inside the bean / @kentbrew / Flickr

Sideways In Time

Professional web development is a field populated by time travelers. These people have an ability that you and I lack. They can visualize a problem, go forward in time until they've solved it by normal means, observe the optimal process and the solution, turn around, snap back to the consensual timeline in which you and I exist, and start working. When they do this, they move sideways in time.

Because they know what the final product should look like upon his return, a proficient traveler can implement the solution in a fraction of the amount of time than it would have taken had we given it to someone who make mistakes at the same rate we do, one second per second. We don’t see anything special while this is going on; from our point of view, the traveler simply thinks for a bit and then starts working quickly. Incredibly, crazily, insanely quickly.

If you are fortunate enough to discover a sideways time traveler in your midst, here are some things to remember:

Sideways time travel is exhausting. The traveler exists in several places at once. She’s actually implementing the solution in real time while observing the solution being implemented from a moving perch above the normal timeline, all the while sleepwalking her corporeal self through consensus reality. Longer journeys often result in headaches, sleeplessness, idiosyncratic behavior, and caffeine addiction.

Sometimes the trip is over before it starts. We explain the goal to our traveler, his eyes stare through us into the future for what feels like a second, and he's back, with the answer "No."

This is almost always due to a failure on our part to communicate what it was that we wanted. When this happens, encourage your traveler to talk about what he saw in the future and listen carefully for the misunderstanding. Chances are excellent it was trivial, and he'll be able to jump right back out with a minor course correction and find your answer.

Sideways time travel can be dangerous. Under ideal circumstances, the traveler re-enters the consensual timeline, implements the observed solution, and the future in which she would normally have spent weeks experimenting without a clear goal in mind collapses neatly into the present in a silent, shimmering cloud of possibilities.

We run into serious trouble if the goal changes while the traveler is away. Re-entering the consensual timeline is a tricky business that requires a fair bit of trust. When that trust is broken the traveler's confidence in her ability to visualize the future can be seriously damaged. Imagine throwing a marshmallow up in the air with the goal of catching it in your mouth, and having it turn into a bowling ball on the way down—a bowling ball that’s been dipped in pitch and set on fire—and you won’t be too far off.