comic, programmers, testers, programmer interrupted

Programmer Interrupted – The Quiet Suffering in Open Floor Offices

At least there are no programming distractions here!

Programmers Hate Open Floor Plans

In theory, open floor offices are a great idea. Sharing a spacious room ideally allows creative minds to engage in fruitful discussion, spontaneously brainstorm ideas and solve problems together. In practice, however, many have a hard time concentrating in an open office, encountering so many programming distractions that they must sit there with headphones and listen to white noise to avoid the distraction. As Joel Spolsky, CEO of Stackoverflow puts it, “programming is a solitary activity and developers don’t benefit from overhearing conversations.”

This is why Spolsky grants every programmer their own office, with natural light, at each of his three companies. If you are lucky enough to work at Stack Overflow, Trello or Fog Creek Software, you will have an office environment that prevents distractions, where you will be able to “keep more things in your brain at once” – without the aid of headphones.

Spolsy’s approach is supported by multiple studies, including a recent one in which the theory of collaboration and face-to-face interactions in an open plan office was put to the test…and failed spectacularly. Turns out that there is a real need for privacy that causes people to prefer emails and IMs while hiding behind their screens in order to minimize the distractions.

The Mecca of Programming Distractions 

In stark contrast is Facebook, where one shares an office with over 900 other employees. While Facebook is convinced that they have created the ultimate, most amazing place for developers, many coders claim they would never want to work there (see this lively Reddit discussion, for instance):

reddit, open office, nightmare


Such nightmare stories are proof that new-age design philosophies and sociological experiments may sound great to a Silicon Valley VC, but when the goal is productivity, perhaps more thought should go into reducing distractions. Where do you work? How do you deal with programming distractions in an open space? Share your tips and thoughts here!