Brian Duff
Duffblog

Duffblog

Instinct

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Brian Duff
·May 20, 2022·

2 min read

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It just doesn't feel right.

Your instinct is telling you it's wrong.

But you don't trust it. You're rational. You believe in the scientific method. Cause and effect. Engineers don't operate on instinct. We're data driven. We look for root causes. We analyze and determine outcomes.

It took me a while to learn the importance of instinct in technical work. An instinctive sense is often the result of accumulated experience. I can't always immediately explain the link between something I've experienced before and an instinctive insight. When I changed my perspective of instinct and began seeing it as an incredible tool, I became a much better engineer. Instinct can hugely help to reduce the investigation space when trying to root cause. It can help you to sense smells and identify opportunities for improvement.

It's only part of the story. Convincing others on technical matters with instinct alone is a difficult path. Technical influence rightly prioritizes evidence with data. As a technical contributor, evidence should be key to your own decision making. Instinct can result from bias. Bias is also a product of accumulated experience, but perhaps more from your internal voice. Evidence helps you to check those biases.

Use instinct as a shortcut to trim the solution space, or find different ways to think about a problem. After that, go do the (often) grungy work of actually finding and presenting the data that proves or disproves your instinct before trying to convince others.

 
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