Takeaway: None really, I just wanted to tell a few stories and draw a bit
A long time ago, I had an interview and I was asked a question that (I’m guessing) was designed to evaluate how I approached problem solving. It went something like this:
Interviewer: “Say you’re a farmer who has a cow in a fenced field. But the fence is broken and you need a nail to fix it. The nail you need is inside the barn and if you retrieve it you leave the cow free to escape. What do you do?”
Me: “I think I would just go fetch the nail. I don’t think the cow will get out”
Interviewer: “But you can’t leave the cow alone”
Me: “I don’t know. I’ve been around cows and they’re pretty stupid. There’s a good chance they don’t know the fence has a hole in it. It will probably take me under two minutes to get the nail.”
Interviewer: “Ohh… You’re a problem-avoider.”
“Problem Avoider”? That label took me by surprise. And even though it wasn’t meant as a criticism, maybe I did feel a little slighted by it. The implication is maybe that I don’t face problems that ought to be faced.
Since then, when I face a technical problem I often ask myself: “Am I a problem avoider?” “Am I refusing to deal with a particular issue, hoping it will go away?” I’d like to believe that the answer to those questions is yes and no respectively: I am a problem-avoider but I do not have my head buried in the sand.
Unapologetic Problem Avoider
Sometimes taking a step back to try another approach makes the problem go away. I was asked something like this recently:
Friend: For this set of data, how do I get the min, max, median values. As well as the value at the 25th percentile and the value at the 75th percentile.
Me: Oooh, I know this one…
I googled “NTILE” and was soon looking at the books online topic wondering if this was appropriate. After some thinking I decided to maybe avoid the problem:
Me: How many rows are we talking about?
Friend: Umm a couple hundred… maybe up to a thousand max.
Me: You can do this in C# right? Just load the entire dataset, sort it and then do index look ups after doing some arithmetic.
Friend: I was thinking of that, but I wanted to know your opinion.
Me: I think that’s the way to go. SQL Server already has to do the reads. The only thing we’re not saving is the network bandwidth. And that’s not much any way.
Problem avoided. But I think that the important part here is that the problem is still being faced; it’s just being faced in the right place and by the right person.
But there are times when you can’t avoid a problem and you have to take responsibility. I’m not going to preach against procrastination. Mostly because I think Nike already has the best advice.
But I want to talk about procrastination’s second cousin: Doing-fun-work-first. Man, I do that a lot. Probably too much. I still struggle, but lately, my approach has been
- to prioritize things and then be as objectively honest about the priorities as possible (no kidding).
- Or deal with crummy tasks first in order to “get them out of the way”.
If you got any tips of your own, send them this way…