Feeling Ducky

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, each of us is on our own Yellow Brick Road, facing challenges and seeking answers. And just like Judy Garland’s character, most of what we seek, we probably had all along.

This is true even when it comes to debugging complex systems in computer science. Be it code or infrastructure, when we are stuck, confused or have made a mistake, the solution is almost always in the work itself, a belief which gave rise to “Rubber Duck Debugging.”

The rumored origin of Rubber Duck Debugging is that a programmer realized his coworkers would come to him, often in a panic, for help breaking through some block in their work. Instead of offering answers, he just listened and as they talked, most discovered the answers on their own. They just needed a sounding board, nothing more than a passive audience. As a test, he began employing a rubber duck, encouraging his coworkers to, quite literally, talk to the duck. It worked.

Assistant Software and Information Systems Professor, Tom Moyer, has embraced this theory and unintentionally become the College of Computing and Informatics’ very own duck man.

“In my short time here,” Moyer says, “I have noticed that many students come to me for help on their assignments and when I ask them to explain their current progress, they often solve their own problem without my help.”

Moyer began explaining this and other techniques to his students at the beginning of each semester. In 2018, he decided to provide each student with his/her own rubber duck. “The students loved the idea,” he says, “and soon, my research students decided to adopt the rubber duck as our mascot.”

“The students have become rubber ducks for each other, often meeting up to work on research and helping each other with difficult problems,” Moyer says. “I feel fortunate to be a part of this dynamic group.”

In mid-April, as a birthday gift (or prank) Moyer’s students, members of the Cyber Resiliency, Security, and Trust Lab (CReST Lab), filled his office with 400 rubber ducks.

On May 5th, the 15th Annual HOPE FLOATS Duck Race will take place at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Thousands of Charlotteans of all ages will line the banks of the main channel to watch 35,000 adopted (and adorable), sun-glass wearing, rubber duckies brave the rapids towards the finish line. The event raises money for KinderMourn, an organization that provides hope for bereaved parents, grieving children and teens by offering support and counseling programs.

“My students urged me to establish a team for the race and raise money for KinderMourn,” Moyer says. “We did, and will be there, watching our ducks all the way to the finish.”

Anyone interested in supporting the team can go to the ADOPTION PAGE and select “CReST Lab” from the list of teams.

For more information on Rubber Duck Debugging, CLICK.
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