I Done F’d Up. F’d Up Bad

The Worst Mistake In My Career

Leo Godin
5 min readJan 28, 2024

I done F’d up. F’d up bad. Not one of those my-boss-will-be-pissed screw ups. I’m talking a full-blown potentially-stock-altering mess like the ones we read about. Only, this one never made it to the papers. It was the worst mistake I ever made in my career.

Without further ado, here’s a true story told with a pinch of artistic freedom.

Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash

Five-hundred miles from home after a hastily-scheduled trip, I walk that long corridor to the executioners block. Palms sweating. Heart pounding. Surely everyone walking by those drab conference rooms could sense my distress. That’s the guy who’s getting fired. With each door passed, room 410 grows impossibly further and further away. 403. 404. Will this meeting seal my fate?

Room 405 floats by as if I’m standing still and the building is one big escalator. How could I be so stupid to miss an order like that? When the chip designers need compute servers to run validation, I have to order them. Just fill out the form and press submit. It’s not rocket science. The easiest part of my job. Trust is big in this line of work. If I can’t do that, then no one will trust me to manage capacity or recommend efficiencies. There’s no coming back from this.

406. Shit, I really let them down. Those people work so hard. I’m talking the kind of people who block off an hour on Sunday to eat lunch with the family. The kind who put off surgery until the project is finished. These people dedicate their entire being to the project, and my F-up made them work even harder. I can’t face them. Maybe I should turn back. So much easier to skip the meeting and send a letter of resignation.

407. I couldn’t have messed up with a small project in the early stages. No, not me. I had to forget four-hundred servers for a chip key to Intel’s future. Missing deadlines by a few days could mean mean millions. More than that and the dollar figure would drop our stock price. I hadn’t just let my customers down. I’d let the whole company down. Need to turn around.

408. Can’t do that. This needs to be face to face. I owe that much, no matter what happens. I can do this. The process was bad and I’m not the only one to miss an order. Mine was just the most important one. I have a PowerPoint ready. For crying out loud, our entire process was email based. They can’t fire me for losing track of one email among the thousands coming through my inbox. I’ll be OK.

409. Who am I kidding. Even though I’d created a new process full of checks and balances. Even though I’d already created a custom solution to manage and track orders so everyone can easily follow the entire workflow. Even though…. Too little, too late. I shouldn’t have missed the order. I F’d up and deserve whatever is coming. Bile rising in my throat sits there as a reminder. Chase isn’t the kind of guy who smiles or jokes. It’s all business with him, and his business was scrambling.

410. I see them through the small pane of glass. Three in all — Chase, my manager, and someone I don’t know. Can’t breathe. Is the door stuck or are my trembling hands too weak to turn the handle. I have to run. No. I take a minute to calm myself. One small breath, then another. Then, open the door and walk in. Three grim faces all look up at once. Here it is. This is the moment I dreaded since learning about the missing order, yesterday.

Chase gets up, and with the first smile I’ve ever witnessed on his face, offers me his hand. “Hey Leo. It’s good to see you.”

The man who had every right to rip into me. Every right to belittle me and demand my firing, didn’t. Instead, he offered a smile and a gentle greeting. All that dread. The bile. The shaking. Gone in an instant. I almost fell down from exhaustion.

The rest of the meeting is so much fuzzier to me than the moments leading up to it. We discussed what went wrong. How we would prevent it from happening again. Chase talked about borrowing resources from other projects to keep his on track. My F-up caused aggravation, but it did not materially impact the company. That was not my last day at Intel.

That Experience Taught Me So Much

You know those company values we always get drilled into our heads? Most are platitudes at best, but I frequently experienced one that truly defined Intel’s culture. Blame processes, not people. It was on our badge, in the trainings, and demonstrated day in and day out. It would have been easy for Chase or my manager to blame me. Hell, I deserved it. In the end, they chose to blame the process. We had a bad process.

I knew it was bad, even though I was fairly new at the job. When I started, all orders were requested by emailing an individual. There was no real process. Just send an email and hope the servers show up in a couple months. Never run key activities in ad-hoc emails. If you do, make sure there is a way to easily track the entire workflow. At the time of my screwup, I’d already been working on a better process for managing orders. A few checks and balances. Couple of SharePoint lists. Nothing complicated. Just enough to ensure against the problems our bad process created.

On a more personal side, a kind gesture can remove a world of hurt from another human being. Though I wasn’t there, I’m sure Chase and my manager discussed how ashamed and scared I was. There’s no other explanation for the warm greeting I’d received. It was planned to make me at ease. Instead of tearing me down, they built me up. I will never forget that.

This leads us to the most important lesson. We will have hundreds of difficult conversations, preceded by anxiety, doubt and guilt. It’s part of being alive. While some of those conversations go exactly how we expected, the vast majority don’t. Time and time again I’ve experienced that the anxiety before difficult meetings is almost always much worse than the actual experience. Think back to these situations you’ve had in the past. How many times did you lose sleep for nothing?

That’s All Folks

We all make mistakes. There’s no way around it. The best we can do is admit to our failures and come up with processes to make sure they don’t happen again. While some are not as fortunate as I was, my experience has shown most companies accept mistakes. It may feel like the world is ending, but it probably isn’t. If you’re going through this now, take a breath. Then take another. You’ll be OK.



Leo Godin

I’m Leo and I love data! Recovering mansplainer, currently working as a lead data engineer at New Relic. BS in computer science and a MS in data