Raise Your Confidence
By having a rough understanding of how a technology works, you can boost your confidence in that area by doing some experimentation. You don't want to build the entire system or develop a fully working prototype. It is more important to drive a thin vertical wedge of understanding through the area of concern. This is where the term spike comes from; it is a thin vertical slice of information.
When you are experimenting, focus on understanding one specific thing, not a whole host of things. That way you can focus on solving one problem and not become distracted. Set a goal that is achievable in a relatively short time period. If you are trying to understand a complex technology, use your task breakdown skills. Break down the problem into a collection of smaller problems. As mentioned in Chapter 3, I like to aim for something that I believe is achievable within a four-hour timeframe. If a problem takes longer than this to solve, I realize I have bitten off more than I can chew. I need to take a step back and break down the problem.
In each spiking session, I attempt to build a prototype that I will be happy to throw away. The point is not to build a piece of software from these sessions, but to gain an understanding that I can apply to the software system being developed.