Just Try Something

A coworker and I were discussing the finer points of troubleshooting today, and I remembered that I never posted this thought. It’s short and sweet, and for most people it won’t be anything you haven’t heard before, but I can’t let Derek get too far ahead of me.

I recently saw World War Z. Trying not to spoil anything for anyone who would care, let’s say that one character is asked how he or she knew that something he or she had done would work. That character’s answer? “I didn’t.”

Sometimes, if you’re stuck, just try something. Anything to stop standing still. Flip a switch. Clean the solution. Turn it off and on again. As long as what you’re doing won’t make things worse (or even if it can – as long as it can be easily reverted!), you’ll improve the situation. If it works, you’re done. If it doesn’t, then at least you’ve gained that knowledge and ruled out one more variable.

Bonus: In these “just try something” situations, only flip one switch at a time. If you change too much at once, you won’t know what actually fixed the problem.

Extra bonus: Keep track of which changes you make, in which order, and which ones you revert.

Added extra bonus: If you feel that you are often thrashing in debug and troubleshoot cycles, check out Debug It! from PragProg. I read it some time ago, and IIRC it was pure gold.


About David Ruttka

I've been "making computers do things" since I first saw King's Quest on a 286 PC in the mid-80's, but I turned it into a career just over a decade ago. While the majority of my experience has been on the Microsoft stack (C#, .NET, ASP.NET), I've recently been diving deeper into JavaScript and exploring the Ruby universe. Occasionally, I'll do a public speaking gig or write a blog post. When I'm not coding, I enjoy spending time with my family, watching hockey, and playing the occasional video game. You can also find me on Stack Overflow, Google Plus, and Twitter. Microsoft Certified Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3 Specialist; MCPD Windows Developer 3.5
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4 Responses to Just Try Something

  1. Damn you! Now I have to keep up with blogging. 🙂

    But good points. It can be easy to feel helpless and stuck, but it’s seldom the case that there’s absolutely nothing else that you can think of to try.

    And the point about taking small steps and jotting down what you’re doing is crucial to me nowadays! Whenever I’m debugging something, I’ll immediately start a running note about what I’ve tried and to reflect the current state of the environment I’m working in.

  2. David Ruttka says:

    We said we’d be accountability partners. It was your recent posts that made me realize I was slacking again 😉

    Notes are huge, especially when you can share them with teammates who are about to go through the same crap. What do you use? Physical notebook? Online collaborative docs? Other?

    • I actually like taking physical notes in a notebook (something about the tactile feel and being able to step away from a screen for awhile), but it’s proven to impractical for me. I write tons of plain text notes in Simplenote for personal stuff (using a nifty little system from Merlin Mann of categorizing/tagging notes), and use whatever wiki work happens to be using (at the moment, shared Evernote notebooks).

      • David Ruttka says:

        I carry my notebook around if I’m away from the desk and use it more for recording discussion points. At my desk, I keep track of things in a range of Notepad (quick, for me) to LINQPad (tinkering or experiments in C#) to OneNote (for more organized stuff I plan to share with team). I will have to look into the cat/tag system from MM.


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