Problem Solving Checklist
09 August 2018
I was recently working on a problem from a tutorial. The problem was basic: write some code that will build a Google search URL. It had the following requirements:
- take a string to use for the search term
- specify the google domain to search
- use the ‘num’ parameter to limit the number of search results
- use the ‘as_qdr’ parameter to limit the date range
I only had a limited amount of time to work on the problem (real-life constraints, not a limit imposed by the tutorial). So, I jumped in and created a function that took all the required parameters. “This is an easy problem”, I thought. “I can get this done quickly!”
At the end of my time, my code didn’t compile. I had parameters that were not used and I had made a mistake in my understanding of the as_qdr parameter.
Instead of jumping in and trying to solve the problem all at once, I should have broken it into steps. I know this, but I got caught by my own ego. I thought the problem was simple and I could solve it quickly.
So, here is a reminder to myself on how to approach problems, no matter how easy they may seem:
- Is it possible to manually test the requirements/solution?
- In this case, it would be to try an URL in the browser. Example: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=cat+pictures&num=50&as_qdr=y
- Pick one feature to implement.
- In this case, there were four features: search term, domain, num, and as_qdr
- For this problem, the search term is the best place to start. The other 3 requirements refine the results of the search term
- Investigate and question any constraints.
- Once that feature is working repeat the steps for the remaining features.
The benefits of this approach are:
- It breaks the task into manageable pieces.
- I always have something to show for my work. So, even if I run out of time, I have hopefully implemented one of the features.
It is better to have a working solution for some of the requirements rather than a partial implementation for all the requirements. Why? Because if this were a real-world task I would have a product that I could potentially release. It may not have all the features, but it has some and they work. This is in contrast to having a bit of everything implemented and nothing working.
Hopefully, I will remember next time!