Friday, December 03, 2021

First - Understand the Problem

Things are different for me being retired. I don’t get the blogging inspiration the way I used to. Today a post by Mike Zamansky (Work through the example!!!!!) got me thinking. I used to talk to students about problem solving and one of the things I tried to highlight was the need to understand the problem as completely as possible.

All too often students read or listen to instructions lightly and make assumptions that are not really supported by what has been presented to them. It is often tempting to skim and assume with the idea that it will save time. It works often enough, for simple enough problems, to help people to fall into the trap of thinking they are smart enough to do this always. Until it doesn’t work.

It’s hard to get students to focus on understanding the problem completely. Honestly, it can be hard for more experienced people to do this as well. The urge to jump into the coding is strong. I have been known to start coding too early myself. The more important the project/problem the more important it is to make sure you really understand the problem.

In what seems like a different life I was a developer in an operating system group. The sub team I was on was writing a new print/batch subsystem from scratch. The three of us spent weeks looking at what features should be there and how they should be set up. We spent more weeks designing the code. All before we wrote a line of code. Honestly, the groups leadership was on our case to start coding before we were done understanding and planning. Long story short, we finished on-time without having to work crazy overtime hours. Planning paid off.

It’s a story I told regularly to students over the years. It may or may not have helped but I tried.

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