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Rajasegar Chandran
Rajasegar Chandran

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Debugging from different viewpoints

This is first in the series of posts about Rules of Debugging. In this post, we will take a look at debugging from different viewpoints from psychology, mindset to attitudes.

Before diving into the article let's first define what do you mean by debugging. According to the seminal book Code Complete written by Steve McConnell,

Debugging is the process of identifying the root cause of an error and correcting it.

Psychology of Debugging

When approaching debugging from a psychological perspective, it is evident that it holds significant sensitivity and emotion for many developers. Instead of treating it merely as a puzzle to be solved, it can lead to encounters with denial, finger-pointing, excuses, or even apathy. However, by accepting that debugging is essentially a form of problem-solving, one can adopt a more effective approach and tackle it accordingly.

Debugging is just problem solving

The Debugging Mindset

Carol S. Dweck, a renowned psychologist, is known for her groundbreaking research on mindset. She introduced the concept of a "growth mindset" and a "fixed mindset." According to Dweck, individuals with a growth mindset believe that their abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort, learning, and perseverance. On the other hand, those with a fixed mindset believe that their qualities are innate and unchangeable, leading to a fear of failure and a reluctance to take on challenges. Dweck's work emphasizes the importance of cultivating a growth mindset to foster resilience, learning, and personal development.

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Prior to commencing the debugging process, it is crucial to embrace the appropriate mindset. This entails setting aside several defenses employed daily to protect one's ego, disregarding any project pressures that may exist, and ensuring personal comfort.

Above all, remember the first rule of debugging: DON'T PANIC

It's an Opportunity

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Debugging should be perceived as a valuable opportunity. It provides a chance to gain insights into various aspects, such as:

  • Understanding the program you are currently working on better.
  • Recognizing the types of mistakes you commonly make.
  • Evaluating the quality of your code from the perspective of someone who has to read and understand it.
  • Observing your problem-solving skills in action.
  • Learning how you approach and resolve defects or issues.

The Right Attitude

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Attitude is your window to the world.
-- Jeff Keller

With the right attitude debugging can be fun, like solving a puzzle. The right attitude for debugging involves adopting a positive and proactive mindset. Here are some key aspects of the right attitude for effective debugging:

  • Curiosity: Approach debugging with a curious and inquisitive mindset. Be eager to explore and understand the root cause of the issue.

  • Patience: Debugging can be a time-consuming process, especially for complex problems. Stay patient and persistent while working through the troubleshooting steps.

  • Openness to Learning: View debugging as an opportunity to learn and improve your skills. Embrace each debugging challenge as a chance to gain insights and grow.

  • Humility: Be humble and recognize that everyone makes mistakes. Debugging is about finding and fixing those mistakes, not a reflection of your worth or intelligence.

  • Systematic Approach: Follow a systematic approach to identify and isolate the problem systematically. Avoid making hasty assumptions and thoroughly examine the code or system.

  • Collaboration: Don't hesitate to seek help from colleagues or the broader developer community. Collaboration can lead to fresh perspectives and solutions.

  • Attention to Detail: Pay attention to the smallest details as they can often hold crucial clues to the problem's source.

  • Optimism: Believe in your ability to resolve the issue successfully. An optimistic attitude can help maintain focus and motivation during challenging debugging sessions.

  • Resilience: Debugging can be frustrating at times, especially when progress seems slow. Stay resilient and persevere through the difficulties.

  • Documentation: Keep track of the debugging process, the steps taken, and the solutions attempted. This documentation can be valuable for future reference and learning.

By embracing these attitudes, developers can approach debugging with a constructive mindset, leading to more effective and satisfying results in resolving issues.

Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place. Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are, by definition, not smart enough to debug it.
— Brian W. Kernighan

Debugging is an art

Debugging can indeed be seen as an art form, as it requires a creative and intuitive approach to unravel complex software issues. Like a skilled artist, a proficient debugger must possess patience, attention to detail, and the ability to think outside the box.

The process of identifying and fixing bugs often involves exploring different paths, employing various strategies, and sometimes even trusting one's gut feeling. Much like an artist refining their masterpiece, a skilled debugger hones their craft through experience, learning from each unique challenge they encounter.

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Ultimately, mastering the art of debugging can turn a programmer into a virtuoso of problem-solving, capable of turning chaos into harmony within the code.

Hope you enjoyed the post! Please let me know your thoughts about what does debugging mean to you in the comments section. I am happy to hear your thoughts!


  • Debugging - 9 indispensable rules to catch the most elusive software and hardware bugs by David J. Agans
  • Code complete by Steve McConnell
  • The Pragmatic Programmer by Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas
  • The Elements of Programming Style by Brian Kernighan and P.J Plauger

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