The cost of your mistake

I got a new project recently that related to money transaction and conversions. And of course during the first week of working I already made a lot mistakes. What is new in those mistakes for me is that because we don’t have “staging” environment and I have to work with real “production” cases and every my mistake has a number now – how much did it cost to company?

It sounds as a very broken design, doesn’t it? I came to bosses to clarify that and got the answer that it’s better for company to have some loses but deliver new features faster. A new mindset for me.

I am going this way now but can’t get off the feeling of remorse when I do a mistake. After I made a new one last week that caused more loss then my salary is I felt uncomfortable again and even it seems that nobody cared I did a little bit research about “the price of mistake”.

I understand that in surgery the cost of a mistake can be much different that in my humble vocation, so I limited my research to the “program code mistakes”. And I found a few interesting.

  1.  4 June 1996 $370 000 000 caused by Integer overflow
  2. 3 December 1999, Mars Polar Lander. $328 000 000 caused by non initialized var
  3. There are a lot of such stories in the cosmic and flight industry (50+ cases), so I tried to find anything else and it was easy. Politics and friends:
  4. Pensions and welfare:
  5. American electricity blackout in 2003:
  6. Medicine:

The last one is especially terrible in my opinion. Patients have received more radiation then prescribed because of bad software. Don’t know why but it is more intimidating for me, more then rocket crash.

The idea that something can slowly kills you because of an obtuse programmer especially scary because everything nowadays is controlled by programs.

I wanted to comfort myself about my mistakes with this research, but looks like I even made things worse. Now I am glad that I don’t write code for hospitals, and all my mistakes just about money, but I lost the trust to anyone’s else code.

Have you ran into bugs that influenced your life?




  1. Oh!!! The cost is huge Ivan!!!

    I haven’t met any such situations. But I can recall a smaller one from my postal department. 4 years ago, I joined in India Post department. At that time our department was being digitalized a product after a product. They were transferring all those physical documents into digital. We were assigned to complete our region’s documents.

    My superior knew that I can handle computers and do data entry. So he recommended me along with 10 other youngsters who can handle the computers. We worked from 5 PM to 12 AM about a week after our usual work. I was a little bit enthusiastic and being a night-owl I took few more hours and worked until 2 AM. I continued that for the rest of the week.

    At the last day of work, I learned that I was supposed to take care of particular accounts that are flagged with certain labels. But I missed it and continued to do that with all of the accounts. I realized the mistake and didn’t tell to anyone. I think they would have to re-allign those particular documents later they found out.


    Not as huge mistake as your case, but mine would have cost someone’s valuable time.

  2. ..that IS related

    And of course, during…

    I already HAVE made a lot…

    new ABOUT those mistakes

    more THAN prescribed

    Especially the last one is terrible.

    Don´t know why,


    .. but THIS is more intimidating

    THAN THE rocket crash

    The idea that something can slowly kill you, owing to an obtuse programmer, IS especially scary. Because nowadays everything is controlled by programs.

    I wanted to (or I was supposed to) comfort myself (about) against? my mistakes with(by?) this research, but it looks like I (even) only have made things worse. Now, I am glad that I don’t write codeS for hospitals and THAT all my mistakes ARE just about money. But I HAVE lost the (my?) trust (faith?) to everyone else’s code.(others coding)



  3. About 30 years ago, I was directing a procedure to test a mechanical nuclear water circulation system that contained four large expensive pumps (millions of dollars) that operated together.  I missed a procedure step and caused a valve misalignment that resulted in a less-than-optimum cooling water lineup for the pumps, potentially risking damage to them.  Fortunately, the condition duration was brief and the pumps were well-engineered, so nothing happened.  Whew!  Dodged a bullet there.  (I have to state for the record that at no time was the public ever in any danger.)

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