by Leon Rosenshein

Solving Problem Solving

I've mentioned this before, and it's still true. They don't pay us to write code. They pay us to further the mission, and the ATG mission statement is _Our mission is to bring safe, reliable self-driving transportation to everyone, everywhere_. Nothing in there about writing software, or building AI models or more secure hardware. Nope. We write code (or do all the other things we're doing) in support of the mission. To solve a problem. It's a very big problem, and it's going to require software and models and hardware and all those other things to solve. So how do we get better at solving problems?

Problem solving is a skill, and like any other skill, to get better you improve your technique and practice. So what does an improved technique look like? It starts with understanding the problem. Don't just write the function, but look at the underlying problem you're trying to solve. The 5 whys are a good place to start for that. Then think about edge cases. What are they? What are the failure modes? What's the happy path? Understand your boundaries and constraints, both technical and business-wise.

Once you understand what you're really trying to do, do some research. See how others have solved similar problems. Think about analogies. What problems are like yours, but in a different field. Decompose the problem into smaller parts and research them. Look for inspirations and ideas there. Think about how to put those smaller parts together into a coherent whole.

Next, make a decision. Look at the pros and cons for the different options. Think about long and short term solutions. Think about hidden costs and future benefits. Then, just do it.

What about practice? What does practice mean in this case, and when can you do it? Start small. There are multiple times a week when we need to solve a problem. Even if you think you know the solution, go through the steps. Be mindful about it and notice how you're going through the steps. Each time you go through it, it gets easier and more natural. That's practice.

Remember, practice is about the process, not the result. The goal here is not to change your mind, but to get used to a new way of solving problems and making that method second nature. As a band teacher once said, don't practice until you get it right, practice until you don't get it wrong.