On walkabout in life and technology

Where the Light Is Better

A woman comes across a man crawling under a street lamp. "I've lost my car keys," he explains.

The woman tries to help the man find his keys. After a few minutes of searching, she asks "Where exactly did you drop them?"

"Down the street, next to my car."

Puzzled, she asks "Then why aren't you looking over there?"

"The light is better here."

People often look where it seems easiest or most convenient to look, rather than in a more difficult, but more correct place. Opinions regarding where the best place to look often comes down to “Where The Light Is Better”.

  • Support teams base their knowledge of a software system upon specifications and documentation, rather than observing the actual system in action or examining its source code. Documentation is usually incomplete and out of date.
  • Analysts make decisions based upon easy-to-collect metrics, rather than on detailed study of the complexities of a situation. Not enough time to do it right, so find a short cut.
  • DBAs prefer that database query logic be written as stored procedures in the database, where they can get at it; whilst developers prefer that it be in the application code, where they can get at it. More convenient location, not necessarily the right location.
  • When a bug is found in someone else’s code, developers will generate complex workarounds in their code, rather than trying to get the bug fixed. Either it takes to long to get it fixed, its too hard to fix it yourself or something else may depend on it. Workaround instead of finding out.
  • Almost everyone uses a tool they know well to try to solve a problem, even if that tool is poorly suited to that problem, rather than to try and learn an unfamiliar tool that is far better suited for that job. Use your “hammer” tool instead of the right tool. We’ve all see abuses of Excel and Powerpoint, no?
  • Architects try to gather existing knowledge informally, through conversations, online forums, and wikis, rather than reading papers and books. More convenient to ask than to learn, see the success of StackExchange.
  • Consultants try to gather information on industry practices through reading academic papers, rather than examining real-world work and case-studies. Hoping someone else saw and solved the problem first.

Having alternate places to find and gain knowledge is a good thing. But you need to make sure that the alternate location is referring to the same knowledge. And that you truly understand the problem and solution space. Searching where the light is better does not necessarily mean you are searching where the keys are, where the solution exists.

Expedient is not necessarily efficient.

Rephrased without requesting permission and hoping for forgiveness, from http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WhereTheLightIsBetter (Last updated November 2004).