Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Failing. Yep.

Many professors and engineers will tell you about the projects they've done, the things they've invented, the innovations they've harbored, but they will rarely tell you about their failures.  How they hooked their chip to a power supply and it burst to flame.  How their experimental new concrete crumbled before they even took it out of the mold. How that chemically stable compound somehow ate through the table......How their projects never worked the first time.

You're project will most likely not work at first, but don't be disheartened.  It literally happens to EVERYONE, they just don't like to talk about it.

My words of advice to you when something doesn't work (be it your project, homework, anything:

  • Don't freak out

But I'm not dividing by zero!
The more upset you become, the more you will just want to set your project down and forget it. It also tends to snowball...the more upset you become, the more upset you become because you can't fix the problem because you are upset and it accumulates until you look like the guy and the right (yeah, it really works that way). This leads into the next bit of advice:

  • Take a deep breath and slow down
Dude, check out the backwards diode...
Opposite to the effects stressing over an issue, calming yourself will only serve to help you out. You can think much better when you aren't imagining yourself pulling the printer scene from Office Space on your project.  Go through the issues slowly, systematically and logically, looking at possible problems.  

  • Bite sized chunks
Bite sized.  Enough said.
Separate your total situation/project into bite sized chunks that can easily be solved. You can't finish the Pizza Casba 7lb pizza challenge in one bite.  Nope, it's going to take you quite a few and likely help from friends. Break your project up into small little chunks. I need code that does this....I need wheels that can grip like this.....I wan't pizza now....  When troubleshooting, do the same thing.  Break your code, circuits, mechanical issues, everything into smaller and smaller chunks till you solve the problem.

  • Stuck? Take a break.
Break me off a piece
Remember back to, well, any week of college, and you'll remember forgetting the answer to a problem.  It's on the tip of your tongue and just behind your eyes, but no matter how much steam pours from your ears, you cannot remember it.  Minutes after handing in your test, you divine the answer from the ether.....too late....   

When you get stuck, you can try too hard and saturate your mind to keep from absorbing new ideas.  Take a break.  Go grab a candy bar from down stairs, ride the elevator up and down, talk to a random stranger, draw a face on the side of your hand and make it talk.  Anything helps.  Something I've found is that by leaving the room, you change your mindset, allowing you to think differently.  Folks spot me riding my longboard randomly across campus trying to solve something.

  • Rotate the mirror and don't reinvent the wheel
"Can't touch this."..wrong MC
If you don't find an issue, see if you are possibly tackling the problem from a bad angle.  Are there ways of approaching your goal another, easier way? Has someone already conquered this problem?  Did they fix it?  How so?  Don't spend too much time trying to reinvent things if it isn't necessary. 

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