How To Get Better At Problem Solving


In this episode of Syntax, Scott and Wes talk about how to get better at problem solving — one of the most important skills to build as a developer.

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Show Notes

2:43 - Gather info

  • What is this thing trying to do?
  • Use tools
  • DevTools are your best friend during this phase

8:01 - Know where to look (and use tools)

  • Dev tools for client side
  • Error logs
  • Sentry
  • LogRocket
  • The most experienced people in any field know how to ask the right questions.
  • Some of this will come with experience and nothing else. If you’ve seen a problem before, it’s easier to solve.

10:00 - Look at the end game

  • What are you really trying to do here? Don’t focus so much on the tech that you miss the bigger picture.

13:17 - Read Again

  • Error logs provide the best clues. Read them closely.
  • Actually read your code — don’t skim it.
  • Write comments while reading it, or follow existing comments — good for documenting, but also for structuring your thoughts.

18:08 - Make it simple (break it into smaller parts)

  • Limit the number of inputs and outputs
  • Get it working in a limited capacity (e.g. safe mode, Codepen, etc.)
  • Comment out major sections of code until you have a working example
  • Does this problem exist outside of the framework?
  • Does this work in a clean environment?

25:35 - Take yourself out of your environment

  • You should be able to take a look at the problem at all zoom levels
  • Does it work locally but not on the server?
  • Does it work in other browsers?

27:32 - Stay calm

  • It’s easy to get nervous or worked up when the stakes are high
  • It won’t serve you to panic. If you are panicking, take a 10 min walk to deep breath
  • Take a shower, lift weights (seriously)

30:14 - Talk it over

  • Getting the perspective of another developer can be invaluable

32:28 - Make things obvious

  • Use debugger or label logs — don’t let it be ambiguous
  • For CSS bugs, use primary colors to make things stand out
  • Use the right tool to make the problem stand out
    • Layers for CSS issues
    • Network for network issues
    • Performance tab (etc.)

35:12 - Use Git correctly to free up your techniques

  • If you’re code commits are up to date, you can heavily modify code without fear of deleting things — just revert to a previous commit once you find the issue and fix.

36:10 - Don’t jump at solutions

  • Take the time to fully dissect the problem
  • Question you assumptions
  • It can’t possibly be a problem with ____. Well maybe it is.
    • Wes once spent hours trying to diagnose a check engine light when the gas cap was lose.

43:51 - Get good at pattern matching

  • This comes with experience
  • When did this problem start?
  • Did we deploy any code? Did we change any logic?

44:54 - Get good at googling

  • Being able to describe your problem is key.
  • Search the error from Firefox
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