Story Problems

Published 2006-06-14

“Basically I took the client's email with all the requirements and turned it into a workflow diagram. It was like doing a story problem. That's what I do all day long: story problems.”

I said this yesterday in a meeting and it was one of those moments of revelation. When I tell people, waggishly, that I think or solve problems for a living, that's what I mean.

When I’m lucky, the story problem is clearly and unambiguously worded, maybe with bullet points. That never happens. What happens is, I get hastily-written story problems, where you have to guess the numbers, which may or may not have a correct answer, or maybe three of them. Oh, and everyone thinks that the easy part is where you re-word the story into algebra, and the hard part is where you put numbers into the algebra and solve the equation. (Note to people no longer in high school: it's actually the other way around.) So they look at me funny when I tell them I have to go away and think about it a little before I can give them an answer.