Beware of The Black Box

Beware of The Black Box

August 23, 2011

Chapter 13 – Understanding and Resolving Problems

Many engineers see themselves as black boxes; specs go in, code comes out, and there is no information about your progress in between. The black box is a very exclusionary style of working with no room for collaboration. The problem is not enough information about your work process. After all, no engineer is an island.

Some engineers see themselves as the black box all the time, but others only enter this working mode when they are overwhelmed. Even if open communication is a part of your normal routine, you will naturally try to remove distractions and focus on your work when you are stressed. Removing distractions is a good idea, but you can’t treat all interactions with your teammates as distractions. Look out for these specific warning signs that you are working in a black box style:

Nobody knows your status. If nobody knows the status of your work then you are in trouble. Somebody on your team should know what you are working on at all times. Even if you are having difficulties with your work, bad news is better than no news.

Nobody understands what you’re working on. There should be at least one person on your team with a detailed understanding of what you are doing. Start each project by explaining your design and then keep your team updated throughout the process. If nobody understands what you are doing, nobody will understand how good it is.

You aren’t asking questions. If you want people to take an interest in your work then you must show them the same courtesy. When you don’t know what other people are doing, they probably don’t know what you are doing.

You want to fix every bug before you show your work. It is better to show your team something broken than nothing at all. Show your team your work before it works.

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