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Stop Interrupting Me.

beggars profile image Dwayne Charrington ・2 min read

As a front-end developer, sometimes the hardest part about my job isn't the work, it's dealing with people and the complications that come with them. Followed by the processes that surround the work, it's a lot to deal with.

When you see me with headphones on at my desk, don't come and tap me on the shoulder unless you're telling me there is a fire and the office needs to be evacuated. If you need help, send me a Slack message or email. Better yet, wait until you see me get up from my desk for a moment.

In my long career I have worked in a wide variety of different environments. The Agile/Scrum environments, open plan offices, closed plan and offices with sales teams ringing stupidly loud bells when they make a sale to the roar of applause from the office.

Distractions are everywhere, which is why all reasonable developers will eventually realise they need to own a good pair of noise cancelling headphones. The kind that could drown out the apocalypse.

So, if you see me wearing headphones don't make me take them off, I'm most likely in the middle of something important.

Don't force me to participate in stand up meetings every morning which serve absolutely no purpose other than to give status updates to micro managing bosses wanting round the clock updates, not much changes in a day.

Let me come in late and miss the peak hour traffic, let me finish later for the same reasons.

Don't expect me to respond to your emails as soon as you send them.

Don't expect me to respond to your Slack messages right away either.

For an industry that has so many tools for managing work flow from project management to communication, it's still incredibly distracting. Use the tools or don't, you can't have it both ways.

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beggars profile

Dwayne Charrington

@beggars

Lead front-end developer @ ia // Aurelia.io core team, 11 years experience, amateur professional developer.

Discussion

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The frustration comes through loud and clear in your post, and I am sure plenty can relate to it.

That said, one thing I was curious about is what kind of interruptions you tend to experience day to day. When people try to talk to you when you've got headphones on, what is it they're asking for?

Some examples would help!

 

Absolutely. It's not the interruptions that bother me so much, it's the timing of people in general. The post might suggest otherwise, but I love helping people, it's part of my job.

Interruptions range from impromptu last minute meetings (especially those I didn't even need to be in), people asking what I am doing for lunch through to asking questions they could have Googled or Slacked me.

To me, if I have headphones on, people should take that as a sign I am busy. I go most times of the day without headphones on at all, which people are fine to come and ask me things.

 

Got it, thanks for clarifying.

And I appreciate you counterbalancing things a bit here, because just as there is the stereotype of the super chaotic and constantly distracting office, there is also the stereotype of the aloof and hard to reach programmer. That doesn't seem to be the case in your situation, but I have seen situations where that perception has made things even worse, because then other people in the company begin to think "If I need something, I just have to go tap on their shoulder."

I do think the signal of "headphones on means I'm focusing" is a pretty clear one, but sometimes it isn't enough to break habits, and also sometimes there is a mismatch in expectations on how long is a reasonable time for someone to be "in the zone" during office hours.

Some things that could possibly help.

1) Setting up proactive office hours where you are very explicitly interruptable for questions or general work conversations. This way people have a time each day they know is convenient to you, and you can use that to politely ask "can this wait?" whenever something comes up outside of that time. A lot of these questions may indeed be answerable via email but people have different communication preferences and some level of compromise goes a long way.

2) Intentionally time boxing focused work can go a long way towards restoring balance. For example, using pomodoros where you go heads down for 25 mins and then take a break for 5 mins leaves a short window where if someone wants to reach you, they can, even if your response is something like "Oh, we can talk about it after lunch if you're free, I have something I'm in the middle of that I need to wrap up first."

3) Finally, not sure if the people interrupting you are also in your stand-ups... (which I mostly agree are often misused but that is a whole other conversation)

If they are in the standups, in theory, this is the time in the day where saying "I have a lot to do on ThingX and will be heads down for most of the morning, so if anybody needs anything please catch me right after standup or after lunch" can go a long way.

To sum it up, I think most devs feel this pain in some form of another in offices, but headphones on their own are a reactive response to a reactive environment. Taking some proactive measures im shifting how and when communication happens can make a difference.

(And when it doesn't work, then it may be the sign that finding a more accommodating workplace would be a good idea)

 

Is it normal for developers to feel this way?

I personally don't mind questions or even small talk, if anything those things make the time fly by

 

I don't mind questions or helping people. I am specially talking about situations where I am in the zone and intentionally trying to drown out distractions and noise.

I love good office chats and banter as much as the next person, but if I have a deadline or a lot on, sometimes I need to escape into my own head and drown everything out.

 

In my workplace, one of the things we do is that is someone is in "The zone" we don't bother them at all, we wait for that person to get out of the zone to tell them whatever was happening.

How to know if someone is in the zone? The person is with headphones, coding fast and is concentrated.

This has work for us perfectly. People don't feel interrupted and their flow doesn't vanish away like you say on your post.

 

I also call this a "zone" wherein I don't really like to be distracted, I put on my headphones with noise cancelling, ignore my surroundings and just focus on coding..

and ofcourse, a cup of coffee ☕ 😄