How to Build a Positive Culture Within Development Team on Debugging

by

Marwan Haddad

December 1, 2022

5 Min

reads

How to Build a Positive Culture Within Development Team on Debugging

Too many software development teams treat error logging as a burden rather than a chance to grow.

That’s why Jeli’sHowie: Post-Incident Guide” felt like a breath of fresh air. In the guide, Jeli’s team notes that negative treatment of bugs is everywhere, including the language we use to describe software development. Terms like “post-mortem” and “root-cause analysis” speak for themselves.

We’d like to build on the suggestions put forward in Howie and share our perspective on error logging as well. So let’s take a look at how a small mindset shift around debugging could encourage more positive moments in your team.

We All Hate Making Mistakes

At the early stage of their career, software engineers tend to think that their job is all about coding.

But in reality, many of us spend most of our time trying to figure out how to fix small bugs. Take just one look at developer communities like the subReddit r/ProgrammerHumor and you’ll find many debugging memes like this one:

(This meme by Reddit user Unupgradable gathered 500+ upvotes in 14 days.)

Bugs feel like a waste of time. You’re not building anything new or drastically improving your code. Instead, you’re just resolving errors in hopes of getting the code you already have to function at all.

It’s emotionally taxing when you see someone fix a bug in 10 minutes when you were struggling with it for days. You may feel terrible about yourself, just as another Reddit user did in this thread.

But why do software developers experience such intense self-esteem issues when dealing with bugs?

Errors In Code Are Inevitable

First, let’s accept an unpleasant truth: we will always have bugs in our code.

No matter how knowledgeable you are, errors are an unavoidable aspect of programming. You might not be able to pinpoint the exact moment when a bug pops up, as it can be anything from a minor syntax problems to complex language-specific complications.

We Fear Being Judged

Too many engineers think the existence of bugs in their code equates to a lack of skill.

You might worry that others will see and criticize your unfinished work even when nobody’s looking. In a certain sense, it's just a drawback of human psychology. None of us feel particularly excited about negative feedback, especially when our code is still unpolished.

Nobody Knows Everything

Let’s be honest, we like to think that we are the smartest people on the team.

Perhaps in your dreams, people stand in line to ask you for advice. You imagine that once you show the world your new genius application, everyone will get their minds blown by your sheer brilliance. But while that fantasy is appealing, you need to wake up and admit that you will never become perfect.

Your younger colleagues will find errors in your code, and you will eventually realize that someone can work faster than you. It’s not about how many years of experience you have, but rather your unique way of thinking.

How to Shift the Perspective on Errors

Engage in Group Work

Why do we even work in teams?

The whole point of having multiple people on the team is to exchange ideas and learn from others.

Try to think of software engineering as a sports competition where success requires teamwork. Recognize that your colleagues are there to support you, not to judge you.

In fact, collaboration can speed up the process of debugging and make everyone smarter. How long does it usually take you to locate and fix all errors?

Now, imagine doing the same thing with a few colleagues who could watch your back and immediately point out your mistakes and provide solutions you may have missed.

Fight With Your Ego

You will grow as long as you keep appreciating the worth of others around you.

Younger engineers frequently know recent trends that the more experienced members of your team weren’t aware of. Channel everyone’s strengths to create a better product on the other end.

Strive to Learn

Imagine a circle that contains all the information you know.

Now, imagine a much larger circle around it with the information that you don’t know. Your inner circle's edge widens as you gain knowledge, exposing yourself to problems outside of your comfort zone.

If there is a person who fixed a bug you were stuck upon, you should treat them as a wonderful chance to learn more. You can discover a fresh way of thinking if you find out how they arrived at the solution.

Don’t hesitate to ask trivial questions, as silence won’t make you wiser.

Our Experience With Reaching a Productive Mindset

At Railtown.ai we’ve noticed a tendency among software engineers to think that errors point to poor job performance.

Fixing bugs takes time and eventually slows the team down from writing new code. So people tend blame themselves for delivering imperfect code.

How Railtown Helps Teams Reach a Productive Mindset?

We look at bugs as learning experiences that crease areas for professional growth.

So we’ve built our entire error logging product from that mindset. A structured approach to error investigation is an investment into more effective development work.

Here’s how we recommend your team should approach debugging (whether you use Railtown.ai or not):

  • Catch bugs early (local developer environment, testing, and staging systems)
  • Track and categorize bugs when they happen. This way, you can quickly address repetitive errors before pushing a new deployment.
  • Understand where most bugs are saturated and plan how much review time they require. (We use Velocity dashboards to visualize the most error-prone surface areas.)

Practical Advice for Development Teams on Treating Errors in a Positive Way

The “I can manage it all alone” approach doesn’t work.

Even if extraordinary engineers exist, they will seek help at some point. Brilliant ideas result from a flash of creativity and continuous determination of the team members.

Instead, focus on building a great team. In most successful teams, there is always something stronger holding them together beyond smart individual developers.

Creating an atmosphere where developers will thrive can be quite challenging, but perhaps we can help you start. Here are some of our recommendations for positive interactions and teamwork in your future debugging sessions:

Stop Treating Errors as a Sign of Weakness

It may sound like a cliche, but you would not grow professionally if you did not make a ton of mistakes.

Each typo and bug offers a unique chance to develop your skills. There will always be something positive about your bugs as long as you don't waste your time feeling guilty.

Admit that the number of errors you make does not say anything about your expertise. On occasion, you'll also tackle bugs that others can’t, just as others might do for you.

To benefit from your mistakes, you need to start documenting them. Take some time to develop a structured way to keep a record of your bugs:

  • Where did the error come from?
  • How did you fix it?
  • What did you struggle with most?
  • Review and update your records once in while. (This is also described as the calibration document in the Howie guide)

These records will help you understand where you need to improve. What’s more, this approach will come in handy when other engineers on your team face the same issues.

Focus on Growing Trust in the Team

Although it can’t be measured in numbers, psychological safety is the most crucial element of teamwork.

Most people choose to hide their problems and keep their questions unanswered to avoid looking weird. But by protecting yourself from failing in front of your colleagues, you ignore a chance to engage in effective teamwork. Your coworkers are more inclined to acknowledge their faults, collaborate, and work on risky tasks if they feel secure in your team.

The higher the trust between your engineers, the more open all of you will be to talking about your mistakes.

Ask For Help

Finally, don’t let the irrational fear of looking foolish stop you from reaching out for advice.

You never know if someone’s perspective on your code could save you hours of fixing a bug.

Learn to Appreciate Feedback

To many people, hearing the feedback does not bring much joy.

You may mistake criticism for an attempt to bring you down.

What if you were told that the engineer offering you feedback genuinely respects you and wants you to do better at your job? If someone spends their time reviewing your code, this probably means they are interested in solving an error you may have missed.

Regardless of who you work with, be respectful and appreciate the effort that your colleagues put into solving your mistakes. At the end of the day, they did you two favors: fixed your bugs and helped you discover something new.

Build a Positive Debugging Culture with Railtown.ai

Establishing a positive perspective on errors in a team can be quite challenging.

An intelligent error logging tool can help. Railtown.ai lets you categorize bugs and discover their root cause faster, solving headaches for your team and helping you feel better about your skills. Try a demo for free by signing up on our website.

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