Thursday, 27 February 2014

Big picture or small details?

small details
This is one of the questions that I was asked in the phone assessment the other day.

I'm not actually sure what the right (autistic) answer is supposed to be. I also don't know what my answer is.

When I was a programmer (a very successful, rapidly promoted and highly rewarded programmer) I was only good once I'd absorbed the entirety of the system I was working with. I was fortunate - I joined the development team during a smallish phase of development. The next phase was big, and I took the high level documentation home and read it.

And read it. And read it again. And drew diagrams (object heirarchies), and underlined bits, and took it back into the office and somewhat diffidently, given that I was a beginner, lowest of the low, not even on the proper programming grade, asked about some of the bits that didn't seem to tie together with what I understood of the system as it existed.

It turned out that the new features were going to require a fairly comprehensive redesign of the system as it stood, with some quite extensive new programming. Which wasn't obvious from the outside, so hadn't been flagged up by the analysts, and none of the senior programmers had looked at the analysis documents yet, as they were busy working on the previous phase.

So, is that small details or big picture? I can hold the big picture in my head. I knew my way around that system blindfold. But I have to be able to understand it to do it. And to understand it I take it apart, right the way down to individual code snippets at times.

I did exactly the same when I moved to a new company and a new system.

It made me slightly unpopular at times :/

But once I was in the support department, heading up the java team, I came into my own again, because understanding the system lets you zero in on the details that might be causing you problems. And once I understand the system, I find that easy to do in a way few people seem to. I've joked before now that I think in objects - it's a good way to split things up.

Now if only I could do that with my life I'd be sorted. But I can't. And don't think I haven't tried.


  1. What springs to mind from this ( and sorry, this is about me again, because your process is helping me unpick it all myself) is, I always need to know the whys. That makes me very unpopular - I can 'see' the big picture, but have a compelling need to get beneath it to the details so that the big picture makes sense. I think that's what you're saying? I dont understand why people are happy with just tbe big picture, they dont seem to need to understand why it is so to accept it, and generally look surprised, and more often than not, irritated, when I ask the why questions. Familiar?

    1. Yes, I think so. Depends what you're looking at - with a computer system, it's the how I suppose, rather than the why. (Although why can come into it too.)

      For the world around in terms of politics and stuff, the interconnections and details are so difficult to find, and that's why I wander off and stick my head in the sand. I can't hold it all together, I can't find all the small details, the reasons, the whys or hows. Hm.

  2. In theory the 'correct' autistic answer is small details, but that's not the case for so many diagnosed people really, as extreme focus and organisation can keep on top of a big picture. I'm definitely a detail person. I can get lost in the small details. But I can, as you've described, 'read' the overview and understand a system inside out and see what needs to be done, but then fall apart on implementation as I get stuck in a detail. The system I'm thinking of is my mess of a house. I have a notebook full of lists and sketches on how to make it tidy, how to organise everything properly so they have homes, and lists of categories of 'things' that exist in the house. But in reality I get stuck sorting the same box of 'things' over and over as I get lost in the details and never seem to be able to create the idea that exists in my head. Maybe that's a rubbish example, but it's one of my obsessions ;-) I always see myself as a detail person, but maybe I do see big pictures too. Not with systems of people though, or politics (even office politics) I never understood why I was doing something when I was working. I understood the data, the systems etc, but as part of a big picture what the hell are we doing and is it any use? Nope, not a clue. But then I worked in public sector for a decade so... ;-) The yes/no questions are just no use for analytical brains. One of the questions on another test that gets me is something like "do you prefer to go to the theatre or a museum?" How are you supposed to answer a question like that? Fab post again, thank-you.

    1. Oh, and I've been me me me too, but as 'tech' above says, your posts are thought provoking.

    2. grin I'm actually Tech - it's a shortened form of my real life name :-D

  3. I was watching a brief intro to a course on aspergers and auditory processing issues yesterday (annoyingly cut short so that you would go and purchase a course). This problem with follow through came up and it had me nodding along hoping they were going to offer actual really helpful so,utions. Alas im not paying $89 to find out. but yes, getting stuck in the same details is where i come unstuck every single time in my hell hole of a house. It's finally sinking in how debilitating it is :-(


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