An office with a door.. I can’t imagine it
Joel talks again about how he thinks every programmer should have their own office with a door. I can’t actually imagine having my own office. I’m up to desk number four in my working life and they’ve all been in open plan offices. I can definitely see the benefits of being able to shut the rest of the world out, but I kind of think it’d make work a little lonely.
On the otherhand, there definitely days when I’m finding it hard to get into the zone when I wish people would stop interrupting me. Or worse, the days when I’ve got something really boring to do and I’m just looking for a reason to be distracted from my machine. On those days I’ve found that headphones and music are a good way to create my own office. When I’ve got my headphones in I don’t really hear the conversation that’s going on in the office and people generally only go to the effort of interrupting me if they actually need something.
A funny thing I’ve noticed is that programming to music seems to be something that only younger developers really like to do. This is entirely anecdotal, but lots of people I’ve worked with under about 25 like to work with the headphones in, but very fewer people over thirty do. I wonder if this is a cultural thing because older people (like my mum) view music as a distraction or maybe because the younger people have always had to work in open plan offices and this is the easiest way to do it without going mad? Maybe working with headphones in is something that’s only been acceptable in the office culture in recent times?
I think the other thing you’ve got to be careful with in open plan offices is that you don’t try to jam too many people into the space. In one of my previous jobs space was scarce in the department and our area had four regular desks and two hotdesks. The setup worked quite well when there were only four people in the space, but when there were two or sometimes even three extra people it was hard to get any quiet time. Conversations would errupt at one end of the room, spread to everyone in the space and then break into small sub conversations. Eventually it would die off, but any collaboration (since we were all working on related things) could lead to the whole process being started again.
There were benefits though. I knew what everyone else in our team did and had a pretty good picture of the work we were doing as a whole. It was also easy to collaborate with people who my work was going to affect. I got to learn a fair bit that I might not have learnt otherwise about their jobs (and life histories) and it was actually one of the nicest places I’ve ever worked.