justifying poor hygiene

After a couple of iterations being in teams where its valued well when people forget you exist (cough infrastructure cough), I am beginning to see the repetitive urban legends. Specifically, right now, I would like to say something about this:

If you see something bad, there must be a reason why it is there. Don’t be too quick to judge, especially about the author, from their contribution.

First, I think it’s absolutely fantastic to be mindful about the bias on the latter sentence. It made sense at the time and likely if someone else (including you and me) were put in the same situation, the same solution would end up there too.

However, the mistake I have observed about this statement is that the first part becomes an excuse to stop iterating and questioning the justification.

Whatever this bad thing you observed on first glance is perhaps deserves credit to why your system is still operational today – does not necessarily mean that it cannot be improved.

Instead, I would flip such statement into an invitation to collaborate, e.g.:

You might see things that looks wrong or counter-intuitive – I would love to hear and discuss them!

Encourage people to learn and if you’re lucky, you might pay down some technical / design / organizational debt along the way.

One real world example of why we should prevent people from getting discouraged to iterate is how GitHub went through different iterations of one (single!) button on their pull request comment box.

Since 2012, GitHub pull requests have a button for “Close and comment”, which is technically inaccurate because the comment would be posted before the pull request gets closed.

On the source code, there is an explanation that it was done to improve user experience, since “Close” is the more significant action than “Comment” and having them flipped (i.e. “Comment and Close”) might surprise people who click the button without reading the full line.

In 2020, someone finally solved the puzzle and replaced it with “Close with comment”, which is the behavior everyone sees today (at the time of this writing).

It took 8 years to change a single word and perhaps hundreds (citation needed) changed their mind after seeing the comment.

My takeaway is that we should keep in mind that doing the right things takes time and it is usually worth the effort to reevaluate why something so irrational remains there today.