Thursday, May 6, 2010

Over the shoulder problem solving

I am not really sure that this week bias is really a bias, but it is worthwhile being aware of.

I was writing some code (C) to reproduce a customer problem while in the office near Reading this week and needed to parse an argument, so used the function atoi. I got strange results when I entered large numbers on the command line. Overflow (the size of the number was larger than the type would accommodate) entered my head, but I checked it and carried on debugging the problem as it appeared. After about 10 minutes I ambled off to ask Lee, who I work with, if he would just stand there and after I explained the problem to him, he could point out the daft error I had made.

Within 15 seconds of starting explaining the problem to Lee, I had caught the problem myself, it just jumped out while explaining the issue. He smiled and wondered off knowing that the next time it may occur in reverse.

Explaining a problem to someone else who is fresh is a very powerful problem solving technique, even if they make no direct contribution. Prehaps the bias is a tendency to carry on and not ask for someone to spend a few minutes looking over your shoulder while you explain the pathology of a problem.

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