• Question: Have you ever done anything wrong in your work?

    Asked by nancy on 4 May 2020.
    • Photo: Heather Lamming

      Heather Lamming answered on 4 May 2020:


      Yes I have but mistakes happen and as long as the mistakes are picked up either by you or one of your peers or a manager and then sorted out then its ok. It is important to check your work and to ask others to check it just in case. Where I work, we often get our worked checked to be absolutely sure it is correct as somethings when they are wrong can be very bad for our customers.

    • Photo: Callum Girdwood

      Callum Girdwood answered on 4 May 2020:


      Yep, and I think everyone has at some point. We have systems in place so that everything we produce gets verified (checked) & authorised (double checked). Making mistakes is human, and if its clear that it was an honest mistake, it provides a learning opportunity. After all Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin when someone made a mistake and left a petri dish open.

    • Photo: Will Smith

      Will Smith answered on 4 May 2020:


      Yes! I once tripped over a cable, unplugging the master oscillator of the timing system at our facility and shut everything down…. In a previous job I turned around on a swivel chair and caught a load of cables attached to the only development system we had. It fell onto the floor and shattered into hundreds of pieces.Cables are my nemisis. Mistakes happen, the important thing was to own up to them quickly and work out how we would get up and running again!

    • Photo: Rob Husband

      Rob Husband answered on 4 May 2020:


      Mistakes do happen, I have dropped a PLC (programmable logic controller) and dislodged a circuit board. I owned up to it and open it up to check it over and pushed the board into place. Also i have tripped over cables but fortunately haven’t pulled anything important out. Also in my workplace, i have to raise a close call against potentially dangerous situations where this is reported to health and safety and dealt with appropriately.

    • Photo: anon

      anon answered on 4 May 2020:


      Yes! Making mistakes is something that will happen to every one of us at some point. As long as you admit to your mistake, and try to find a way to make it right then that’s all that can be asked.
      I have learned not to be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help.

    • Photo: Garrick Simpson

      Garrick Simpson answered on 4 May 2020:


      I have done several things wrong over the years but nothing that would put anyone in danger or hurt anybody. Mistakes can be made but as long as we learn from these then thats what developing is all about

    • Photo: Tom Stewart-Brackenridge

      Tom Stewart-Brackenridge answered on 4 May 2020:


      Yes, I have made mistakes in my job. I have signed off drawings for production and missed key details off the drawing or wrongly labelled drawings which have resulted in the finished product being wrong. This happens to everybody regardless of how high you are in your job, managers, down to factory floor staff. We all make mistakes, the best thing to do is realise you have made a mistake and try to put it right if you can without causing any more damage or problems.

    • Photo: Conor Tickner

      Conor Tickner answered on 4 May 2020:


      Everyone makes mistakes, and I’ve made a couple clangers in my time, but we live and learn. When you make a mistake you have to quickly determine how significant the effects of it and how difficult it will be to fix. If it’s a big problem then you need to notify others, and if it’s difficult to fix then you mustn’t be afraid to ask for help.
      So long as you realise that the worst thing you can do is try to hide a major mistake, then the world goes on and the team works out a way to fix things as best possible.

      For example, I once set a two-week measurement running but forgot to connect up the batteries properly so the device ran on its internal batteries for about 5 hours and then stopped. We had no idea until the two weeks were over and I went to get the data from it.
      Another one I got kilometres per hour and miles per hour conversion wrong in a spreadsheet (I converted it twice in the calculation) which threw off all the results by a significant margin. Luckily we caught the error before it got submitted.
      One time I had a 5 hour drive to a site to do some work and I got a call 3 hours into the drive asking if I had meant to leave some of the kit I’d set aside behind. I hadn’t meant to. We had to organise for someone at the office who wasn’t critically busy to drive my boss’ car (who was very busy but the other person didn’t have a car) and drive more than an hour down the motorway with the equipment to meet me half way, put three small items in my car, and then resume my long journey.

    • Photo: Graeme Ralph

      Graeme Ralph answered on 4 May 2020:


      Our team makes mistakes along the way, thats why we do alot of testing, then understand the results and finally use what happened in future work to make things work. Its never a bad thing to fail as long as you learn from that experience, the only way to fail is not to try.

    • Photo: Joy Furnival

      Joy Furnival answered on 4 May 2020:


      Definately, mistakes happen all the time in day to day work. A calculation might have an error in it, I might not agree with what my boss wants to do and do something different, and then it turns out my boss was right (aggh!), there might not be a clear way forward.
      The important thing is that we are honest about mistakes, don’t hide them so that we can learn quickly about the mistake, do something to rectify it, and not make the same mistake again.

    • Photo: Amira Tamam

      Amira Tamam answered on 4 May 2020:


      Of course, that is a normal part of everyday work. Learning from your mistakes is one of the most efficient ways to learn something.

    • Photo: Joe York-Fisher

      Joe York-Fisher answered on 4 May 2020:


      All of the time!

      Doing things wrong, and making mistakes, is essential to making improvements and learning.
      When you work for a company, they will have training and safety procedures in place to help make sure that mistakes do not cause big damage, to either you or the company; machine guards to stop you from injuring yourself or others, or computer system guards to stop you from deleting important files etc.

      But being an Engineer is all about making mistakes, finding things that do not work, learning from this, and finding ways to make things better. Then you can add these “lessons learnt” to future company training and safety procedures, which will help reduce the amount of mistakes and problems for other new people.

      But even small mistakes can be a good thing:

      Recently, whilst trying to learn how to use a new computer program, I forgot to save my work and the computer crashed. I lost a whole days worth of training work, but this just meant that I am now far more cautious about saving regularly and I also had to redo all of the work so I had the opportunity to understand it even better. The end result was that I completed the work much faster, and I have a stronger understanding of the program.

    • Photo: George McIntyre

      George McIntyre answered on 4 May 2020:


      Yes of course, every one makes mistakes. The best way to learn and develop as a person, let alone an engineer, is through mistakes you make.

    • Photo: Nicola Grahamslaw

      Nicola Grahamslaw answered on 4 May 2020:


      Of course, nobody is perfect 100% of the time. Even if you got all the highest grades possible in your exams you probably wouldn’t get 100%. So yes, engineers do make mistakes. But engineering companies and projects are set up so that we are always checking each other’s work, and we have computers and other tools to help us too. So if I was doing some calculations to design something, I’d have a computer to help me, and then someone else would check my work, and then there would also be either a model, an experiment, or a prototype built to test out my calculations in real life. The final products usually also have what we would call “redundancy”, where there’s more than one safety system so even if one doesn’t work, the other will. And then the final product would be tested too. So by the time the final product is actually used, we can be confident that the probability of a mistake somewhere causing a big problem is incredibly low.

    • Photo: Sophie Louth

      Sophie Louth answered on 4 May 2020:


      All the time, I am trying to develop new things so I try things out and sometimes they work and sometime they don’t. But sometime they would have worked if I hadn’t made a mistake, sometimes these mistakes are easy to fix and sometimes they take a long time and are expensive which can be frustrating, but it is important to understand we are all human, and making mistakes in human nature.

    • Photo: Frances Askill-Kirk

      Frances Askill-Kirk answered on 4 May 2020:


      Yes I have! I made a lot of mistakes in my first job during my apprenticeship. However, I took this learning and made sure not to make the same mistakes again. If anything, it made me a much better engineer, as I can inform others where there might be a potential problem in the future!

    • Photo: Katie Sparks

      Katie Sparks answered on 4 May 2020:


      Definitely – mistakes happen and for all sorts of reasons: maybe you don’t know enough, perhaps you’re not feeling so well or very tired so you just forget something or don’t spot something and sometimes the time to do things in are short.

      This is why working in teams is good. We have 2 sets of meetings, one with people from the project and another with other people who do what you do on different projects. This way, there are lots of people checking your work, often trying to explain something to someone else, you’ll work out what you’ve missed or find something that you want to find out more about.

      I’ve been on both sides of these meetings – showing what I have been doing and getting ideas from other people, as well as helping to check other peoples’ work and giving them my ideas.

      We try and make a note of what went wrong or what was missed, so that when we’re doing something similar next time, we know to look for out it.

    • Photo: Owen Jeffreys

      Owen Jeffreys answered on 4 May 2020: last edited 4 May 2020 8:05 pm


      Hi Nancy!

      Sometimes this is very hard to admit, but I’m no robot, so yes I have made mistakes, and still do. As long as we are human we will all make mistakes. My manager is a human and so are my colleagues, so they all make mistakes too.

      From a very young age we have been taught what is right and what is wrong and often this makes us scared to try new things in case we get them wrong. But if we never have a go at trying something, then we will never learn how to do anything. There is no point waiting for that perfect opportunity to come as it may never come. Making mistakes is all part of life and learning and as we learn we will become better at doing those things, and the better we become the less likely we will make mistakes…so practice, practice, practice makes perfect.

      But until then, we will continue to make mistakes and when we do I have learned it is important to:
      1. Own up: let my manager know what happened. Don’t try and cover it up as that will make things worse. This shows a professional and honest character.
      2. Figure out how/why it happened: Was I being careless? Could it have been avoided? Was I not trained to use that machine properly? Was I tired and not concentrating? This is a very important thing to do. For example if I made the mistake because I was tired, next time I would take more breaks and then it wouldn’t happen again. If it happened because I was not trained to use the machinery, then my manager would get me trained to use the equipment. If I was being careless or irresponsible, then maybe I would get a warning, but then I would never do it again.

      However, often it is harder to “get it wrong” than you think. I have worked in a safety critical engineering company making parts for aeroplanes. This type of industry is classed as “safety critical” as any mistake could cause the loss of lives. But in this sort of industry, you are never the only person doing the engineering. You might write the code, but then someone else would review your code and check it’s right. And someone else would write a test for your code, and someone else would run the test on your code. And someone else might look at the test result and so on. Basically in places where it is vital to “get it right”, there will be multiple people who will be checking it. So in a way I have found that this is actually a very safe place to learn as people will find my mistakes and help teach me the correct way to do it.

    • Photo: Jean-Luc Bulber

      Jean-Luc Bulber answered on 5 May 2020:


      You learn from your mistakes, and I have learned a lot. So the short answer is yes.

      Mistakes and errors happen all the time, whether it is to you or others. The important thing is to see it as part of your progression, and not as a failure. Learn from it, and do it better next time. First hand experience is what everyone remembers best, so unfortunately sometimes it does not matter how much you tell someone not to do something, they will still want to try it for themselves.

      When you do something wrong, the very first thing is to acknowledge it. Be honest about what you have done, with your teacher, parents, or whoever can help you correct it. Do not run away from it, because if it happened to you, it can happen again to someone else. It’s important to know the true story of what happened exactly and how. Take time to think clearly about it, and explain the facts. And then help to correct what you have done wrong.

    • Photo: Juan Carlos Fallas-Chinchilla

      Juan Carlos Fallas-Chinchilla answered on 5 May 2020:


      Yes indeed! That’s why it is good to double check calculations, ask for help when not familiar with something, or have a chat with more experienced colleagues to learn.

      I used to do experiments with diamond anvil cells. Diamonds were really expensive and broke 2 pairs… costed a fortune to replace them but my supervisor was very kind saying “you need to break an egg to make an omelette” and “if you were racing F1 cars you’d probably end up blowing up one or two engines”…

    • Photo: K-Jo O'Flynn

      K-Jo O'Flynn answered on 5 May 2020:


      I am always making mistakes XD That’s part of the job title as an engineer as we are always discovering new things everyday and it’s not always possible to understand and learn it straight away. The only way to succeed is by understanding your mistakes:D

    • Photo: David Linsell

      David Linsell answered on 5 May 2020:


      Mistakes are a fact of life. The real issue is how does one deal with a mistake. I have made it a personal policy that I would always be open about any mistake I had made, especially with my boss. My boss should hear about my mistakes from me before hearing from anyone else.
      I did once black-out an aircraft carrier when we were at sea. Very embarrassing.

    • Photo: Conrad Manning

      Conrad Manning answered on 6 May 2020:


      Definitely! If you haven’t made a mistake then you’re playing it too safe, thankfully we’ve got a system in place to check things going out for mistakes but sometimes that slips through.

      Best thing to do is always to own up to the mistake rather than just seeing where it goes. Although it feels terrible to do so, it definitely works out much better in the end!

      Most memorable clanger was using the wrong density for a material and ending up 100s of kgs different which caused an argument between owner, yard and us, thankfully it was built right and just the weight calculation was wrong but was quite embarrassing.

    • Photo: Matthew Burgess

      Matthew Burgess answered on 7 May 2020:


      All the time!! But that’s how you learn, the important thing is that you don’t make the mistake again and again and again.

    • Photo: Alistair McConnell

      Alistair McConnell answered on 7 May 2020:


      A huge amount of my work is coming up with ideas testing them and then seeing if they fail or succeed and I have had a lot of failures. But you learn from them and move on, its a key ability to be a good engineer.

    • Photo: Colin Donaldson

      Colin Donaldson answered on 7 May 2020:


      Yes – everyone makes mistakes however it is important that these mistakes are learnt from to ensure that they do not happen again. This is the best way to work through a problem, and sometimes the knowledge gained through making a mistake is invaluable.

    • Photo: Simon Porter

      Simon Porter answered on 13 May 2020:


      Yes, I’ve covered myself in calibration fluid out of a test bench because I didn’t connect my test piece correctly, and I’m sure there are plenty of other examples through my life where I’ve made mistakes…
      Mistakes happen when you’re trying different things to solve problems, learning new skills and techniques and investigating/researching something.
      As such, everyone makes mistakes, I have a saying “The person who never made a mistake never made anything” because if you never make a mistake you’re either exceptionally lucky, exceptionally cautious, or not doing anything.
      Finally, mistakes are an important part of learning and development, but it is important to recognise them as early as possible, accept them, learn what you can and then move forward with your new knowledge.

    • Photo: Ken Mollison

      Ken Mollison answered on 16 May 2020:


      Someone famous (I think) once said that a person who has not made a mistake has not learned, so making mistakes is part of being human and is part of being an engineer. Thankfully the engineering processes which require that teams and individuals cross check each others work are very very good and do not let errors through to the final product or solution. Common mistakes can occur in arithmetic, but are easy to find and correct. Computers don’t always get things right either so their output is often checked and they way in which they calculate it too.
      Yes – I’ve made mistakes, but thankfully either I’ve found them when I cross check my work or another team member has corrected me. Sometimes mistakes can lead to inventions though. they say that silly putty was the result of a mistake when someone was trying to find a way to make an alternative to rubber

    • Photo: Martin McKie

      Martin McKie answered on 21 May 2020:


      I think Albert Einstein famously once quoted:

      “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new”

    • Photo: Tom Rooney

      Tom Rooney answered on 3 Jun 2020:


      Everyone does! We never stop learning… ever… and part of the process of learning is to get things wrong. If you never make a mistake you never grow.

      Embrace failure, it’s a key part of being an engineer. All the things we use and take for granted in our lives are the final (or latest) version of that thing after a series of errors and failures.

      We have a test facility in Plymouth where new ideas, prototypes, systems are trialled and evaluated. Those trials always go wrong! That’s the point of a trial. But by looking at where and why they went wrong we can improve them and trial again. We use the phrase “fail fast, learn fast”. Very soon the improvements bear fruit and you can develop the prototype into a product that you are 99.9% sure will do the job you want it to.

      The same applies to your life in general – everyone makes mistakes, but you if take lessons from those mistakes you become a better person. Never avoid trying something for fear of making a mistake. If you make a mistake that upsets someone then take ownership of that mistake, if you acted with good intentions and then work to redress the error you will soon be forgiven and you will have gained from the experience.

      I have made many mistakes in my career, I learned from every one but I never dwell on them. Move forward, be brave, if you fall then get up again and keep moving forward.

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