Software Creation Mystery - http://softwarecreation.org

Archive for the ‘Skills’ Category

Achieving Top Mental Performance for Software Developers

Do you want to get all your tasks done fast and furious? Shore up your spectacular software development work with this post!

The Imperfect Brain

Lets start with the brain – the most important organ for software development work (I would be surprised if you have even more important organ for this job). This biological tool, composed from 100 billion of neurons and many legacy structures inherited from worms, reptiles, mammals and other animals, is not really perfect for programming tasks.



I think I know – you want to have between ears obedient powerful and reliable machine like the shiny new computer on your desk that crunches tasks with the highest performance without taking breaks, emotional drops and losses of attention.

Unfortunately, our brain reminds more an old computer that barely runs your development activities competing with other processes for limited memory and processing resources on the top of overloaded unstable Brain OS.

Yes, writing software is not easy and not the most important biological mission for your busy brain. It is difficult to achieve top mental performance for your tasks, especially, if you are just doing your daily job and not writing the next Facebook in your basement.

How can we still squeeze good performance from our programmer’s favorite organ?

Problem definition

Goal:
Great mental performance for development tasks

Desirable Condition:
Focused & Productive Brain

Main obstacles

  1. Unclear goals – brain confusion with lack of certain direction and understanding what to do
  2. Dissipated Time – absence of dedicated committed time for the task opens rich possibilities to avoid hard work and procrastinate.
  3. Multi-tasking – running several activities in the same time significantly drops your IQ.
  4. Insufficient energy – tired, emotionally overwhelmed or indifferent brain is not productive at all
  5. Distractions – frequent interruptions do not allow to immerse into the task
  6. Mismatching task – too boring or challenging tasks prevent full brain engagement
  7. Brain overload – complex, dull or voluminous information inhibits your brain operational abilities.

There are three elements of your performance

  1. Tasks – what should be done.
  2. Time – how long and what way you work on your tasks.
  3. Mind – mental energy and abilities to get tasks done.

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Stuck on a Big Hard Programming Task? Read this!

Sometimes I am stuck on a mind-boggling task. I know this because I found myself fiddling around, giving advises to other people, searching for food, drinking coffee or working on low priority stuff. Clock is ticking but little gets done. After I notice this unfortunate state, I talk with myself seriously – calling to conscience, sense of duty and pride of a man who never fails his mission and the team.

Over the time I have learnt how to return to a productive state and even finish difficult tasks. I want to share my experience here.

Precondition
I assume that you have a good idea what you should build. If not, you have to get back to your notes, client or a drawing board. You definitely will be unproductive if you don’t have clear understanding of your task. Most probably you will waste your time and client’s money.

Now, you know what to do but don’t know how and intellectually overwhelmed by this too big to bite piece!

I recommend 3 phase strategy to conquer your difficult task:

  1. Hit the road – start moving and build the confidence
  2. Take control – conquer uncertainty and map the road
  3. Accelerate – drive on full speed while keeping control Read full post >>

How to Meet Challenges with Systems Thinking

A. Life Challenges and Systems

Your life continuously presents new challenges. And your success directly depends on your ability to meet these challenges. You can choose various approaches – react on problems as they come, appeal to supernatural forces or seek for advise.

But how many times

  • you didn’t understand why thing happen and what to do
  • you found that reality and challenges are more complex than they seem
  • your solutions create new problems and make things worse

Welcome to the messy world of complex systems that encompass your life and compose our Universe.

1. You can be the master of your life if you can understand and influence systems involved in your challenges. That means that you should become the Master of Systems Thinking.

However, it is daunting task to understand and use the systems around you. That is why many people stuck without career growth, cannot achieve their top level or stop pursuing big goals. They gave up attempts to master systems that drive our projects and life.
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Should An Effective Developer Innovate, Imitate or just Integrate?

in·no·va·tion – introduction of new things or methods
im·i·ta·tion – the copying of patterns of activity and thought of other groups or individuals
in·te·gra·tion – an act of combining into an integral whole.

What is the best strategy for an effective developer – innovation, imitation or integration? Should you introduce new creative solutions, adapt other people ideas or just integrate existing components?

Software Development is an exciting intellectual endeavor without physical barriers. It is easy to start innovating – come up with new ideas and quickly submerge into their implementation. And I don’t mean here fundamental breakthroughs. I consider as innovation building of any non-trivial solution that is not directly stemmed from Google search results, development resources or available examples. And certainly, I pose the dilemma – innovate or not innovate – to skillful developers who are quite capable to innovate and who enjoy meaningful creative work.

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How to Become an Expert: Creative Problem Solving

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen” – John Steinbeck

Your success in life mostly depends on two things – luck and ability to solve problems. I would leave luck topic for Irish tales and concentrate on the topic of creative problem solving.

Any active person constantly facing many problems and challenges. For example,
  • Improving relationship
  • Flying to space to be the first man on Mars
  • Overweighting and health problems
  • Winning bodybuilding or beauty contest.
  • Procrastination
  • Learning new technology
  • Making more money
  • Building next Facebook or Twitter
  • Raising kids
  • Boosting career growth
  • Becoming Olympic champion or billionaire
  • Making the world a better place
  • Planning a dream vacation
  • Seeking for happiness…

We often are inconsistent in solving problems and cannot find a good solution. This post focus on effective and creative problem solving by offering systematic approach and wide range of techniques.

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How to Become an Expert: Creativity

cre·a·tiv·i·ty -the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations

Creativity can be developed and improved. Here is my Theory of Creativity in 3 parts

  1. Prepared Mind – prepare your mind to be creative
  2. Right challenges – know what challenges you should embrace now
  3. Creative ideas – use powerful techniques to get new ideas

I. Prepared Mind

Your mind is the main tool for generating ideas. Empty, timid and rigid mind will not produce successful ideas.

What should be the qualities of the mind to get great ideas and solve complex problems?

  1. Knowledgeable - know problem domain and other fields that can inspire new ideas
  2. Flexible - able to vary and adapt the ways of thinking
  3. Forceful - eager and resolute to find a solution
  4. Easy - clear and free from stress and fear
  5. Playful - can surprise and break rules
  6. Intuitive - come up with ideas without thinking and reasoning
How can you develop these qualities and prepare your mind to be creative?
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How to Become an Expert: Making Ideas Stick

Are ideas born interesting or made interesting? – Chip & Dan Heath
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You have 2 options to communicate your ideas:

  1. Tell people what is interesting for you – easy, but unfortunately, your ideas will be wasted because of other people low interest, incomplete knowledge or disagreement.
  2. Make your ideas interesting for other people – hard, but you have chances that other people will pay attention, understand, remember and act upon your ideas.
This post is devoted to people who are interested in the second option.

Why should a programmer care about communicating ideas to other people?

It is true, the primary job of a programmer is to feed computers with ideas. But you cannot quietly hide behind a computer forever. You have to deal with other people:

  • team – to contribute and explain your programming ideas
  • customers – to discuss and build trust in your solutions
  • end-users – to make your programming ideas useful for users
  • programmers of the world – to share your knowledge and exchange ideas
  • capitalists – to sell your ideas
  • low tech crowd – to promote technology ideas

Why is it so hard to make ideas interesting for other people?

  1. Curse of knowledge – once you know something, it is hard to imagine not knowing it and communicate to novices
  2. Resistance – many people ignore or resist new ideas
  3. Limited brains – people have short attention span and can be easily overwhelmed by new and complex information

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Three Dimensions of a Software Programmer: How to get things done

What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player. – John Wooden

People are amazing, surprising and interesting. They change reality with power of thought and make things happen. What is most exciting – all people are completely different in their attitudes and behavior. But this comes with price – it is difficult to understand people and even more difficult to find the best way to deal with them.
Many people, who see programmers as extensions of their computer systems, will be surprised to discover that programmers are amazing individuals too. Programmers exhibit similar to other people behavior, they have different personalities and need individual approach.

I offer in this post a simple theory about Three Dimensions of a Software Programmer that could help to put relations with these individuals on some rational basis.

Axioms

There are two basic axioms in foundation of the theory

  1. Constancy - some programmers consistently outperform others under same conditions.
  2. Variability - performance of a programmer varies under different conditions.

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How to become an Expert. Embrace Reality.

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one – Albert Einstein

An expert have much better models of reality and methods to build them than an ordinary specialist. The expert, armed with these models, can quickly put pieces of a problem puzzle together, find explanations and solve the problem.

Models can be related to anything – software systems, business domain or your personal relationships. Read full post >>

How to Become an Expert. Top 7 Qualities

Experts do not need rules to make decisions. They have qualities that allow them to consistently make good decisions and show high level of performance under different circumstances without any rules. This post discusses these core qualities that turn a novice into an expert.

Definitions
rule: prescribed guide for conduct or action
intuition: instinctive knowing (without the use of rational processes)
tacit knowledge: automatic, unexpressed knowledge that provides context for people, places, ideas, and experiences. Tacit knowledge is not easily shared. As Polanyi said: “We know more than we can tell.”
context: the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.

Problems with rules

Most rules didn’t come from heaven. They come from ordinary people. They are product of practice, theories, traditions and fear.
Problems:

  • context-free – rules reflect standard situations without considering your specific circumstances
  • limited verification – most rules are empirical and do not pass vigorous analysis, strict prove and experiments
  • time sensitive – many rules become outdated quickly in dynamic professions, industries and societies
  • overcautious – fear fuels many rules and seeks to protect from the worst scenario, often imaginable
  • low skills denominator – rules tuned to match capabilities of the majority without accounting for individual strengths and weaknesses
  • misinterpretation – tacit knowledge of experts, which forms base for many rules, is difficult to transfer in correct and understandable form

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Software Creation Mystery - http://softwarecreation.org
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