Code Simplicity

The Engineer Attitude

The attitude that every engineer should have, in every field of engineering, is:

I can solve this problem the right way.

Whatever the problem is, there’s always a right way to solve it. The right way can be known, and it can be implemented. The only valid reason ever to not implement something the right way is lack of resources. However, you should always consider that the right way does exist, you are able to solve the problem the right way, and that given enough resources, you would solve the problem the right way.

The “right way” usually means “the way that accounts for all reasonably possible future occurrences, even unknown and unimaginable occurrences.”

A bridge that could stand up to any reasonably possible environmental condition or any reasonably possible amount of traffic without constant maintenance would be built the “right way.”

Software code that maintained its simplicity while providing the flexibility needed for reasonably possible future enhancements would be designed the “right way.”

There are lots of invalid reasons for not solving a problem the right way:

  • I don’t know the right way. Often this just requires more understanding or study, to figure out the right way. When I run into this situation, I walk away from the problem for a while, and then often I’ll come up with the solution when I’m just out walking, or the next day when I come back to it. I try not to compromise on something that isn’t the right way just because I don’t know what the right way is yet.
  • The group cannot agree on what the right way would be. Sometimes a group of people have argued about what would be the “right way” and the subject has gotten very confused. Groups are not very good at making decisions. As we all know, you don’t design software by committee, and I suspect that “design by committee” in other fields of engineering is just as bad. The solution here is to assign an experienced and trusted engineer who understands the basic laws of the subject you’re working in to determine the right way by himself or herself, probably after carefully studying the existing arguments and collecting relevant information, following standard, valid engineering procedures.
  • I am too lazy/tired/hungry/discombobulated to do this the right way, right now. This happens to everybody from time to time. It’s 1 in the morning, you’ve been working on the project for 15 hours straight, and you just need the damn thing to work, right now! Give it a rest, though, and come back later. The world isn’t ending, and the problem will still be here and solvable later. Go to sleep, go eat something, take a walk–do whatever it takes to get into a mental space where you’re willing to solve the problem the right way, and then come back. If you’re in a state where you can’t solve the problem the right way, then it’s really time to take a break. You’re not being delinquent in your duties if you do so–you’re actually correctly taking responsibility for the success of the project by saying “this needs to be done right, and the way to do it right, right now, is to take a break and come back later”.

Mostly, it all just takes the constant and continual belief in yourself that you can solve the problem the right way.

-Max

41 Responses to The Engineer Attitude

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