Leadership Lessons: The New Programmer Who Deleted His Company’s Database

We all remember our first professional job out of college. Likely we shared a mixture of excitement and nerves – eager to make a good impression and to not do anything stupid. 

Assuredly, these were the same things going through a young developer’s mind with the Reddit handle cscareerthrowaway567  – that was until the young programmer accidentally deleted his company’s entire production database and that nervous excitement turned into panic and terror. You can read the details of his error on Reddit, here. 

In a nutshell, the young developer had to create his own test database, but in the onboarding materials, the login credentials to the production database were included and he accidentally used those instead of his own. Hence, when he went to delete his “test” database, he was actually deleting the company’s live one. While it’s obvious the novice programmer made a mistake, it’s equally odd that such sensitive credentials were in the onboarding materials. 

So how did management handle this debacle? And more importantly, how would you handle this as a leader? 

According to cscareerthrowaway567, it played out like this: 

The CTO told me to leave and never come back. He also informed me that apparently legal would need to get involved due to severity of the data loss. I basically offered and pleaded to let me help in someway to redeem my self and i was told that i ‘completely f****d everything up’.” [sic] 

Ouch. 

The overwhelming reaction on Reddit was one of sympathy towards the young developer and the opposite for his bosses. It appears there was very little admission of responsibility from management in this situation. And in general, it could be seen as quite a poor display of company culture. 

A good leader should be wary of a work environment where people can “fail” individually. In this situation it seems pretty clear that it wasn’t just the developer’s mistake, it was the culmination of a number of mistakes. These include production backups of the company’s data, removing sensitive login credentials from onboarding materials, and employee oversight and mentorship issues.  

In essence, this was a mistake that was bound to happen. The coder didn’t arrange the kindling and pile up the logs, he simply lit the match. It was incredibly short-sighted and culturally damaging to fire the new employee. In a previous post, we discussed the importance of psychological safety at high performing companies, yet this man’s boss is setting the tone that if you make a mistake, you will be terminated. 

The lens good leader’s look through is one that looks for learning opportunities and ways to improve systems. You want to look for ways to both empower your employees and give them strategies for avoiding painful mistakes. 

A number of Redditors chimed in with stories of other similar failures which did not result in firings. One was a particularly severe issue with Amazon’s Web Services caused by an accidental deletion. The commenter said, “Last I remember — guy is still there.” 

Likewise, there was the similar failure where the code repository startup GitLab’s system administrator accidentally deleted a production backup. It was a harrowing time for the startup which had just received $25M in funding, but they responded with an apology and live updates for their users, plus acknowledgment of systems that needed to be fixed. When asked about placing blame on that unfortunate system admin, the VP of Marketing relayed to Business Insider that an error like this isn’t something you can blame on one person. “It’s fair to say it’s more than one employee making a mistake,” he said. Now that’s a good leader, with a company that thinks like a team and that sees mistakes as learning opportunities. 

Doug Ramsay

Doug Ramsay

Doug handles the marketing and web presence for Adventure Associates. If he's not geeking-out with the latest, greatest web marketing tools, then you'll find him swirling and sipping his way through wine country.
Doug Ramsay

Latest posts by Doug Ramsay (see all)

Doug handles the marketing and web presence for Adventure Associates. If he's not geeking-out with the latest, greatest web marketing tools, then you'll find him swirling and sipping his way through wine country.

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