…all developers should share this with the one you love or non-developers you work with. Help them understand why you get so pissed when they come into your office to ask the simplest questions. Many times I feel like I’m holding a castle made of cards up with one finger, holding my breath when suddenly there’s this tiny puff of air that brings everything organized to complete chaos
I do think that these effects vary considerably across individuals, and I don’t think it has to be a permanent condition.
When I was a young programmer (my second job in the mid-80s), I was in a highly interrupt-driven environment at Bain & Co., the management consulting company. I did a bunch of different things during my tenure there, but a lot of it was what we called “programming” at the time. Because I was interrupted extremely frequently – sometimes half a dozen times an hour, by my recollection – I simply learned to be better at it over the six years I was there.
At a later job around 1999-2002 at a company called ArsDigita, I was amazed at how defensive the young developers sometimes were with their time. They occasionally could be almost hostile at interruptions, which in a way ensured that they couldn’t learn to deal with them. I think the headphone thing actually made it worse, since an interruption was more jarring to their memory patterns, as it often required a physical incursion to get their attention. They interrupted each other, too, by the way; I’m not basing this just on my observations from interrupting them myself.
I can’t say that I’m great at managing interruptions, but I do think that I learned to be better at it than some people are. I don’t suggest that everyone embrace interruption – or even encourage it as I sometimes do – but I do suggest that everyone should consider how their work environment actually functions most of the time to consider how best to adapt. If you are likely to be interrupted, work to identify how you can best work inside that construct.
Techies often get a bad rap because they are too defensive and say no too often. Part of that bad rap can come from the impression of “my work right now is more important than whatever you are here for” that comes from reacting unpleasantly to interruptions from the very people for whom we are supposed to be doing the work.
Don’t just try to avoid interruption, treating it as an evil, but welcome it on some level so that you can be a better IT professional. You’ll have a happier user base, and you might just learn some new tricks.