Ignoring the redness of a stick
The best teacher I’ve ever met had of course many talents which all together made him a brilliant tutor and one of them was teaching us to be aware of the distraction of details while solving a problem. While writing examples today, I again was struck by the importance of this.
This teacher, who gave math classes in High School made his own math tests and the last task was always something special. In order to solve that you need not only have grasped the lessons but you also had to be really clever. I must say that I, as a mediocre math student, seldom cracked his last question, but I always looked at that first when taking a test and it was always a pleasure seeing him after the test explaining how to solve it.
One of his first tests included this question: given that you have a red, one meter stick. What would be the smallest dimension for a box to hold that stick?
This still requires some thinking for me to solve but the most interesting part is that he wrote that the stick was red and many students focused some of their problem solving on this fact. Why does he write that the stick is red? How does this affect the dimensions? But the answer was that he intentionally included facts which were distractions. He said that one key area of problem solving is understanding which facts are relevant and which facts to ignore. I guess some of the students hated that… But it is an important lesson in real life, as all software developers (should) know.
While writing examples, I struggle with this all the time. I try to think out all details and often get stuck writing examples which covers all these facts. And then it hits me: that fact is just the redness of the stick. It makes the problem solving hard but it is just a distractions. When I can ignore that fact, the examples becomes so much simpler to both write and understand.
My old teacher died many years ago, but his teaching stays with me in my daily work. What a sign of great leadership.