The Grok Point

Whenever I have a significant programming task to complete I usually begin the process not by thinking about all the data structures I want, or how the output will look, or what will the biggest concerns for efficiency etc.

What I am usually doing at the start is trying move as fast as I can towards the “Grok Point”. This is the point in the process where you have gained a full understanding of what you are working with. Specifications,  Example Code, Documentation, Tests, etc all of these are tools on the way to this moment as are throwaway script, staring at code,  bike rides, and caffeine.

Before the Grok Point – the code is still doing things you don’t quite follow,  you can’t find the right channel of data in the new undocumented file format,  or you are unable to get even one triangle to draw on the display. After the Grok Point – that data schema you are forced to use may still be lame but you are now its master.

Reaching this point doesn’t mean you are close to done, mostly it just means you can really get started. Generally it means you now finally have a good boundary of the problem. There may still be a huge wildfire out there but you have fire breaks all around it and you know its not going to get out. The Grok Point should be where your ability to plan or schedule begins to have some meaning. Anything can happen, the fire does sometimes jump over the river, but we have at least accounted for all the known unknowns and should be able to really think about how you are going to finish.

I feel that we often don’t give the moment the full credit it is due. We move from start to end tweaking, pushing, testing, etc until we are done. When you have spent some time working on something and reach the Grok Point I think its a good time to stop and reflect. Make notes of what you need to so you can be sure you won’t forget but then maybe its time to step away from the keyboard for a bit. Enjoy it, it feels good.

This is also a great time to think about your goals again for this task.  You are smarter now than when you began. You have just inflected from “WTF is this doing?” to “A-ha!”. At this point anything is possible. Once you start coding again you will be making choices, some of which may be hard to undo.

These moments of inspiration are sacred, use them wisely.

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