Losing irreplaceable data is one of the most frustrating experiences in modern life — and I’m not just talking about baby pictures.
A Once in a Lifetime Experience?
Recently I was in a meeting working with some colleagues. It was one of those rare good meetings where ideas are flowing and everyone is participating. We had someone from out of town so we were coming up with a plan for how we would work together.
As luck would have it, my laptop started to wig out while the meeting was happening and the auto-save feature for whatever reason was not able to save a copy with my notes. I even switched to good ol’ reliable Notepad, which also decided to crash. And long story short I lost all the notes that I took and all the changes to the presentation we were working on together.
Now one could imagine that we made it once, we could make it again. But for some reason this was an incredibly demoralizing experience for me personally and I loathed the idea of having to recreate this work. I actually sat down and tried to write down everything from the meeting I could remember, but I couldn’t think of anything. My mind was completely blank. I emailed the other folks, and they helped recreate some of it, but there were some ideas lost.
I think the reason for my forgetfulness was because I was taking notes, I wasn’t bothering to commit things to long-term memory. And because we were so “on” during the meeting, it was hard to recreate the energy needed to bring back the ideas. At any rate, it was professionally depressing.
Forgot to Check In (not to Foursquare)
Several years ago, I made a rookie mistake as a young developer. I had just joined a team and rather than getting all my tools & environment set up (you know, the boring stuff), I just start coding away. I made a ton of progress because I didn’t have to worry about meeting coding guidelines or checking anything into source control or the build process, and I got some great code up and running. I gave a demo to my boss, and he loved it.
But a few weeks later (before I had checked anything in to source control) my hard drive crashed! Long story short, my boss was not happy to spend $3000 on hard drive recovery to get back 4 weeks of coding I had done. Of course it was cheaper than having me write the application again, but I learned my lesson about the importance of source control and backups in general.
Sometimes the only way to learn about risks is to become the victim of them.
But I want to pivot these stories on a few different axes to highlight some learning.
1. Personal Perspective
Losing data that you spent time and energy to create sucks. It’s a demoralizing, negative feeling that is hard to repair. It makes you feel like an idiot because it was so easy to prevent!
2. The Boss’ Perspective
They paid me to create that content, and they got nothing. In fact, they got less than nothing because I procrastinated on recreating in one case, and had to pay extra money to get the code back that I had written. Preventing data loss is vital to keeping intellectual property in-house, and making sure your team is making forward progress. It doesn’t matter how smart and proactive your people are if they lose their notes & documents.
3. The Application Owner’s Perspective
Think about what happens when a complete computer system (Software + Hardware + Wetware aka Humans) fails. My laptop crashed, my hard drive failed, autosave didn’t work, I wasn’t following the check-in rules. If I had used a paper notepad, I would have been fine. If I had checked in my code, I would have been fine.
As a user of electronic content devices, I want this stuff to work because when it does, I’m way more productive. I hate typing in paper notes. I hate trying to remember what action items I took. But when it fails, it ruins more than just my day.
When you’re building a system, you have to make it reliable or you will frustrate and anger your user community, and they will find other options.
I hate losing my data, especially the content that I create. I want total systems that work, and it’s worth it to me to invest in this to make sure I don’t lose irreplaceable content. There are steps we can take to prevent loss of data, but it always comes with a price. No system is perfectly reliable or resilient, but I personally intend to strive for this ideal.
Have you ever lost your hard-earned data? How did you cope with the loss?
P.S. – I almost forgot to mention the time my wife dropped my company Sony VAIO and broke it way beyond repair.