This is a card in Dave's Virtual Box of Cards.

Programmer Tunnel Vision

Created: 2022-11-15
Updated: 2023-03-08

I often experience what I call "Programmer Tunnel Vision" (PTV).

There are several forms of this:

Problem solving

"Problem solving PTV" is where I get so fixated on the minutia of a problem that I cannot see other, creative solutions.

The best solution to this is to work really hard on the problem (trying to brainstorm as much as possible) and then leave the problem overnight. Repeat as often as possible over the course of many days.

I often sidestep super complicated solutions when a "shower thought" eventually bubbles up out of my subconscious. The solution will be something much simpler that turns the whole problem on its head!

Also: Some "shower thoughts" will be dead ends. But at least write them down and work them out on paper to see why they won’t work. My subconscious takes those corrections into account and comes up with new solutions over time.

Testing software

"Overly familiar user PTV" is where I, the developer of an application, cannot properly test the application. The problem is that I know how to use the application too well, like a house I’ve been living in for decades. I can’t see it the way a new user would see it. I only know the "happy path" and everything is obvious to me.

The solution is to either use time to distance myself from the application (so I can see it with fresh eyes), or get someone else to take a look.

The Zone

The classic "absent-minded professor PTV" is where I’m so focused on an interesting programming puzzle that I basically block out all sensory stimuli. I can do rat-brain tasks and even reply to questions while the entirety of my conscious thought remains on the puzzle.

The solution is to have somebody yell at me because I’m being rude by replying to everything with, "Mmmhmmm," and "Yes, how interesting."