Friday, April 23, 2010


One under appreciated skill that you need as a software engineer is the ability to quickly and accurately prune your solution space. For any problem you will have a range of possible options on how to solve it, and most of them will be bad. There are three tricks I have found useful to being successful:
  1. In the initial evaluation step, knowing and using the right heuristics to choose between the options. The ideal heuristic is both low cost in the sense you don't spend too long evaluating each option, but also accurate in getting the most probable success.
  2. Once an option is chosen and implementation is underway, be continually critically evaluating the new information gained about the option's viability, and then intuiting when the downsides are getting too high relative to the next alternative.
  3. Once that point is reached, being willing to put aside what you have done to try the next alternative. This is often hard as a) it seems like you have wasted your time (i.e. the sunk cost fallacy), and b) it is sometimes intellectually dissatisfying to put aside a problem unsolved.

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