Monday, November 19, 2007

Should Coders be Allowed to Wear Headphones at Work?

I mean I love my music - I played as a resident DJ for a year spending all my student loan on records! - but when I'm at work, I'm there to work, not to be entertained.

I also understand that when you've got one of Nokia's latest remixes blasting out every five minutes, having some background music - some familiarity - can be a good way to get into the coding zone. Especially if you've got your bug hunting hat on:

But what about senior coders?

Doesn't it say in their job description that they are meant to help and mentor their more junior peers?

But how can they recognise the signs of a coder-in-need if they are taking in their latest track from iTunes?

And then for managers and those in a leadership position, those who should be aware of the rest of the team at all times, how can they lead fully when they don't hear any or all that happens?

It seems like there must be a happy medium somewhere between headphones on productivity and headphones off knowledge sharing. But it also seems that the further up the tree you go, the less you should be wearing them.


Ellis said...

Doesn't bother me. I use an IM to communicate inter-office. =)

Anonymous said...

Many, including myself, wear noise canceling headphones because we don't have the luxury of an office and out in the cubicle farm things can get very distractingly loud with all the traffic and such.

Ming said...

I use IM all the time too, I do not think this is a problem, unless the manager does not wear headphone but the junior developer does.

Anonymous said...

I work in an Extreme Programming shop, and, pretty obviously, pair programming doesn't benefit much from the use of headphones. Occasionally, though, it's useful for one person to work alone on a problem without distractions, and headphones come in very handy for that.

Casey Wise said...

I'm very easily distracted and am in a cube farm doing heads down coding all day. When my distractions are minimized, my productivity is maximized.

Music really helps to drown out the din of my colleagues.

They're almost an essential tool for me.

dimitry said...

Just the question bugs me, a lot!. If you (or whoever sets company policy) believe in the people you have, in your judgment, and truly understand how to motivate and retain talented people, let them do whatever the hell they have to do to get the job done. Personally I wouldn't accept a job at such a company, and I don't understand how anyone who respects their talent and creativity would either.

Anonymous said...

Managers/Seniors/Leads are there to listen - so if someone needs help, you take the headphones off and help. If you present accessibility and are truly accessible than you're there to answer questions and mentor.

I have to take my headphones off all the time.

For me getting into and staying in the developer "zone" is critical. Getting into the zone is tough and getting pulled out is easy, headphones offer me an easy way to get into the zone and stay in it and not fall out because someone's cell rings, or someone next to my cube is talking about last night's [INSERT TV SHOW HERE].

Anonymous said...

I see this as offensive trash because moronic office designers and managers fail to realise that open plan offices and cubes are a disaster area for creative workers e.g. developers. Productivity is often inversely proportional to the volume and irritation of noise.

WTF, read Peopleware already!bygmd

progrmr said...

I'm a senior programmer - and while I'm supposed to mentor the junior programmers, as the senior my job includes delivering the right solution in a stylish and fully functional way. If a junior needs help, they'll let me know. Otherwise, I'm "submerged" - headphones on, nothing but me and my IDE and my solution in mind. Headphones and my MP3 player are MUST HAVE items on my desk.

Dirk said...

I'm a senior programmer working in a open space office with 20 other people. It's just impossible to stay in the "zone" without headphones. I don't care if it plays the latest Top10 songs or Beethoven's fifth, it's just about creating constant noise that doesn't distract you.

Sometimes managers come along and question me about it. My answer is simple and always the same: you want the work done? Either put me in an office alone (I'm the ony programmer here) or let me wear headphones.

This said, I'm wearing the headphones only when I really feel I need to, to avoid being marked as asocial.
But headphones should definitely be allowed if it helps programmers to focus on their work.

Aaron said...

I'm also a senior headphone wearing senior developer. I've yanked the wires out of several pairs of ear buds from constantly taking them out, so now I just listen to a single ear bud. This way I can listen to office chatter, I can quickly respond when someone comes into my cube, and I still have my daily dose of MP3.

Fleejay said...

Thank you for your feedback on this one.

I've worked in both quiet and noisy offices. During noise it is, as you all say, almost essential to wear headphones when developing anything but the most trivial code.

I've also worked as a developer in a quiet office where the lead constantly wears headphones. And, before you make any passing comment about the code, you stop and think, "do I really need to disturb him?"

I think that, if developers aren't passing on information about the code because the lead is wearing headphones, then the lead shouldn't be wearing headphones. Because, in my opinion, knowing what your team is thinking is essential.

Andreas Guther said...

Wearing headphones helps to block out surrounding noise. It is not so much about listening to music, but about being concentrated. I love to listen to music, but I think in most cases I prefer to work without music. Unfortunately I work in an environment where people with different roles sit in cubicles close to each other. I had days when for example HR people just a few cubicles away were conducting phone interviews all day long. Needless to say that this is not helping to focus on a even medium complicated task. I had to invest in noise canceling headphones to help me blocking out those distractions.