How attentive are you? How attentive are you?

During my first job interview as a web developer, I was asked, what I thought at the time, a weird question.  "Jamie, on a scale of one to ten, what would you score yourself in regards to attention to detail?"  I said what every employer wanted to hear "eight or nine, no one is perfect".

It was enough to get me the job.  However, as I completed task after task, it was clear that my attention to detail was more around a five or six.  This was a contract position at the time with a possible extension, well as you can guess, I didn't get the extension.

So what's changed today?  The obvious answer is a lot, but let's breakdown things I now do differently to increase my attention of detail to the actual eight or nine I originally said it was.

Slow Down

This is probably one of the most obvious, but so overlooked things.  Yes, we have timelines, yes we have deadlines, yes our employer thinks higher of us if we get the job done quickly.

I can tell you from experience, there is a balance to this.  Employers quickly get tired of having lot's of back and forth with you to get the job done.

If you think you've completed the task, the first thing you should do is go back, re-read the task and mark off each item that you have completed confirming each one.

Next, test each item to ensure it works correctly.  See my article on 5 Tips to Become a Better Web Developer to get a few tips to help test correctly.

Remember, your employer will be willing to accept your work taking slightly longer if there are no problems with it.  More times than not, work that gets done quickly requires a lot more work to finish it when it's full of bugs!


I think this is what most inattentive people lack.  You should care about the work you do and be proud of what you've created.  Yes, this is just a job.  But, you may not keep it for long if you are continually performing poorly.

I think caring about my mistakes is what has really pushed me to succeed.  I take a lot of pride in my work and I find it quite embarrassing when things do not work properly.

There was nothing worse than going home at night and thinking, did I test everything and make no mistakes today.  A lot of lost sleep has been caused from this.  Obviously, I'm still not perfect today, but I feel a lot more confident that what I do, will have no major problems.

Code Incrementally

I find this is a great way to ensure everything is done correctly and completely.  I build code one step at a time and check each step along the way.  Let me repeat that, I check each step along the way.

There is a lot less room from error if each step is working along the way (this is similar to UNIT TESTING) oppose to coding non stop for hours and then finally start testing.  If you take this approach you are likely to have more bugs, logic will be incorrect, you may forget to test each logic scenario, etc...

Going back to my previous article, 5 Tips to Become a Better Web Developer, I put testing as the number one tip.  Testing requires the most attention to detail.  It's imperative you test all aspects.  If the logic is complex, test all possible scenarios to ensure you've covered each scenario that will occur, don't assume you coded it perfectly.

Let's take that last point and say it again, but more generally this time.  NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING.

I hope this article doesn't come off to negative, but if it does, my less attentive co-workers have caused it to be!  If you look back to several days ago where I discussed Importance of using the CakePHP Helpers, in that article I discuss how we've had to go back and fix a lot of HTML links to use CakePHP's HTML helpers.  Well, it's still not done today because of poor attention to detail (brackets not closed properly, if statements not actually ended!  Yes, just like the name of my blog).  I was first told this morning it was done, looked around and within 3 clicks found 5 problems.  Did they even look?  I proceeded to have a meeting and discuss the importance of, you guessed it, attention to detail.  Another day was spent fixing and at the end of the day I was informed that it was done, again.  This time I had to click 5 or 6 times before finding another 5 problems.

Ok enough personal problems, but it feels good to rant a bit.  I'm sure many of you out there have had to deal with similar issues.  Perhaps, you will be able to pass this article off to those individuals and they will begin to improve their attention to detail!

Published on Mar 25, 2009

Tags: Theory

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