Avoiding the GIGO trap
“Garbage in, garbage out.”
It has a nice ring to it. And engineers have long embraced it as a mantra. If you don’t put the right stuff in, don’t expect to get good results.
And so, when we banned leaded gasoline, the car industry complained that they’d never be able to make cars run well again.
And when HP started making printers for consumers, they were eager to point out that you needed to use special paper, and definitely not labels.
And if you’re using the command line on a computer, well, don’t spell anything wrong or whatever happens is your fault.
And if you’re a patient, be sure to take the precise amount of medicine, on time, and follow all the doctor’s instructions.
The thing is, “garbage in, garbage out” is lazy.
It’s lazy because it puts all the onus on the user or the environment. It lets the device off the hook, and puts the focus on the system, which, the device creator points out, is out of his control.
It’s one thing to make a sports car that runs beautifully on smooth roads, perfect tires and premium gas, but it’s a triumph of engineering to make one that runs beautifully all the time.
It’s one thing to organize the DMV so it works well when every person reads all the instructions, fills out the forms perfectly and patiently waits their turn, but it’s a generous act of customer service and organization when the system is resilient enough to work with actual human beings.
The extraordinary teacher adds value to every student, no matter what their home is like. She sees possibility and refuses to settle or blame the inputs. Isn’t that the way we’d like every professional to see the world?
You don’t need to measure the flatness of your bread to use a toaster. And the persistence of the car and printer industries means that the type of gas or the paper we use matters a whole lot less than it used to.
The better mantra is, “garbage in, gorgeous out.”
That’s what we hired you for.