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Technique vs Theory

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Technique vs Theory: An Introspection

Coming from a Mathematics background I have always prided myself on a keen interest in "theory". Generally speaking if you understand the theory then the techniques are pretty easy to pick up.

However in recent years I think I have done a flip-flop! I was recently interested in using Markov Chains to generate random test -- no practical application in mind, I was just interested. Sounds perfect for learning a little theory doesn't it?

However in recent years my job has been implementation of business logic and generally there is no theory; just lots of technique. So you set your brain to learning all of the ins-and-outs of design (which I suppose is a kind of theory) and learning all of the "best practices" and "rules of thumb" that go into implementing software. So, when I wanted to implement a random text generator I went out and searched for the techniques that I would need...

Lucky for me I did not really find them. I found a few examples but they were cryptic perl. This frustrated me quite a bit. Then I noticed the book on "Probability" wedged between "Combinatorics" and "Real Variables" on my book shelf. Turns out I had two whole chapters on the subject as well as some interesting and engaging problem sets... I wrote the programs I was interested in seeing the next day with no trouble and while I may be missing the subtleties of technique -- I have a better understanding of the subject and a feeling of satisfaction that I have not felt in a LONG time.

I suppose I envy people who can be satisfied with just "making money". I have a good job, a fair amount of security, and the occasional interesting problem of design or tricky implementation... but I don't really "figure things out", or solve really hard problems -- to be great at my job all I have to do is put in a few extra hours (or just stay focused).

I don't wake up in the middle of the night because somewhere in my sleep I, "figured it out!" -- I really miss that.

2 Comments On This Entry

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20 May 2010 - 04:25 AM
Nice read, I have to say that I must take these early years of programming for granted. Almost everytime I tackle a new problem, I discover something new and it is a great feeling. I know that I will never stop learning, but being that I am still a new programmer everyday is an adventure. Part of me feels rushed, wanting to begin a career doing something I really enjoy as quickly as possible. I will be sure to take a step back though. It cannot be all about getting the job or making more money, if it was then all of us would be doctors.
Good luck and keep up the hard work.



21 May 2010 - 09:10 AM
Good read Nick. Theory is very interesting to me, and i always like to understand things better from a theoretical point of view before trying to apply them. Anyway I hope you are happy with your job and I wish you more success.. btw why don't you apply for google or something if you're interested in solving tough problems ;).
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