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MacGyver MacGyver

Developers: time to channel MacGyver

You know “MacGyver,” the TV show from the late ‘80s?


Of course you do! Angus MacGyver (yes, his first name was Angus) is synonymous with ingenuity and getting out of bad situations with seemingly useless objects. There’s nothing he couldn’t rig with duct tape and a Swiss Army knife.

Web developers, it’s time to pull a MacGyver.


Be like MacGyver

A startup life is a crazy life. Things change in a moment, and you can suddenly find that days’ — or even months’ — worth of work is no longer useful. Change isn’t just a possibility; it’s a given.

It makes sense. When you’re creating something completely new, you’re testing the limitations as you go. It’s not until you fail that you realize you were on the wrong path — one no one had traveled before. For this reason, it’s imperative that developers be focused on solving a problem, rather than marrying themselves to one solution.

And remember to do something MacGyver understood as the first step to successful problem solving: Check to see if you’re solving the right problem in the first place. Facebook, for example, designed tests to attract new programmers. One successful applicant, Evan Priestley, solved one of the tests and was invited to address another at an interview. He provided the answer — as well as his opinion that the sped-up code solution wouldn’t address the real issue, which was that 98 percent of the tech members’ time was wasted on network requests.


Diversify your perspective

Like Priestley, MacGyver wasn’t just creative and clear-eyed in his approach. The reason MacGyver was able to improvise so well was that he had a deep technical knowledge of physical science. Identifying the right problem was half the battle; knowing how to pull out threads to start solving it was the other half. He understood the physics and mechanics of any situation, which enabled him to be innovative in developing solutions. Having a background in another area enabled him to cross-apply his knowledge and arrive at new solutions.

Web developers can take this to heart. It’s imperative to know your field really well. A deep knowledge of coding and programming will help you solve problems that haven’t been tackled before, simply because you have a foundation to build upon.

It’s also imperative to recognize where you can gain more knowledge to strengthen your foundation. Explore new methods of programming that will expand your coding knowledge and take you in new directions — one of which may contain the clue that will solve your problem. Many programmers have started experimenting with pair programming, where one programmer drives and another navigates, as well as ping-pong pairing, a system in which partners are swapped out on a regular basis. These new perspectives will boost your ingenuity, à la MacGyver.


Tips to get out of anything

MacGyver could get out of any situation. Likewise, smart developers can use similar principles to solve any problem.

  • Know your stuff. Writers can’t write a novel if they never learn to read, and MacGyver wouldn’t have been so ingenious if he wasn’t also knowledgeable about science. Likewise, developers need to learn the basics and build up their skills. Only then will the freedom to be creative kick in.
  • Embrace creativity. People typically think of programmers as scientific and methodical, descriptions that aren’t usually synonymous with creativity. But Web programming is incredibly creative. Don’t be afraid to do things differently than you were taught. That might just provide the solution you were looking for — as well as the solution to the right problem, which no one else may see. MacGyver was likely never taught how useful duct tape could be; he just figured it out on his own by experimenting.
  • Be patient, especially when you’re developing something new. Remember that no one has written a book on solving your particular problem. If they had, it wouldn’t be a problem anymore! Embrace trial and error, and keep plugging away when things get complicated. Your new way of thinking could help enhance another programmer’s knowledge base — and then you’ll have come full circle.

Developers aren’t often given enough credit for their ingenuity and creativity. They’re expected to solve complex problems in ways that have never been explored before. This can be intimidating unless you adopt a winner-take-all MacGyver mindset — and possibly a roll of duct tape.


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