I have finally pinned down one of the biggest problems I have at work.

I have two different modes I use at work. One is the very literal, very focused mindset I use for testing; I have unimaginatively nicknamed it tester mode. I do my best work when I approach the software without expectations, take in every detail I can and stay focused on what is there, right now. In this mode, it is very easy to take the raw sensory data of interaction with the software and compare it to my pre-written test cases; if anything is wrong, I’m much more likely to catch it, and faster, than I would otherwise. Rather than interacting with my vision of what the software is, I can interact with the software as it is, and explore the parameters of what it can do without worrying about what it should do. Interestingly enough, I tend to slip out of words and use scraps and phrases of music to think (tones have meanings; phrases have complex meanings, and repeating while changing can help me mull over a concept I barely have words to explain.)

The down side is that metaphor is likely to be lost, as will most abstractions; I have a much harder time communicating with other people when operating like this, resulting in very real frustration on both sides of any given conversation. That includes such things as forgetting what the subject was two sentences ago, and instead navigating the grammatical depths of the current sentence for meaning, and tripping over a subject that should have been implicit (was, in fact, from the speaker’s perspective; but wasn’t from mine, and that I’d have gotten while in a different mode.) In addition, I become easy to distract, and will go diving down rabbit holes that weren’t in my test cases, simply because I found a way off the map and wish to explore it. (Naturally, that’s where the best bugs are.)

The second mode is a much more high-level view of things – this is where I interact with ideals of things, can think easily about what the software should be, or what we want it to be, rather than what it is right now. This is the mode I use when I write, where metaphor and abstraction are merely tools and not baffling sidesteps. This is where I write my test cases (what I want the software to be) in order that I might run them in testing mode (what the software is), and this is where I do my less project-oriented writing, be it professional or blog. This is my highly verbal, analytical-thinking communicator mode. I’ll think in words, though the music is still in the background, and I’m much more difficult to distract from whatever I am doing when in communicator mode.

The problem occurs when I must switch from one to the other. It’s not a mood or a shift of intention, it’s a difference in the fundamental way I think about things.  The first state of mind is so focused that it is difficult to just snap right out of it; instead I take a few minutes and move from one state to the next, to avoid failing to switch or lapsing back into the state I just left. For instance, if I get an unexpected phone call, I’ll probably have difficulty communicating for the first bit of it, because I am still operating in tester mode, and the person on the other end expects me to be in communicator mode.  Likewise, it’ll take me a little bit to switch from communicator mode to tester mode, in order to really get down into my project – the switch from communicator to tester is significantly easier, though, so that is much less of a problem.

It would be fascinating to see if there’s any actual difference in brain activity between modes, or if it is all in the software.

I wonder how I can make the transitions faster and smoother? Does anyone else do this, or have any suggestions on it?

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