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The Four Year Typo

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The Four Year Typo

Read one programmer's perspective on how a fresh pair of eyes can make all the difference, and even beginners can have something to teach experts.

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I’m a horrible speller. I often joke that I got into programming because it doesn’t matter how you spell your variables, as long as you spell them consistently. Even so, I spend a good portion of my days writing: writing docs, writing emails, writing commit messages, writing issue comments, and, of course, writing blogs. Before I publish an article, I run my work by an editor, which makes this typo even more exceptional.

I got a note about a typo on a Devcenter article on Rails 5.x that I maintain. This article published over a year ago has had 4 different editors/contributors and 19 revisions. I can’t give out numbers but this article has had A LOT of page views. It is the number one article I maintain by a huge margin, it was pretty surprising when I opened this note and it mentioned I had a typo.

and if you app depends on a gem from one of these groups to run, you should move it out of the group

Did you catch it? I didn’t. Here it is spelled out:

and if you[r] app depends on a gem from one of these groups to run, you should move it out of the group

I checked and sure enough, that typo has been there from the original version of the doc. You might ask, “but Rails 5 has only been out for a year, how was this typo alive for 4?” I copied the 5.x guide from the 4.x guide and sure enough, the typo in the Rails 4.x guide has the typo going back for 4 years. The 4.x document had an additional 7 contributors who didn’t notice.

I messaged the reporter to thank them for the find and explained how the typo had gone unnoticed for so long, and this was their response:

You’re welcome! I’m learning to create a rails server so I had to be extra thorough 

Epic. I love this. I’ve read through these docs probably hundreds of times. I wrote an automated build system to compile and test these docs. I’ve spent a good chunk of time refining and tweaking these articles. But I didn’t stop and look close enough for FOUR FREAKING YEARS to see what was right in front of me. There is always value in a fresh perspective. There is value in every contributor regardless of skill level. I’ve been at this Ruby programming thing for 10+ years, and someone just beginning Rails development can still reach out and help. You can make an impact on whatever you like, just get involved.

I aspire to live each day through the eyes of a beginner, to catch the moment that might otherwise go unnoticed. I want to challenge myself not just to get to the destinations, but to appreciate the journeys along the way. I think we all need a fresh perspective, I’m just hoping my next one won’t take 4 more years.

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agile ,ruby on rails ,documentation

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