I’ve worked with a lot of guys with gray hair in my career.  And by “guys with gray hair”, I mean guys who have been doing software development for a very long time.  These are the type of guys that have such a breath and depth of experience, that they seem to know what’s going to happen before it actually does.  They use their experience and their gut feel to tell them when things are on track and when there are dangers.  I have always respected these guys throughout my career and have benefited greatly from apprenticeship to them. 

Now that I’ve started to get some gray hairs, I was in shock today as I read a WSJ article about a Deepwater Horizon survivor describing a “skirmish” during a meeting.  The article describes a disagreement during a morning meeting between a “company man” and the rig’s “top manager” ...

Jimmy W. Harrell—strongly objected to a decision by BP's top representative, or "company man," over how to start removing heavy drilling fluid and replacing it with lighter seawater from a riser pipe connected to the well head.

My guess is that Mr. Harrell has some gray hair.  I’m not trying to lessen the tragedy that is the Deepwater Horizon by relating it to software engineering, but when I read the following passage, I had a very strong sense of Deja vu …

Mr. Harrell "pretty much grumbled in his manner, 'I guess that is what we have those pinchers for,' " Mr. Brown testified. He said it was a reference to the shear rams on the drilling operation's blowout preventer, which are supposed to sever the main pipe in case of a disaster.

I don’t think I can count the number of times I have seen a guy with gray hair (or been the guy with gray hair) walking out of a meeting shaking his head and grumbling under his breath – knowing a decision made in that meeting is wrong.  That pattern repeats itself over and over again in our industry.  I can’t help but picture the “company man” in the article as the young, brash, know-it-all, recently promoted manager who puts his foot down in the face of objections by a gray hair more to make an “I’m the boss now” statement than to actually make a good decision.

I’m so happy I was never that brash, young guy who needed to make a statement rather than learn from somebody who knew better.  I wonder how many software disasters could have been (or can be) averted by heeding the warning of a gray hair’s bad gut feel.  I wonder if it really went down like that on the Deepwater Horizon.  I wonder if the “company man’s” hubris caused him to not trust his gut.  I suspect we will never know.

I always trust my gut.  Sometimes I feel bad about doing that.   I think this lesson, if this is indeed that, will make me feel less bad about doing so.