Zen of debugging – remember the Seiza

Rereading a text I wrote last year reminded me something I wanted to articulate for quite a while. The power of meditation; but actually meditation is a word with too many and messy meanings. What I’m talking about is that powerful “take a break” moment that precedes most great breakthroughs.

In my freshman year of college(Computer Science) I was just discovering the Internet and the vast information one could get from it. Those were the days of MsDOS, Windows 95 and Windows 98, and my geek hobby back then was to subscribe to e-zines of the underground computer virus geeks. I never learned to build a computer virus(it’s bad, evil and it turns you into a criminal) but, being young and restless, I enjoyed reading how one could conceive such software that resembled most to real life-forms – the smallest and code efficient possible, which could replicate, mutate and propagate around. Nothing much stuck with me from that wild age except for a broader understanding of computers, operating systems and assembly language and, completely unrelated, the tale of one of those virus developers.

The guy was stuck at some point trying to understand how to work around the limitations(security) of Windows 98; he had tried all ideas that came to mind, and was starting to get desperate and frustrated. Yet, at one moment, he decided to just lay back. Closed the monitor, closed his eyes. Tried to think of nothing. Quarter of hour later he was coding furiously and excited. His (memory quote) computer coding Zen had struck again.

Without naming it, I’ve been using this method since highschool; now, in my computer programmer existence, I use it more than ever. Whenever I’m facing a bug I can’t understand, whenever something eludes me no matter how hard I try or how much documentation I read, I will stop.

I breathe, I take a walk around the office, get some water from the watercooler. Chat with friends. When coming back to my computer, 10 minutes later, I close my eyes and try to think of nothing. Call it Zen meditation if you prefer; call it  yourKitKat moment.

I prefer to call it Seiza – the seated 1 minute meditation before martial arts training. Letting my mind free of all thoughts is just what we perceive on the outside; on the inside, our subconscious keeps working, freed from the outside stimuli and conscious noise.

More often than once, stepping back is all it takes to solve even the biggest problem.

[photo courtesy of Flickr]

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