Shooting in the dark.

It sounds incredibly “duh”, but it’s surprising how often I try to solve a problem prior to understanding what exactly I’m trying to solve. Me constantly finds, er, me, catching, well, myself grasping at straws in the hopes that pure creativity will step in and bring closure. Shooting in the dark, if you please.

It’s not only me, myself and I, though. It’s pretty much everyone, and definitely minds subject to prolonged stretches of focus (software devs) are particularly prone to simply shooting away.

Since I’ve been at Mammoth, though, I’ve learned to identify myself getting into a ‘problem plateau’, or, a place where it’s unlikely I’ll happen upon a solution based purely on the knowledge at hand. Confused people call this “spinning their wheels”.

Catching myself blowing a perfectly good workday requires discipline and modesty. Discipline because it takes practice. Modesty because practice comes before perfection. I run low in both of these scarcities, but have managed to scrape up enough of each to know that the time it takes to blindly discover a fix is always greater than the time it takes to logically identify and then attack a problem.

So, how do I know when I’m screwed and wasting my time? Well, it’s like a puzzle where I don’t know what the picture is or how many pieces there are. And I’m given one single piece at a time. Back when I programmed, I’d hack ‘n’ whack until it worked, with no idea how I ended up at the solution. How many other features may have been compromised? How much extra, inefficient code got stuffed in there? I’ll never know, cuz I just spent way too long shooting everything that moves.

So, one tip for the desolate and prideful. You are not an island, and neither is your problem. So, much like getting lost in the wild, you should stop where you are and yell for help. Now, wait until someone finds you. Your teammates are your search and rescue team. Defer to them. They’re on your team because they have similar skill sets, experience, and hopefully intellectual capacity. They’ll know how to help.

Whatever you do, though, don’t start eating strange berries. And don’t pretend you’ll get anywhere near a solution prior to being able to verbalize your problem to your team. And perchance you do hack ‘n’ whack your way to a fix, you certainly are still lost in the wild, because you’re nowhere close to being a better problem solver than you were before. And, it’s 2 am.