The Two Kinds of Trivial

I think I heard about one too many trivial problems today.

If you're a programmer, you've probably told someone on more than one occasion, "oh, that's trivial". The problem is, there's two kinds of trivial that you probably mean.

  1. That's trivial (and I can have it finished before you even get back to your office), or
  2. That's trivial (it presents no particular challenge or difficulty, but it might take some amount of time to complete).

If you don't qualify which trivial you mean, your listener will probably assume (1) even if you meant (2). Next time, if it really is (1), they might recall that the last time you said something was trivial it actually took a while, and so they won't believe you any more when you say "trivial", no matter which one you mean.

Nowadays, I still say "trivial", I am a programmer after all, but I always attach a work estimate to it. "It's trivial, but I'll need a couple of days to get it done." Then if it really is trivial and you get it done before your listener gets back to their office, they'll thank you for it; kind of like when Scotty finds one more dram of power to eke out of the engines and the Captain thanks him for it, even though you kind of knew he had it in reserve, just in case. It's about being reliable.


Content by Nick Porcino (c) 1990-2011