Apprenticeship Pattern – Breakable Toys

The Apprenticeship Pattern “Breakable Toys” refers to a scenario where the environment you’re working in doesn’t allow for you to fail, stifling your learning because failure is often the best way to learn anything. According to the author, the solution to this is to create your own “breakable toys” from which you’re able to learn through catastrophic failure that won’t have an effect on anyone but you.

The thing I find most interesting about this pattern is some of the examples it suggests to do in order to create opportunities to learn. For example, creating your own wiki and adding more interesting features without being bound by existing implementations. I can see how working on something like this from start to finish would greatly improve your ability as a software developer.

It would be great if you could be satisfied with the amount of learning that you’re able to do within your current work environment, but given the fact that businesses need to make money to survive, taking risks and learning through failure is typically not something that can consistently happen if a company wants to continue existing. That’s not to say that mistakes should never happen, but it makes sense that a company would want to avoid them as much as possible in order to retain the trust of their clients. If someone were to make a costly mistake for a company, it should be used as a opportunity to learn from it, rather than just firing that employee and moving on.

I recall there being a disruption in Amazon’s S3 service causing around 3 hours of downtime being attributed to human error. One of the employees on the S3 team was debugging an issue when he accidentally removed a larger set of servers than he had originally intended, all due to a small typo in his input. Regarding this incident, Amazon stated: “We will do everything we can to learn from this event and use it to improve our availability even further”, acknowledging that they would seek to prevent it from happening in the future. I would imagine that the employee who made the mistake may have learned a lot about the potential effects of something that seemed so insignificant.

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