Open source, closed doors? Peace of code.

Throughout my involvement with code, I’ve been curious as to both the volume and quality of code. As well as, how it feels in particular moments to be programming.

Not so long time ago the suitability of open-plan offices to R&D (generally, “anything needing precise concentration for rather long periods of time”) was revisited and, according to many articles or persons, programmers hate open-plan offices. This in turn translates to diminished productivity.

Part of the negative side of a open-plan office is due to interrupting the flow, or optimal mental state of a developer. Good managers know how to shield developers from completely unnecessary and fruitless disruptions. Apart from one-man shops (where you, the CEO, are also developers, sales-guy, coffee grinder and the janitor), developers rarely should directly handle individual service cases (ie. being helpdesk), nor should they have much direct daily output to sales activity. Developers often participate as technical aides in product design; write both payload code and tests (the ‘core’ of their trade), handle open bugs, and learn new things. Developers should not (in my opinion) be involved much in the back-office activities of a project, such as maintaining capacity and reliable availability of servers, configuring complex build systems; and they definitely should not be involved in mindless ramifications from organizational architecture change such as moving a lot of stuff from a folder to another, or having fencing with any office productivity / email / calendar suites. Well, the latter goes to every role (not just devs) in the company, and I know that it’s part idealistic to state that change shouldn’t incur painful and numbing experiences.

My stance on the open-floor plan issue is quite similar as the news. If I’m mostly in developer role, I prefer somewhat closed rooms. It doesn’t mean that each developer would sit in their own closet, but rather that a team is shielded from extraneous noise and distractions. A very good idea is to have easily available, temp quiet spaces for individual work. Booking them shouldn’t be necessary.

Joel Spolsky said very well:

The more things you (ie. developer) can keep in your brain at once, the faster you can code, by orders of magnitude.

There might be purely neurological reason behind this. Our sound perception works as a background thread, automatically. We kind of – computationally speaking – keep making sense of the word-stream that enters our ears. Thus the more there is sound signal in the enclosing space, the more we probably have to deviate from perfect concentration on the most important task.

The idea behind open-floor plans probably were to alleviate siloing (individual developers going solo, making things that become incomprehensible to others, and pose a business risk). By putting people together, the architects maybe thought of leveling and making the team advance in more even and predictable steps. Reality perhaps got in the way.

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