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Stop Talking to Ducks. There’s a Better Way to Debug

With tools like Yac, you can record a memo for yourself and automatically turn it into an async voice conversation that’s documented for whenever you need it.

December 4, 2020
Justin Mitchell

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Stop Talking to Ducks. There’s a Better Way to Debug

We’re in the 21st century and the gold standard of fixing development problems is still talking to a rubber duck. The lore around rubber duck debugging goes back to the early days of Silicon Valley when teams were inventing the technology that we use in our everyday lives. The reference itself comes from a book, The Pragmatic Programmer, and theorizes that developers should explain their problems to a rubber duck first before bothering a team member or manager. If a solution didn’t appear, then they could ask for human time. However, the system was so effective that many developers reported not needing to talk to anyone after talking to the duck. 

The rubber duck debugging system was meant to save time and help developers become more self-sufficient. And it did, plus the concept expanded to other areas of business. But really? Talking to an inanimate object? It’s cutesy, but we don’t need cutesy - we need functional. There is a better way. 

Ducks make bad remote bedfellows

The rubber duck debugging system was invented for an office-centric world. The idea was that you could handle talking to an inanimate object for a minute or two because you had your team surrounding you and your manager a few desks over if you truly needed support. The duck was triage, at best. 

In a remote world, those truths no longer hold. You don’t have your teammates beside you at the next desk. There are legitimate concerns about isolation, loneliness, and depression for remote workers. We do not need the silliness of talking to inanimate objects and then having to repeat ourselves for a teammate with a wall of email text if we truly need support. We know that async communication is critical to bringing humanity back into remote work, so it should be brought into every area of work - not just team meetings, but also systems like rubber duck debugging, especially when we need to talk to someone cause explaining it to the duck didn’t work. 

Async, voice-powered rubber duck debugging

Here’s how rubber duck debugging works in the 21st century using async voice and audio tech on Yac: 

Step 1: Record a voice memo

A voice memo is your rubber duck. You are still talking to an object - your phone or laptop in this case - but there’s a slight difference. Rubber ducks have no interaction capabilities and everything you say is lost the moment it comes out of your mouth. With a tool like Yac, you know that your note is being recorded, transcribed, and is able to be sent to another human if need be. 

If you’re really missing the duck, take heart: the Yac app icon is yellow, so it’s just like staring at a rubber duck.

Step 2: See if that solves your problem

Just like how the rubber duck system can reveal the real problem, so too can recording a voice memo on Yac. If that’s the case, you can either abandon the note or continue it, explaining what went wrong and what the solution is so it’s documented for future reference.  

If you solve the problem, you’re done! System complete. If not, continue… 

Step 3: Share the note if necessary

When talking to the duck, you have to repeat yourself verbatim to a teammate or manager if you couldn’t solve the problem the first time. That’s time consuming, anxiety-inducing, and irritating. If you recorded a voice note first on Yac, you can instantly send that same voice note to someone if you need help. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. 

Step 4: Let your teammate or manager respond

The power of async voice communication is that your manager can consciously think about their response. Unlike you having to book a meeting with them or standing at their desk awaiting an immediate response, there is a calmness and time to think built into async voice. From there, everyone’s responses are transcribed and documented so you don’t have to remember the conversation and solution by heart. Again, less anxiety, more solutions.

Debug and document to your heart’s content

With a rubber duck debugging system, you have to consciously talk to an inanimate object. It’s weird. With async voice apps, you are talking to yourself with the understanding that you may end up sharing that commentary with someone - it’s a more human way to talk things out. There’s also an opportunity on both sides to have more conscious thought, as there are no tensions associated with booking meetings or standing at a desk. 

Magic happens when people try different tactics to open up their minds. A significant portion of work is done quietly and alone, which is one of the reasons remote work makes people so much more productive. However, when you need to think through problems, you need to take a different, more human route. That’s where async voice comes in. With tools like Yac, you can record a memo for yourself and automatically turn it into an async voice conversation that’s documented for whenever you need it. 

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