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Programmer's Greatest Resource

December 23, 2003 | View Comments (1) | simpl(e)y thinking

When I was PHP programmer a couple of years ago there was a time when I was given an assignment which my project manager described as trivial. I was the young guy in the group so I was usually given these "trivial" assignments. In time after enough of these things I started to build a little ego thinking I could tackle any problem. That is what programmers do. We solve problems through the use of a complex logical brain process where we are able to manipulate the bits of computer hardware to do our bidding. I digress. I took the assignment with a yawn expecting another quick implementation. I seemed to have forgotten that the downfall of every protagonist in a Greek tragedy is hubris. My hubris was large. canadadrugs.com

I looked at the assignment and did my usual quick run through in my head about how to handle the problem. After a couple of minutes I was ready to begin. After a couple hours of work I was done. That was easy enough. I ran the code and nothing worked. This was supposed to be trivial. They gave me a trivial assignment because they knew that I was the "conqueror of all things trivial." I was just probably missing a semi-colon somewhere.

Ah, I was missing a semi-colon. That was an easy fix. I ran the code again. Another error. Hmmmm, this was beginning to get annoying. I knew I could do this. I knew I could find the problem and solve it. This was my great test to move up the ladder and onto more important projects. I was intelligent and could always do those end of chapter problems that were in the book I bought from Borders. Assuredly I could fight through this minor speed bump.

I checked my logic again to make sure I didn't misunderstand the problem. Everything seemed to be working fine...on paper. I started small and began fixing errors here and there. Every fix produced another error. I was fighting an endless battle, but I was not going to let this situation become an embarrassing one. Every time someone asked me how things were going I told them some minor issues had occurred and that it would be finished shortly.

Four days later I finally lost it. I stood up and screamed when yet another error felt the need to grace my screen. One of the lead programmers came over and asked what was up. I had surrendered so I told him how much of a failure I was. I showed him the problem I was having. He studied the situation for all of 10 seconds and smiled. He had a solution. Something that took me four days with no end in sight had been solved in 10 seconds by another mortal. Impatient I asked him what was up. He answered:

You have the wrong permissions on the server.

Oh, yeah, well I knew that. Lesson learned. Never hesitate to ask someone when you come across a problem. Everyone sees the world differently and the ability to have someone close to you to ask for help will always be a programmer's greatest resource.

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Comments

In cases like this it's time to step back, to look beyond the problem. If your logic is right, it's not the problem. You'll have to look at what happens beyond the thing you are programming. There the problem must be. I must admit I often forget to do this, though.

Asking somebody else is, of course, also a wise idea. He/She is more likely to look beyond the problem. I think that's what it all comes down to.

Posted by: Mark Wubben at December 24, 2003 08:50 AM

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