Arrow Pincushion

Friday evening repeated a now-familiar but still-irritating interaction with my manager. He wanders into my office to inquire about a defect on which I’d been working. (For those not deeply geeky and to keep the technicalities from distracting, I’ve replaced the actual terms with placeholders.)

ME: The foozle impinges on the moof which in most cases fires the spryck.
HIM: The foozle?
ME: Yes.
HIM: Impinges on the moof?
ME: Yes.
HIM: Why does it impinge?
ME: I don’t know.
HIM: But that makes no sense.
ME: I know.
HIM: But why?
ME: I didn’t write the code: it’s from before I started working on this codebase.
HIM: Most times fires the spryck?
ME: Yes.
HIM: Why not all the time?
ME: I don’t know.
HIM: Are you sure the foozle impinges?
ME: Yes. Every time.
HIM: But why?
ME: I still don’t know.
HIM: We have to change the foozle to bypass the moof and fire the spryck every time.
ME: Good idea. But it may take some work.
HIM: Why? It should be simple.
ME: Because the chungong depends on the foozle and we need to make sure changing the foozle doesn’t break the chungong.
HIM: Why does the chungong depend on the foozle?
ME: Because it does.
HIM: But it shouldn’t need to.
ME: But it does.
Et cetera, et cetera, …

His instinct appears to be to challenge all data presented to him. Whilst I agree that data used to make a decision ought to be defensible, having one’s results consistently challenged feels like being a shot messenger. Messengers who get shot have a strong incentive to stop delivering the messages.

As I complained about this to my spouse, I got the eye-roll that said, “Look who’s talking, mister”. I make the distinction, perhaps a fine point, that I only challenge factoids that fail the laugh-out-loud test like, say, anything heard on Oprah. But I will concede that perhaps she might feel like it’s the same thing.

But it’s not. I’m skeptical of hearsay, even if it comes through my spouse. At work, though, it’s not hearsay. I’m quite literally a trained professional. Treating my results with skepticism puts my work in the same class as hearsay. ‘Tain’t no outrageous fortune, so keep your slings and arrows to yourself, eh?


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