Sunday, October 07, 2007

Blinded By Trust

Sun has improved the new version of their Java forums so my previous rant about how disastrous it was must now be taken with a bit of salt. So it is attractive again to browse these forums for helping people dealing with their development issues.

Answering questions on these forums is a very instructive process because, the same way we learn from our own mistakes, there is a lot to learn from the fumbles of others.

Another interesting aspect is trying to figure out what went wrong in the code submitted by a developer: it is a very hard exercise because you have to fight against the natural tendency to trust the other party for stating their problem correctly.

Moreover this exercise reveals incredible blind spots in the way we perceive other peoples' code when we assume that they know what they are doing, which is the normal position you have with your colleagues, for example.

This today's exchange on the forum is symptomatic of this. Focusing on the programmers stated serialization issue, I totally disregarded the JDBC code he wrote, assuming it was correct. But it was really badly flawed!

The lesson from this is that, when helping a developer with an issue, fight against the natural desire to trust what he is reporting, while, of course, maintaining a respectful behavior. This will help alleviating biases and blind spots when reviewing the defective code.