and petulant. Apportioning blame isn't your role here. – Upper_Case Mar 1 at 20:37
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    @WestaAlger And presenting it more in that light might be worthwhile. But as presented here, the overwhelming impression I got was that you were minimizing your mistake and assigning the maximum possible blame to your coworker's mistake; it's not unreasonable that you might give that impression to others as well. A response that details a better process for future errors doesn't need to blame your coworker at all, and comments like "she only needed to do [x], taking 30 seconds, and there would have no problem at all!" focus heavily on blame. – Upper_Case Mar 1 at 21:10
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It seems to me that the problem is you were trying to be too helpful. She "asked me for the ID number of a test run that I submitted to a server". Instead of giving her the ID number, you gave her a command to run. Embedded within that command was an ID, which it turns out was the wrong ID.

Would it be unacceptable to defend myself by saying that she could've easily deduced the correct TESTID herself?

I wouldn't. She asked for one thing (an ID), you gave her something completely different (a command) which had something that looked like what she wanted embedded within it (an ID), but the thing was wrong.

I'd apologize and move on. It really shouldn't be a big deal. The fact that the team wasted an entire day is not your fault.

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    The thing is that it's a special test run where you download the results to then rerun it locally. I sent her the verbose command because other people I collaborate with respond with "how do I use this test?". Due to the time difference, she might've wasted a day anyhow before I could've responded. – WestaAlger Mar 1 at 20:37
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You made a minor mistake. This happens and you should own it and apologies for it.

That being said you should not feel like you have to accept the full blame for a whole team having an unproductive work day, as that was caused by more than just your mistake. It was also caused by your co-worker not sense checking the information you provided her and could have been prevented by anyone in the team seeking clarification from you when the results of the command were not as they expected.

Your most effective move now is to just apologies and try and move the conversation towards how you can mitigate the risk of these minor and inevitable human errors causing such a large impact in future. Effectively treat this an opportunity to make your companies processes more robust.

  • It likely could also have been prevented by not structuring tasks in such as way that a day could be wasted by such an error. Did the other team not know until the day before that they would need the information? Did they have no useful tasks they could have been working on while they waited? Why are teams that are so interdependent in different time zones? This situation suggests a myriad of structural problems, and the OP's mistake was simply the last in the chain of poor planning. – Acccumulation Mar 1 at 23:43
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Would it be unacceptable to defend myself by saying that she could've easily deduced the correct TESTID herself?

I'd take a moment to ask yourself: what do you expect to gain by doing that? Let's assume that your assessment is correct, and this person should have been able to deduce the ID by using common-knowledge tools at her disposal. Do you think that pointing that out in a defensive way is going to make her feel better about the situation? I doubt it, personally.

You've got a simple situation where someone is upset with you for something that legitimately happened, but you think they're overreacting. The formula I would use for handling this is simple:

  1. acknowledge that I made a simple mistake,
  2. apologize for any legitimate impact that the mistake may have had, and then
  3. instead of implying that the other party should have done something different (which risks feeling like a blame game), suggest what I personally either have done or would do in a similar situation (which sidesteps the conflict and communicates empathy).

So for example:

"Apologies for mistakenly forgetting to include the ID the query I sent you. Clearly it was an oversight, but I'm sorry that it caused you to have to wait a day for the correct data. For what it's worth, I've had times when I've needed to look up an ID that someone else had queried, and I've found that in many cases I can find it by using "showjobs (MYID)". Maybe that will help if something like this ever happens in the future."

Getting overtly defensive is only likely to cause the other person to do the same. If you can be diplomatic and make your point without making them feel attacked in turn, you have a much better chance of them realizing that they've overreacted, and ensuring that the mistake will be quickly forgotten.

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    Yes there's definitely a better way to phrase whatever response I decide to make. But my question is about the core idea that the consequences of my mistake should not have been this huge. – WestaAlger Mar 1 at 20:32
  • That's really an opinion-based question that there's not one answer to. You and the other person clearly disagree on the point, and the opinions of people on the internet ultimately don't make a difference one way or another in terms of your specific conflict. But what will make a difference is your response to the frustrated coworker: there's a way to bring your perspectives closer to agreement, or a way to escalate the dispute. You get to choose which tone to employ. – Sam Hanley Mar 1 at 20:36
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she blamed the lack of a productive work day on me

Is she really saying that she and her team lost an entire day because of the typo? If so I think the blame lies largely with her - she could have run something that would tell her the correct ID, and even if she didn't know about it she should have got straight back to you once the error was revealed. Mistakes happen, and sitting on your hands because someone else made one is not on.

The only case where she comes out innocent is if it takes your systems a day to provide the feedback that the ID was wrong, which seems fanciful.

  • She did get straight back to me (as soon as her day started) but the timezone difference makes it so that it was 3 am for me. I didn't get back until 7 hours later, the end of their day. – WestaAlger Mar 1 at 20:34
  • OK, that makes sense. Though I can't help feeling that a company which operates like that across widely separated timezones should have better systems in place to avoid handing information back and forth with such lag. – Julia Hayward Mar 2 at 10:48
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It sounds like your coworker may be difficult? (Or really incompetent if their entire team really lost a day because they couldn’t manage to look up the info themselves). if so, tread carefully. You’re not trying to play the blame game, but it doesn’t mean they’re not.

Do acknowledge your typo, and briefly apologise. Don’t accept blame for their lost day; be careful if you apologise for this, as they may take that as you accepting blame.

I suggest a reply like “Sorry, I copy/pasted the wrong one. If you need to find a test ID in the future, you can always find it yourself with (whatever the command line is)” Or “don’t forget you can always use (commandline) to look up test ids”.

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