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Peopleware : doors between developpers...

I'm reading "Peopleware" and the recurrent words are :
bring back the door, avoid phone calls, ...

The main problem I see is that developpers are shy guys and nobody wants to know what they do. Programming is seen as barbarian work, too difficult to be undestood by the common run of people.

So marketing, commercial, event management people don't really know what developpers do... even with doors opened, and phone calls...
What about the same thing but with doors closed ? nobody will know the existence of developpers... the only important thing is the result...

I'm working as a web developper, I will probably be the manager of our team in few months. At the present time we work in an open space, opened to the full floor, so everybody pass in our space... I would like to put pressure on by boss to reshape the open space with partitions. I'd like to redirect phones call to me, then I would redirect them to the other developpers only if I judge it is important enough... But I think it means to break the team with the rest of the company...

What do you think ? What are your experiences ? ...

Olivier B
Saturday, November 1, 2003

Er... Not sure I understood the first part, about developers being introverts... but I second the idea of providing individual offices for developers, and allow them to redirect calls (voice-mail, or their boss.)

I understand that open-space offices save a company $, but there's a reason why you're supposed to keep quiet in a library...

Frederic Faure
Saturday, November 1, 2003

If I am working in a cubicle and not in a private office, I feel closer to my management if they're in the same space as me and not in a private office.

Saturday, November 1, 2003

As an employee at a company, if nobody knows you're there, that's very bad for your job security. Even if the results of your work are good, having people see you and talk to you all the time is part of keeping up your image as a productive employee.

One might be able to write more code if one didn't have to do that stuff, but one would get less credit for it. It's unfortunate that politics are part of office life, but it's sort of unavoidable.

Saturday, November 1, 2003

I am a fan of Peopleware and a strong advocate of quiet private offices for developers (that means one person to an office with a door and a window on the office).  Over the years I have worked shared offices, cubicles, and a private office.  The quiet private office is significantly better than other arrangements both for productivity and for making the office a tolerable place to be.

The Santa Teresa report noted that developers spend a significant fraction of their time doing individual work alone and as much or more working with others doing group work or in meetings.  People who are stuck in shared space do things like staying late, coming in early, etc. to get their private time.  OTOH, if developers telecommuted and stayed home all the time they'd get all the private time they needed but would have a difficult time coordinating with others.  Business seems to like either extreme for cost savings, but neither is optimum for productive work.

A private office, by itself, is no panacea for developer productivity problems.  An otherwise nice office can be ruined by a noisy HVAC system or other problems.  If it sounds like you are sharing your office with a hurricane or the desk is vibrating because your office is one floor below the A/C compressors you are no better off than being in a cubicle.  There are a lot of other factors that need to be considered, but it is not really too difficult to create good work space if you pay attention to details.

Beth, your comments are interesting.  How much experience do you have working in a private office?  Some people who have never worked in a private office have some strange ideas about the experience.  You certainly don't disappear in to your office at 9am never to see another employee unless you happen to leave for home at the same time as someone else.

Good private offices will have some extra space so that one or two other team members can stop by for a discussion.  There will be bigger offices for group meetings or lab space as needed.  The office door is usually left open and only closed for short sessions of concentrated effort.  The type of interaction with other developers varies from one task to another and good office space will be adaptable.

Management often thinks of a developer as a data entry device.  The cubicle provides enough space so that the developer can sit in front of a terminal and type on the keyboard.  This is the minimum environment for data entry, but not adequate for development work for people creating new applications.

Saturday, November 1, 2003

I don't have any real experience of working in private offices. I have worked in a wide variety of completely open office spaces and a few shared cubicle set-ups.

I'm at a point where I wouldn't mind a private office, although it's not a top priority for me. In the first 2 years of my career, I really benefited from having people around all the time. Now, it's a mixed blessing. I think that my ideal would be to share an office with 2-3 other people.

I was actually responding more to Olivier's comments (in particular, the bit about phone calls) than to the general idea of private offices. The idea of nobody knowing (or having to think about) the existence of the development team doesn't seem like a good thing for the developers. If the developers aren't easy to reach, what's the value of having them onsite?

Saturday, November 1, 2003

It's interesting to contrast this with the life of an academic researcher, which is pretty similar to programming. In academic research, the first thing they give you when you arrive at a new centre or university is ... an office. Often not bad too.

Saturday, November 1, 2003

Don't you think it's obvious that an academic researcher would write much better journal articles if he was in a bullpen with other reseaarchers so they could share ideas, proofread each other's work in 'pair writing' and so forth?

I know it's not been tried, but it seems obvious to me that this is a great way for researchers to improve their productivity.

Academic Improvement Consultant
Saturday, November 1, 2003

You think your office conditions are cramped, check out how cramped some of my friend's workplaces were in Japan.

Note: every computer is used by a single developer, all at the same time

Matthew Lock
Sunday, November 2, 2003

>>>You think your office conditions are cramped... <<<

Reminds me of a lab I was working in a few months ago.  Not only were the workspaces cramped, but there were equipment racks with many fans running continuously.  Actually, I spent most of my time in another office, but sometimes would go to the lab even when I didn't need to be there just to get away from the distractions in the main office.

Sunday, November 2, 2003

some pictures :

A view from my desk :

A quick map :

The web team... in an untidy open space... where other people tend to leave the old laser printer toners, the unwanted papers, the old dead computer...


Olivier B
Sunday, November 2, 2003

I've been in labs in the US that are that cramped. The worst is when everybody eats at their desk and likes to eat strange things.

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, November 2, 2003

Oliver! That's a dangerous situation you have there -- monitors give out a lot of radiation from the back side. An arrangement like you've got there with everyone facing in towards the backs of several monitors is a serious heath risk for cancer. Switch to flat screens or rearrance the desks, or put a chicken-wire shield frame in the center area.

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, November 2, 2003

>>>A view from my desk :<<<

Crowded, but the picture just can't tell us what it is really like to be working there.  What is the level of noise and distractions?

- Does the HVAC sound like you are sharing the room with a hurricane?
- Do the desks and walls vibrate due to vibrations conducted through the floors and walls from heavy machinery (e.g., HVAC compressors or ...)?
- Do some of the developers listen to music or obnoxious radio programs on those speakers, thus distracting everyone else?
- Is there a constant ringing of cell phones? Paging? Use of handsfree mode on phones? People talking loudly (to someone on the phone)?
- ...

Sunday, November 2, 2003

"monitors give out a lot of radiation from the back side."

Never heard of that.  Got any references?

Sunday, November 2, 2003

the hvac is ok, the noise mainly comes from :
1/ phone.
2/ people (other that the web team) talking
3/ computers

Olivier B
Sunday, November 2, 2003

People who are intimately working with each other (you need to talk with them every 15 mins.)  shouldn't be in cubes.  I worked in an "open space" situation, and rather liked it.  Keeps people productive, and easy communication.  One downside is that you can be distraxcted if too many people are having criss-cross conversations,,

Sunday, November 2, 2003


You're perpetuating an urban myth.

"All television receivers (including computer monitors), regardless of type, must meet a mandatory federal performance standard so any x-ray emissions, if they exist at all, must be at very low levels. The actual limit is stated as 'shall not exceed 0.5 milliroentgens per hour at a distance of five (5) centimeters from any point on the external surface of the receiver ...'

"The key point is 'from any point on the external surface' ... which means whether someone is in front of, to the side of, or behind the display or receiver, he/she is protected against any potential emissions of the display to the same degree."

Quote taken from

Brad Wilson (
Sunday, November 2, 2003

Hm, Ok, Brad, well that is from a FDA guy so it must by OK.

I had a friend who worked in the picture tube industry and he told me that the tubes were made of leaded glass and that the thickest part was in the front -- so the lead could absord the xrays produced by the electron stream hitting the metal aperture grill. The sides were thinner and so more radiation came out, and there was a spot right in the back where the gun fit in where a lot of radiation, reflecting back from the grid, could come out. He definitely thought those things put out radiation and they put out more in the back than in the front.

If they don't put out any xrays, then I wonder why they use expensive leaded glass to make the tubes?

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, November 2, 2003

I worked in Tokyo for 6 months. The office was a long room, with a long series of tables in the middle, like this:

  o  o  o  o  o  o  o
      o  o  o  o    o  o

the big O at the end was the boss. The developers were lined up facing each other (they are the little os). Smoking was allowed at your desk. The sales people were sitting in a similar configuration behind the developers. It was wild.

Sunday, November 2, 2003

OT: why do the French always make mistake of writing responsAble for responsible?

david feitl
Monday, November 3, 2003

I don't know, why do the French always make mistake of writing responsAble for responsible?

This has better be a _very_ good joke
Monday, November 3, 2003

Because in french the word for responsible is "responsable"

Oliver B
Monday, November 3, 2003

Oh yes. Sales people in the same room as the developers.

That's a kicker that one is.

Sales people that bellow on the phone. Sales people that always seem to have too many phones to answer them properly.

Salespeople who can be heard by development is a great way to put development morale (and therefore productivity) on the floor:

"Well, I know they said it would take ten days to implement... but I'm sure they can just work properly and do it in five..."

"Yeah, I'm sorry about all that, it's these ****ing clowns in development. They're hopeless...."

Katie Lucas
Monday, November 3, 2003

There's always glass walls and doors.  Which gives you the freedom from aural interuption and a psychic layer between you and the rest of the world while still allowing your face to be seen.

Plus, it makes for a brighter office.

Although I don't know if anybody's done any real research work on that.

Flamebait Sr.
Monday, November 3, 2003

Salespeople in America bellow on the phone.  Salespeople in Japan are very quiet by comparison.

Foolish Jordan
Wednesday, November 5, 2003

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