How to get started coding when you don't know what to do

Wondering how to kick start your software project? Follow the RubySteps Mob Programming Team’s lead. Today the mob started their second open project by just showing up and tossing out ideas of what they could work on together.

We’ve used a lightweight collaboration protocol before to help us figure out what we want to work on as a team. You can see from the mob_rotation project that it gets messy, but that’s part of the beauty! Our notes simply express ideas to ourselves and to our teammates. We don’t need to commit to a backlog of stories. We can just show up and figure out what to work on, informed by our shared memory.

Getting started often poses a challenge because you have so many possibilities at the beginning, and no feedback. Working in groups can help to get things going. No one person has to come up with the complete idea. Anyone can share a tiny part of an idea and through a process of continued sharing the team builds to something clearly meaningful.

Whether you’re working alone or in a group, you can always get some inspiration from Brian Eno’s oblique strategies. Keep in mind the following quote from him and you’ll be rolling along in no time.

“I really begin by allowing myself to make a mess, and then seeing if I can get out of it. If your first move is brilliant, you’re in trouble. You don’t really know how to follow it; you’re frightened of ruining it. So to make a mess is a good beginning - and I’m quite good at doing that.” -Brian Eno

I like to jot a bunch of notes in a text editor. I’ll eventually have to express ideas in code, so I might as well get started expressing ideas now. Getting ideas out of my head gives me a chance to evaluate them to find out which ones are important and need to make it into code form.

What tricks or techniques do you use for getting started on a new software problem? I’d love to know what works for you.

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