Breaking coder's block

It’s not just writers, arteries and blitzing linebackers that can get blocked - programmers can also

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We’ve all heard of writer’s block: when a literary type just can’t figure out what to write. If you’re a programmer, though, chances are you’ve experienced the cousin of writer’s block (Cousin Oliver, if you will), coder’s block.

What’s that, you non-programmers say? How could coders get blocked? They just have to follow instructions, right? Doesn’t somebody else figure out what an application is supposed to do and programmers just have to, you know, make it work? It’s not a creative process like writing, now is it? So how could programmers get “blocked”?

Au contraire.

Like writers, programmers can have days (or longer) where they have trouble writing code, or writing good code or just feeling like they’re “in the zone”. Programming isn’t just about following instructions and making something work. There’s often a lot creativity involved in how you make something work, and a near infinite number of paths to implementing a given functionality. Some ways are good, some ways not so good, and some ways downright bad. It’s a much more creative process than most non-programmers think.

Plus, programmers, like anybody else, can have lots of different projects on their plate, and sometimes simply deciding what project to tackle first can be daunting and can prevent you from getting started on any one chunk of work. Ergo, henceforth and QED your average coder can be just as blocked staring at his or her favorite code editor as a writer can staring at a blank Word document. It’s a real problem for some.

How to deal with coder’s block is a topic that comes up regularly in developer forums. The suggested remedies are often familiar and, truth be told, not all that different from those offered to break through writer’s block. You’ll often see suggestions like:

  • Get some exercise to clear your head
  • Take a nap 
  • Treat yourself to ice cream
  • Just write something, anything, no matter how crappy it is

 

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