The Doublecheckers

Exhausted after fifteen hours of preparing a CD product that had to ship that day, one last little error was found, and fixed. “It’s good to go!” said the person who fixed it. It was 11 p.m. on a Friday night, we had been working on this since 8 a.m., pushing to meet the deadline. There was a sigh of relief by everyone, except for me and my lead Quality Assurance Analyst. We looked at each other and nodded in agreement—“No, not good to go.” The others looked at us in horror, because we were determined to doublecheck it one more time.

The “double” in “doublecheck” of course is figurative, after the fifth or sixth check. The non-QA people in the office couldn’t believe their ears—we were going to re-test after that last little itsy bitsy fix, at 11 p.m. after fifteen hours. Luckily my QA analyst was of the same mind as me. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, you don’t ship without a final clean test result. That’s how QA people think, that’s how everyone should think.

If we proceeded to send it out, to have the 30,000 CD copies made Saturday morning, and then found an error, it would be a hard lesson in doublechecking. As it happened, we got an easy lesson. The 11 p.m. test failed, the last fix caused a totally off-the-wall unexpected side-effect bug. We kept at it another hour, and at midnight we shipped a solid product with a clean bill of health. Our coworkers admitted, “We dodged a bullet with that last test.” Everyone changed from being exasperated by us QA folk, to being gushingly grateful to us QA folk. Everyone in Quality Assurance knows exactly what I’m talking about. I have many similar stories and many of you QA’ers do too.

I learned to be a QA person in elementary school. I remember an instance in third grade, feeling tired and cross-eyed after completing a long test. Then I looked at the clock, and saw that I had finished twenty minutes early. I shook my head and said to myself, “Oh no, I have time to doublecheck my answers. I better do it.” Other kids were showing off how fast they finished by running up to the teacher and turning in their tests early.

I was exasperated with myself for feeling compelled to doublecheck my work. But I did it anyway. I doublechecked until time was up. I did find mistakes, and fixed them during that last twenty minutes. I got 100% on that test. I have several memories from school being the last one to turn in a test, and the only one to get 100%. Through high school and college, and in every job I’ve had since then, I doublecheck my work, my process, my gantt chart, my emails, my reports, my proposals, my test results, my website code, my editing, my Excel sheets, my budgets, my schedule, and everything else that has any meaning or importance. In every instance, I find at least one fix or improvement.

Nobody’s perfect, but that old adage is not an excuse to let errors slip by that could have been caught. I still turn in work that has errors or typos sometimes—because it’s true, nobody’s perfect. But when I count up all the errors I caught and fixed by doublechecking over the past forty years, I breathe easier knowing that my work has been that much better as a result.

If I had left in all those errors during my past forty years of work, I would feel gross, I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. Errors are so vulgar! Every mistake is painful, and normal human pain-avoidance should be enough to deter laziness and keep us honest. Errors also force other people to do extra work, so it is basic courtesy to be careful. Mix in some integrity and pride in your work, and you definitely want to be one of us: the Doublecheckers.

Failure to doublecheck sometimes happens to industrious well-meaning people. Some are hard workers, but they are so convinced they did everything right, they think it’s a waste of time to check again. Like the person who fixed the itsy bitsy error at the beginning of this story: “It’s good to go!” He was a smart guy and had worked hard for fifteen hours. But it wasn’t good to go, and it wasn’t good enough. Don’t be so confident that you give in and take shortcuts. I have felt confident that I had it right many times. And every time, I doublecheck anyway, and every time I find something to change.

You can’t spend all day crafting and proofreading a routine email. You can’t always control a software release schedule. But most people know a reasonable doublechecking opportunity when they see one. It gives you true confidence in your work, because it makes your work better.

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