Why all developers should be friends with a cardboard developer

I read an article  about a development team who used a cardboard developer.  The team had acquired a life-size cardboard person who they welcomed into the development team.

If anyone in the team had some code which wasn’t working, before asking another developer to sit with them to look at the problem the person had to first get the cardboard developer, stand him next to them, explain the problem to the cardboard developer, run through the code with him to see if he could help see the problem.
I have also learnt this process is known as Rubber duck debugging from the excellent book
The funny thing about this story is quite often the cardboard developer would help resolve the problem.
How exactly does a cardboard cut out help solve development problems and why aren’t companies deploying armies of them.

Stop! walk through the process step by step

The truth is people can often solve their own problems, once they understand the problem and walk through it.
This is what I would term as
can’t see the wood for the trees
This is a saying which regularly gets said, but I’m not sure everyone understands what it really means
Here is an explanation

Meaning: If you can’t see the wood for the trees, you can’t see the whole situation clearly because you’re looking too closely at small details, or because you’re too closely involved.

In terms of CRM development you can get  absorbed in a problem, the methods you have already tried to resolve it, you can get to a point where the CRM developer stops thinking logically about the problem.  For coding problems in particular you can get too close to the problem you forget to use a systematic process of trying to resolve the problem.

A classic example of the cardboard developer – Grumpy IT person

I’m sure many people have called the IT person in their organisation only to find they have given him the role of cardboard cut out.  You calmly explain the problem to the IT person (who is usually grumpy grumpily) to come and try and solve your problem.

When the IT person comes to your desk you go through the steps and it works perfectly and the IT person grunts and goes back to his warm nest away from troublesome users.

Many times I have asked someone to look at a problem and then as I was explaining it to them I instantly knew the answer.  It’s a similar sensation to not hearing someone, saying pardon and then your brain belated tells you what they said.

Why does the Cardboard developer work?

The reason the cardboard developer or any inanimate object works (it helps if it resembles a person or you feel stupid explaining your problem to an apple) is when you explain the problem to someone/something you

  • You have stepped back from the problem, you have stopped to think
  • Go through step by step
  • Explain what you want to happen
  • Explain what is happening
Developers often have to do the same/similar tasks many times they often
  • Engage autopilot
  • Stop thinking and just do
  • Miss steps/Take shortcuts
  • rush

Why should you use the Cardboard developer?

The main reason you should try using the cardboard developer is so you stop wasting other developers time when you could resolve the problem yourself.

Developers need to concentrate for a prolonged uninterrupted section of time (hours) to create a coding solution, this process involves concentrating on a problem with lots of trial and error.  Breaking this concentration for a developer to come and stand by you whilst you resolve the problem yourself can be frustrating for the developer who you have walked round the office and embarrassing for yourself for wasting the developers time.

To avoid wasting developers time I would advise getting up from your desk, going for a walk at lunch, making a cup of tea.  The act of stepping away from your computer will allow you to look at the problem with fresh eyes.

Make sure you use the Cardboard developer to go through a problem first before asking someone else.  I’m not advocating you sit and suffer with a problem but you should make sure you can’t resolve the problem yourself first.

This blog describes why Developers should not be disturbed

Why programmers work at night

or this graphic shows the process which I got from here

Today I used the Cardboard developer

Everyone has to use the cardboard developer and today I should have used the cardboard developer but instead I brought over Sir Les (senior CRM Developer) over to my desk.

I was creating a new development organisation.  I had imported a number of managed and unmanaged solutions.

The next stage was to import some data, I selected the file, press next a few times but then was puzzled why the entities weren’t in the drop down list?

I couldn’t think of any reason why entities don’t appear in drop down lists for importing?

So I got senior developer over.

The act of having someone looking over your shoulder suddenly gets your brain working with more focus.

Have you guessed the problem yet?????

Yes, suddenly it came to me,  I had imported some unmanaged solutions.  Unmanaged solutions need to be published (managed solutions are published automatically).  To understand the intricacies of solutions read my blog post – Understanding how CRM solutions work

Sir Les of CRM Shire was thanked and sent back to his desk, he helped me resolve the problem without doing anything.

Next time I will try explaining it to the cardboard developer before wasting a real developers time.

Check out the Dando the box man adventures

Here and here

4 thoughts on “Why all developers should be friends with a cardboard developer

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