Give thanks for your lessons – you may have heard that phrase before. The fall is the time of year (at least in North America) when most cultures pause and give thanks for the things they have before the dark winter months close in on us. It is easy to be thankful for physical things such as food and shelter. It’s also easy to be thankful for the loved ones in our lives, and our own physical health. But how can we give thanks for hard lessons that we may want to forget?

 “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” -Oscar Wilde

Many times, those hard lessons come from mistakes we have made. And sometimes we are so ashamed of those mistakes, or the fallout from the mistake, that it is just too painful to recall what happened. Presenting live demos has always been a great way to gain this experience. There is nothing like taking your audience on a journey and you realize that they are totally into. You lead them to an epic live demonstration in order to prove all of the points you’ve shared with them….only to have the demo completely crash.

Most of us who have experienced live demo crash go on to create backups so it we never have to experience that cringy moment again. We do network checks, we do dry-runs before the presentation starts, and of course we have something recorded in case we need to bail on the live demo. Going through a demo crashing is a great way to understand a technology’s shortcomings, not to mention a way to practice thinking quickly and communicating changes well to end users.

I’m sure even Elon Musk learned something from his most recent live demo fail.

“When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it: admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.” -Paul Bear Bryant

Sometimes you make mistakes that are flat out screw-ups. You did something you knew was wrong, for whatever reason. And the former football coach is right, all you can do is own up, learn from it, and don’t repeat it. I made a mistake early in my career when I was a Solaris sysadmin. I usually had 3 to 4 terminal windows open at a time to monitor various parts of our environment. One morning for some reason, I needed to reboot a server. It was probably a dev server that I was working on. So I issued the reboot command – in the sendmail terminal window.

It was around 8:45 AM, on a Monday morning. It meant email was not available for over 30 minutes. I don’t remember anything punitive happening, but I do remember being mortified and being told not to let it happen again. Looking back, I Iearned to be maniacally careful when I issued commands like reboot. I also saw firsthand what happens when a Tier 1 application is unavailable. It made it much easier for me to write about what happens when people face unexpected down times, because I lived through an outage caused by me.

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” -Albert Einstein

If you always do the same thing, you can’t innovate. Sometimes embarrassing mistakes lead to amazing innovations. For example, did you know the pacemaker was invented because of a mistake? Wilson Greatbatch was working on a way to record heart rhythms. He grabbed the wrong component, and the device he built emitted electrical pulses instead of recording them.

This simple mistake has kept countless people alive over the last 50+ years. That’s a lesson all of us can be grateful for.

Give thanks for your lessons

So give thanks for all of your lessons, even those you wish you could forget forever. Why not share the hardest tech mistake with us in the comments, so you can embrace the lessons you learned.