Quack quack! Have you tried Rubber Duck Debugging?

By John Hammersley
Overleaf Rubber Duck Army at Imperial College London

Mark Wheelhouse, 2nd Year Coordinator at Imperial College London’s Department of Computing came up with a great idea for helping his students: Rubber Duck Debugging.

Needless to say that once we heard about this we were keen to get involved, and everyone was delighted with the rather cute result.

How does this help Imperial’s students? Mark explains below in his original pitch of the idea to his colleagues...

Rubber Duck Debugging at Imperial

by Mark Wheelhouse

In the first year of our UG degree our students get a lot of individual hands on support both in the labs and via the PPT system. In the second year quite a lot of this support drops away, and the nature of the lab-work is such that the problems become larger and more challenging. As such, it is very important that they students learn how to (A) be more self-sufficient and (B) to ask better questions of the helpers.

One commonly acknowledged way of achieving both of these results is the use of a technique known as "Rubber Duck Debugging" [1],[2]. The process involves carefully explaining your problem aloud to an inanimate object (such as a rubber duck). Forcing yourself to outwardly express your issue can often either help you to answer it yourself, or make it easier to explain to a lab helper or colleague in the future. Some sites, such as Stack Exchange, even insist that you go through this (or a similar process) before posting a question on-line [3].

My proposal is that we purchase each of the second year's a rubber duck to accompany them through the second year laboratory. I'll give them advice on how to best make use of this tool as well as weekly lab support hints and tips posted at: We'd need roughly 180+ ducks for the whole year-group to have one each....

...and as if by magic (or possibly it was the rather amazing Just Ducks store)...

Overleaf Rubber Duck Army at Imperial College London

...200 ducks appeared at Mark's door.

We hope they help!

The next time you're stuck debugging your LaTeX code and can't work out what the problem is, give Rubber Duck Debugging a try – what's the worst that can happen?! If you do need to talk to someone though, we can help with that too :)

Overleaf Rubber Duck 2015

The ducks have also proven to be a big hit around the office, and we’ll definitely be ordering more for next year. Let us know if you'd like one!


John Hammersley

Co-founder, CEO

Mathematician; physicist; dancer. Entrepreneur; founder; CEO. Co-founder of Overleaf. Did driverless taxis at Ultra PRT. Forever learning :)