Duck talking

Duck talking

November 14, 2018

Before I tell you what duck talking is, I'd like you to try something. I'd like you to speak out loud what you think duck talking is. Don't worry, if you're too embarrassed you don't have to actually make noises if you don't want, you can just move your lips. Whatever you do, don't cheat by just thinking it, I want you to expend a little bit of energy in the process.

Ready? Out loud now: What is duck talking?

I'll wait.

(♫ don't need a reason, let the day go on and on...♫)

Okay, did you do it‽ That's duck talking! Having done it, does it make sense already?

For those of you who didn't even try it, duck talking (often called rubber ducking in the programming industry) is the process of forcing your brain to think in a slightly different manner when solving a problem, usually by looking at it from a different perspective or just by slowing the thought process down.

The history

The first accounting for this is in the book The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master which was later summarized by Andy Errington in 2002 as such:

  1. Beg, borrow, steal, buy, fabricate or otherwise obtain a rubber duck (bathtub variety).
  2. Place rubber duck on desk and inform it you are just going to go over some code with it, if that's all right.
  3. Explain to the duck what you (sic) code is supposed to do, and then go into detail and explain things line by line.
  4. At some point you will tell the duck what you are doing next and then realise (sic) that that is not in fact what you are actually doing. The duck will sit there serenely, happy in the knowledge that it has helped you on your way.

Changing your perspective

When you performed the initial experiment I proposed, you forced your brain to change gears from just reading to actually creating something. In doing so, your perspective on the subject changed from being just a passive audience member watching a play to being one of the actual actors!

To take this a step further, if you have a really hard or frustrating problem, instead of just reading something out loud, try explaining it to a real person. That person doesn't have to respond; you just need to talk to them. By doing so, your perspective changes once again and you become the writer who decides the story to tell, the set decorator who has to set the entire stage for the audience to view, and the director who decides how it all comes together.


No matter what you are doing, changing your perspective on a problem can often lead to solving the problem. If a prop such as a rubber duck helps you do this, then by all means go buy one, but remember, your co-workers are there to support you, too.

P.S. A warning

If you try duck talking, keep this in mind: 99% of the time, the answer to your problem will be obvious. Painfully obvious. I'm talking 1+1=2 kind of obvious. So obvious, in fact, that you'll probably stop dead in the middle of a sentence, trail off and say "oh."

That's ok. Anyone who makes fun of you probably hasn't tried duck talking and is banging their head on the wall trying to ram a proverbial square peg through a round hole. Maybe ask them about their problem(s), then sit back and just listen.

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