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Music Programming

Music While Programming? 1019

BubbaDoom writes "In our cubicle-ville, we have programmers intermixed with accounting, customer support and marketing. As programmers, it is our habit to put on our headphones and listen to our portable music players to drown out all of the noise from everyone else. The boss recently sent an email just to the programmers demanding that we do not use our music players at work because he thinks it distracts us from our jobs and causes us to make mistakes. Of course, we've explained to him that prattle from the other people is much, much more distracting, but he insists his policy is the right one. What is the Slashdot community's experience with music at work for programmers?"
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Music While Programming?

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  • by javaguy ( 67183 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:11AM (#30412332)

    Without music at work there won't be any more programmers, the issue will be moot

    • by otravi ( 1289804 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:26AM (#30412428)

      Working without music is fine, as long as there isn't any noise to avert your concentration. The easiest way to solve this little issue it just go to work with a pair of earmuffs. Your argument for using them should be obvious.

      • by meerling ( 1487879 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:42AM (#30412516)
        Too much silence if even more distracting for some people, myself included.

        Music makes good background, and can be easily tuned out.
        On the other hand, conversations are something I can't help but respond to, especially when it's a question.
        Even worse, a questions of a technical nature regarding computers.
        • by manicb ( 1633645 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @07:43AM (#30412810)

          Of course this affects everyone differently. (I'm an engineer, not a programmer, but much the same issues should apply.) I actually can't really 'tune out' music any more: maybe I could in the past, but since I started writing and producing in my spare time I can't help but analyse EVERY piece of music I hear. Regardless of its actual merit. One long day of working in a lab with Radio 1 on in the background pretty much made me hate the world. Even at my desk where I can listen to my own choice of music, I only listen to music if doing something repetitive and mundane - I can't solve problems when I'm thinking about how well the bass part fits around the drums. It's a bit of a curse: similarly, I know enough about the art of magic that I don't enjoy bad magicians any more, but enjoy the good ones all the more!

          That said, I think I can make my own decisions about what will distract me and what won't, and be responsible for the quality of my work. Some people will be more distracted than they think - I guess the danger is that it's difficult to tell if this is the cause of somebody's poor productivity. Tricky one.

          • by MrNaz ( 730548 ) * on Saturday December 12, 2009 @09:44AM (#30413454) Homepage

            While I can accept that music would be less distracting that office chatter, I simply don't understand the concept that music is better than silence. I can work with music, but if I need to concentrate on something intensely, like a complex coding problem or making decisions based on a large amount of data, I need silence.

            I blame life in a modern city causing people to hardly ever hear silence, which makes them uncomfortable with it. I grew up on a small country town, and silence was just something I got used to when walking in the bush or playing in the yard. Even traffic noise was not present. I remember finding the constant sound of cars going past when we moved to the city to be a novelty, and soon an annoyance for many years after moving to the city. To this day, 22 years later, I still find my trips to the country a relief from the sensory barrage that is life in a city.

            • by WuphonsReach ( 684551 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:07AM (#30413572)
              While I can accept that music would be less distracting that office chatter, I simply don't understand the concept that music is better than silence. I can work with music, but if I need to concentrate on something intensely, like a complex coding problem or making decisions based on a large amount of data, I need silence.

              Music without vocals is a lot easier to concentrate to. It also needs to be non-novel, where you've listened to it enough that it is familiar to the brain.

              My personal favorite for getting into the zone is either pure classical symphonies or 1-2 hour long dance (house/techno/etc) mixes (sans vocals). Because the pieces last for at least 45 minutes before switching to another track/style, you can get deep into the flow with music that is familiar.

              (It's why I categorize my dance tracks by vocal / no-vocal along with approximate energy level of low/med/hi.)
            • by patiodragon ( 920102 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:31AM (#30413776) Homepage

              "While I can accept that music would be less distracting that office chatter, I simply don't understand the concept that music is better than silence."

              Dude, you have not heard the voices inside my head. Otherwise, you would see clearly the point being made.

              BTW, here's my fave: []

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by cayenne8 ( 626475 )
              "While I can accept that music would be less distracting that office chatter, I simply don't understand the concept that music is better than silence. I can work with music, but if I need to concentrate on something intensely, like a complex coding problem or making decisions based on a large amount of data, I need silence."

              I guess it has to do with everyone's brain being wired differently.

              Personally, I can hardly get anything done in silence, hell, I can't even get to sleep easily at night without somet

            • by Mr. Freeman ( 933986 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @01:28PM (#30415198)
              "While I can accept that music would be less distracting that office chatter, I simply don't understand the concept that music is better than silence. I can work with music, but if I need to concentrate on something intensely, like a complex coding problem or making decisions based on a large amount of data, I need silence."

              Well, you answered your own confusion. YOU are comfortable with silence. OTHER people are not. It's not a big mystery.
        • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @08:51AM (#30413164) Homepage

          ...and the only conclusion ever reached by sociologists is: "Some do, some don't!"

        • by Ash Vince ( 602485 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @09:30AM (#30413364) Journal

          On the other hand, conversations are something I can't help but respond to, especially when it's a question.
          Even worse, a questions of a technical nature regarding computers.

          Learn to concentrate, its a valuable skill. I know it is incredibly hard at first, but it can be done. The first step is to not respond unless someone asks you a direct question. If someone in your vicinity just asks a general question, then ignore them and carry on with your work. You might have already been distracted and listened to the question, but this is the first step and you have to not answer. This is about breaking the habit of responding to things you do not need to and the first bit is the hardest. Once you start viewing these things as annoying distractions from your work rather than welcome distractions you will find blocking them out easy.

          I used to always be the first to answer the phone in our team, and the first to answer general questions to the room. Nowadays you can ask me a direct question and I can still tune it out and not actually hear what you said if I was not looking at you right at the start. It is truly amazing how nice it is to be able to just block out all background noise unless I want to hear it. It also helps you tollerate annoying co-workers much more easily, you simply forget they are next to you in no time.

          As to original topic of programmers all being forced to not wear headphones, that is just something we all have to deal with. There are so many development houses where this is not allowed that you just have to deal with it unless you are going to spend your entire life at one company under one boss (not realistic). I suppose you could always ask the question at the end of an interview but that might come across as a little bit petty.

          I personally would never like to work for a cubicle style company where there is no interpersonal contact. I like being able to talk to another human being occasionally. Sometimes when a colleague talks to me, i have to politely say I really need to concentrate, but sometimes it is nice to spend a few seconds reminding myself that I am a human being not a coding machine. The recommendation for people working in front of computers all day long is that you do take regular breaks and stand up periodically so why not also walk across to one of you colleagues who also looks like he is doing the same thing and have a quick conversation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nvivo ( 739176 )

        Working without music is fine, as long as there isn't any noise to avert your concentration.

        That may work for you, but not for me. I MUST listen to something when I'm doing something serious. And by that I mean that project I really enjoy working on, that code I want finish. Otherwise I can't concentrate. For regular boring work, I don't mind silence... but I tend to forget about the rest of the world easier when I don't hear the sound of phones, keyboards, people talking...And silence won't help. I tend to keep remembering guitar solos during the day that if I don't listen to then I guarantee I w

      • by JWSmythe ( 446288 ) <jwsmythe@jws[ ] ['myt' in gap]> on Saturday December 12, 2009 @09:58AM (#30413510) Homepage Journal

            I've used music at work. Sometimes I've left my headphones on with no music, since they're noise cancelling. It just depends on what mood I'm in. Either way, it removes my outside distractions, and I can focus on my work, rather than idle conversation around me, and random noises. Sometimes, even the noise cancelling headphones by themselves aren't enough to keep the outside distractions away.

            Myself, I listen to a good bit of techno/electronica. Something decent and repetitive keeps my rhythm going. But sometimes I listen to classic rock, because I already know all the words and there are no surprises. With the electronica, people have noticed that I type and move (mouse movements, etc) to the rhythm. I guess years of marching band did something for me. :) I can sit for hours on end without stopping with the proper audio environment.

            I was told at one place that people knew not to bother me if my headphones were on, because I was concentrating. That was an added bonus. I could work solid on what I needed to, without people coming up asking for a one-off unscheduled task. They'd put it through the normal scheduling channels, so I could take it in turn with all my other tasks.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by rah1420 ( 234198 )

          I've used music at work. Sometimes I've left my headphones on with no music, since they're noise cancelling.

          In our office they got us all Plantronics phone headsets. It ain't music, but I can put them on, take the phone off the hook (and hit 'Goodbye' so it goes back on-hook again) and work in relative silence, and everyone thinks I'm on a conference call.

          I don't need music, I just need to blank out the ladies in the next cube talking while they're working.

      • Re:Wear earmuffs. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bezenek ( 958723 )
        A research lab at one of the big chip makers issued me earmuffs, as they did to all employees. Note: This is a research lab, which looks a lot like any cubicle environment at a company like Google, Microsoft, etc. This worked very well, and to this day, I consider noise-blocking earmuffs to be part of my office supplies.

        Good noise-blocking earmuffs are better than earplugs. If they are of good quality, they will be more comfortable than all but the best headphones. Be careful, because many of these ea
    • by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:33AM (#30412464)

      Surprisingly insightful comment... If you don't like the terms imposed upon you by your boss, you have very little choice.

      1) Agree to his terms and get on with your job
      1a) (in parallel) search for a new job.
      2) When he complains that you're code quality has gone down in a review say "yeh, I can't concentrate without music to drown out the noise, can we change that policy please".
      3) Leave the company to your now found new job.
      4) ...
      5) Profit.

      • by sg_oneill ( 159032 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:48AM (#30412538)

        This attitude sucks, "If you dont like it, then get another job" roughly paraphrased.


        People seem to forget that without workers, the value of a company is nothing. Trying to hand-wave away problems on the premise stated above forgets that the most socially valuable part of a business isn't the product, nor is it the employer or shareholders, but the employees , the value they bring to society and the fair reward they get for their labor.

        We SHOULD be discussing what makes a pleasant workplace, because the fair alternative is we all stop working.

        But that isn't going to happen.

        My alternative: Bosses: If you don't like the employees simple requests that make the day pleasant and productive, [i]get the hell out of business and hand management over to someone who will[/i].

        Putting up with injustice , even by just walking away , makes you complicit in that injustice.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:53AM (#30412580)

          By walking away you are in no way "putting up with injustice".

          As you rightly point out, employees are the most valuable part of a business... You are punishing them, by removing a valued employee. This is the way capitalism (should) work, the companies compete for employees, if they don't offer good terms, they don't get them. Through this process, the terms on offer improve.

          As I said above, you can quite reasonably approach your boss and say "hey, this really isn't making my day either pleasant or productive... change it, or I'll go". If he doesn't, then do the right thing, and punish him for it.

          • by zippthorne ( 748122 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @08:15AM (#30412958) Journal

            I would avoid making any ultimatums. The problem with ultimatums is that you have to follow through, and that puts the other party in charge of your actions.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by b4dc0d3r ( 1268512 )

              To paraphrase my AC post elsewhere, let the employer choose if they want to keep you. If they want unhappy employees they can make that choice.

              It doesn't give the employer power over you. You can choose to continue working there or quit. If you work there without complaining, that's when you give the company power over you. If you complain, or quit, or do anything else other than simply follow orders, you are taking charge. Giving an ultimatum gives the employer warning that they can choose, while quit

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Machtyn ( 759119 )
                It does depend on the situation. I'm not going to give my employer the heads up that I'm looking, because they'll likely kick me out the door the same day (unwise on their part, but it has been the way they've done this kind of thing.) And, while there are jobs out there, the job market is not that great for job seekers (there are more of them at the moment than there are jobs.)

                In any case, I want to have a backup plan [] before I jump ship, or indicate that I'm standing at the edge.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Lord Kano ( 13027 )

              I would avoid making any ultimatums. The problem with ultimatums is that you have to follow through, and that puts the other party in charge of your actions.

              I kind of agree with this, but at the same time if you are looking to leave your job because of an assholeish decision on the part of management, some other party is in charge of your actions too. I'm currently seeking new employment because the owner where I work is all about doing it her way without any consideration of how it affects the little peopl

          • by awyeah ( 70462 ) * on Saturday December 12, 2009 @09:32AM (#30413376)

            What AC is saying - let me say it a little differently - is that labor can be thought of as a market, just like the market for beer, the market for butter, and the market for whatever product or service your company produces. We'll call it the "labor market."

            I'm going to over-simplify this, but hopefully not to the point where it no longer applies ;) Also, anyone more well-versed in economics, feel free to jump in here.

            There are a lot of companies that produce butter that goes on your grocer's shelf. They're all in competition for your business - they all want you, the butter consumer, to buy their butter, and not anybody else's, because that's how they will make more money. stay in business, and succeed in the market place. How do they do it? They sell their product at the highest price the consumers are willing to pay - although they may try to undercut their competitors' prices. And they try to make a better product than their competitor (or at least convince the consumer that their product is better).

            If you think of the labor market in those terms, it's easy to see. Think of your career as if you're competing in a market. Your product is code, and you get paid per unit of time. Your competitors are other laborers, and your consumers are companies that pay for your time and code. The difference here, IMO, is that you want not only to produce better "product" than your competitors and make as much money as you can doing it, but you also want to have all the "perks" and benefits that you can. At least, that's what it is for me - money is important, but it's not everything.

            And one of the biggest "perks" I can think of is to be able to do your job in whatever manner you please - within reason (no nude programming in your cube, nobody wants to see that) - assuming you're outputting the quality of work that's expected of you.

            I think you should try to have the policy changed, first and foremost. I don't think it's appropriate or professional to just quit immediately over something like this. It's not like it's some kind of human rights violation.

            If you do decide to leave, I don't think you should flat out say "change it or I'll go" - you'll have more luck if you're more tactful about it.

            Ultimately it's up to you to decide whether you want your company's business or not.

        • by Casualposter ( 572489 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:01AM (#30413540) Journal

          Forget you. You are not valuable. You are an expense. You are a necessary evil that cuts into the profits. Why do you think the company stock goes up when a bunch of you are laid off? If you were valuable assets, then the company could borrow against your value like it can against inventory and accounts receivable. You could be sold or traded like inventory or the old company car.

          Right now there are fifty guys in line for your job. Your manager can replace you with another monkey in clothing faster than you can say "But I like music." IT does not matter what your experience or your skills or education, you are a cog in a machine and when you squeak you get replaced with some less squeaky cog.

          That's the nature of companies in our day in age.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by dkleinsc ( 563838 )

            How right you are.

            The interesting thing is that an environment like that, there are 2 political messages that become a lot more appealing:
            1) blame some minority group of people for all your woes: Mexican immigrants, black people, communists, Jews, Muslims, etc. In short, fascism.
            2) band together with the other exploited workers to put a stop to oppressive management. Workers of the world, unite! In short, communism.

            And when you look for the last time both of those messages really took hold, you get Europe i

          • by Sxooter ( 29722 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @12:47PM (#30414880)

            This is an extreme, and inaccurate oversimplification. There are thousands of unemployed programmers, but honestly most of them are shitty and I would never hire them. During this current downturn we interviewed about 25 developers for an open position and found 2 acceptable candidates.

            Plus, you invest a lot of time and effort training someone in how to work at your company with your development process. It takes them time to become familiar with the code they're working on. Employees in general, and coders in particular are not simple cookie cutter replacements and your boss knows this. The average cost to bring a new coder up to speed measures in the 10s of thousands of dollars.

        • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Saturday December 12, 2009 @10:26AM (#30413726) Homepage

          I hesitate to acknowledge something like this as "injustice". Not allowing employees to listen to music is a dumb policy, but it's not really persecution.

          Not that it's not important. I think that you could trace some of our social and economic problems back to our latent view as employers/executives as creatures of massive genius who must be coddled and rewarded at every turn, but common employees as tools. There's even a bit of an assumption that workers are all lazy and stupid, since "if they were smart and hardworking, they'd have someone working for them!" Still, even when employees are viewed as good, hard workers, there's still the viewpoint that they're no more than tools to be used and manipulated by master craftsmen (the craftsmen being employers and executives).

          This sort of viewpoint adds to a sense of entitlement among the rich and successful, and it also is used to justify a million small abuses of power.

      • by paganizer ( 566360 ) <[thegrove1] [at] []> on Saturday December 12, 2009 @09:29AM (#30413360) Homepage Journal

        Sort of different, sort of similar.
        I was working doing CAD at a place called Campbell-Rhea in the mid 80's. My habit at the time was when i got to work, I would grab a bottle of Pepsi from the machine in the breakroom, go to my cube, and review what I had to do for the day, what I did yesterday, while sipping Pepsi.
        One day, the owner was walking by in the hall as I was walking out of the breakroom, trying to dodge the various people grabbing their morning coffee; when I got to my cube, my department head told me the boss wanted to see me. went to his office, and he started asking why I was taking a break before I even got to work. I told him that I didn't like coffee, so unlike everyone else, I grabbed a Pepsi when I first got in.
        long story short, Coffee was perfectly acceptable 1st thing at the job drink, but soft drinks were only for breaks.
        I was still sort of caffeine shy, and very confused; I kept thinking he was trying to haze me in some way, so i tried to get him to explain it.
        10 minutes after I walked into his office, he was nice enough to give me the option of quitting, or being fired.
        BTW, I was his fastest, most accurate CAD guy out of 7. got a raise 2 weeks before this for productivity.
        The Moral: The Boss is the Boss. sometimes they do stupid shit. either live with it, or leave.

      • If the boss wants to be a dick then throw it back at him with an official ADA request at HR for a reasonable accommodation of a white noise system to block out the office conversations that are triggering your ADD. I've actually worked at places that use white noise systems to create privacy, and the ones that actually work are quite expensive and have to be installed in the entire work area. Add a footnote to the request that if only your dickhead boss would let you use your iPod they wouldn't have to go

        • by binaryspiral ( 784263 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @01:49PM (#30415406)

          I worked in a place that used a whitenoise system that utilized ceiling mounted speakers. The unix folks disconnected it in their area and hooked it up to their own amp and music player. The programmers didn't notice - they were all using headphones. The sales guys didn't care - they weren't in the office. And the managers had no clue - they had their own offices.

          The windows guys still suffered through it but were on the phone so much it really didn't matter.

  • Answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KefabiMe ( 730997 ) <garth@jhon[ ]com ['or.' in gap]> on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:20AM (#30412382) Journal
    Your boss is a retard.
  • Ah, good (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:20AM (#30412384) Homepage
    I like working in a nice quiet office where I don't have to listen to the noise leak out of someone else's tinny speakers. It is especially irritating when the person in question has a questionable taste in music. Makes me put on my own headphones, and those give me an earache after a couple of hours. Plus, I run out of music to listen to. I just plain don't like listening to music while working, and I don't like listening to your music, either. I suppose this makes me a obviously wrong and evil person.

    Yeah, sure your headphones don't leak, but other people's do. And I'm not running around buying headphones for everyone. Why should I change, they're the ones who suck!

  • by Cederic ( 9623 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:21AM (#30412388) Journal

    Find a way to measure relative productivity, and relative error rates, for before and after you had to stop using music.

    Use objective facts to show your boss what a twat he is.

  • by wmaker ( 701707 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:23AM (#30412400) Homepage
    MILTON I, I told Bill that if Sandra's going to listen to her headphones while she' working, I can listen to the radio while I'm collating - MILTON I enjoy listening to the radio at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven.
  • Other reason (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mseeger ( 40923 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:23AM (#30412404)
    I am pretty sure, that the official reason is not the real reason. My best guess is that other employees have complained about the privilege of the programmers (listening music while working). Since your boss knows that giving this reason would create dissent, he has choosen the quality issue as official reason. That is the reason why discussing the pretended reason will not make him change his mind. I have seen this happening a hundred times... humans are so petty. CU, Martin
    • Re:Other reason (Score:4, Insightful)

      by darf ( 182630 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:37AM (#30412492)

      I need mod points. I predict there is a 99.95% chance that mseeger is spot on. This was the first thing I thought of. For those of you who think "The Man" is just a control freak - he probably couldn't care less if you wear headphones or stuffed bananas in your ears. All he cares about is productivity and his bonus and probably not in that order. If some weenie in another cube is bitching that they can't listen to music because they are tied to a phone and "it's unfair, whaaaaaa" then he'll do whatever he thinks will create the least friction in getting his bonus. Apparently dealing with your programming group bitching about not being able to listen to music is the path of less frustration.

    • by cffrost ( 885375 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @07:14AM (#30412670) Homepage
      If "fairness" is the real reason, or if the policy is "no headphones," then just bring in a boom box so everyone can enjoy the music.
  • Constant Noise (Score:5, Interesting)

    by adamchou ( 993073 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:28AM (#30412438)
    I've heard bosses and professors before say that if you're listening to music, then you're not 100% focusing on your studying/work. In an environment where its perfectly silent, then I can see how music can be distracting. However, most of us work in an office where there are cubicles with people within earshot talking about work or talking to other people on the phone. The problem with that is that people talking is very erratic. Pitch and volume changes unpredictably and those unpredictable changes suddenly distract me from my work. On the other hand, the music I have playing is, for the most part, music that I've heard numerous times. On top of that, there's a consistent "flow" to the music. It drowns out the distracting random noise and provides some constant noise that lets me focus on my work.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jesus_666 ( 702802 )
      Exactly. Very repetitive music that covers much of the spectrum can be seen as a more enjoyable form of pink noise. The effect is to mask all other sounds you receive and to create an environment where no aural cues interrupt your attention. Once your brain has realized it's not going to receive interesting data from your ears it stops wasting focus on interpreting it.

      There are very good reasons why people would need this. The "uniform noise environment" point has already been made. One poster noted that
  • by X0563511 ( 793323 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:29AM (#30412442) Homepage Journal

    I think you should man up and tell your boss that no, he is NOT correct. I think any given person is usually in a better position to know what distracts them.

  • by slim ( 1652 ) <john@h a r t n u p . n et> on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:30AM (#30412446) Homepage

    I like music, and when it's on, I can't help but listen to it. That means that while music is playing, I can't concentrate on reading a book, let alone write code. This applies to all but the most ambient styles of music. And a drone doesn't help me work either. If I thought all programmers were like me, I'd ban headphones too.

    But, we're all different, and I know some people do their best work when zoned out behind their headphones.

    It sounds like this management decision comes from someone who doesn't realise how much people vary.

    It would make sense to provide programmers with an environment where they can escape prattle when they need to, as well.

  • Micromanagement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nahdude812 ( 88157 ) * on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:31AM (#30412450) Homepage

    For your boss to try to dictate how you work like this is a form of micromanagement which demonstrates distrust.

    Brush up your resume, in my experience managers who act in this fashion tend to get worse, not better. Working there is going to be an exercise in frustration. That said, a company is wholly within its rights to expect something like this of you. But by doing so they make themselves less competitive and attractive. Maybe they can get away with that for now, but in doing so they're destroying loyalty and directly contributing to a Dead Sea Effect [] - when the economy picks up the decent developers are going to evaporate, and the company will be left with a brackish collection of sub-par developers.

    As to the original question, I find that the right music selection can really help with my code quality and speed. If I'm really ramped up on what I'm working on, a good fast paced techno, industrial, or otherwise highly rhythmic repetitious and fast paced music can contribute to a mental wave to surf. If I feel like my project pace is overly frenetic, there are too many expectations, and there's just really no way I'll meet all the obligations in the time allowed, something slow and soothing can bring down the blood pressure levels and let me concentrate on my work better.

    • Re:Micromanagement (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Skapare ( 16644 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:53AM (#30414402) Homepage

      It would be even better if every programmer sent out their updated resumes, and those that can find jobs coordinated their start dates for maximum impact. It might send an important message.

      Where I work, we still have a couple openings for Java, Python, and/or C++ programmers. Programming experience counts well for lack of the exact language experience. Search skills, like figuring out how to get the resume to me, counts well, too.

  • Foam earplugs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jdigriz ( 676802 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:34AM (#30412472)
    Ask him if foam earplugs (nonmusical, just noise-dampening) are acceptable. I know music helps achieve flow state, but even the reduction in noise level might help somewhat. This is a good test also, if he says no to foam earplugs then you know it wasn't really about the music. And it may penetrate his pointy-haired mind that the surrounding noise level is really a problem.
  • Earplugs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by javax ( 598925 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:35AM (#30412474)
    I never had any problems regarding this issue. What might be a solution is to use earplugs. A colleague of mine uses earplugs when he is doing "serious" work (as he says) and he seems to do just fine. It's just a little bit funny that you have to ask him everything twice, as he won't hear it the first time and first has to remove the earplugs -- ad you don't know beforehand if he is currently wearing his earplugs as you can't see them (at least not from two meters away). The earplugs have the psychological advantage of making other people disrupt you less often: It takes some time till you remove the earplugs and they have to ask their question twice, so they think twice if the effort of this is worth the answer -- Dummy-questions good-bye!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by denalione ( 133730 )

      Earplugs give me a headache. Music is as distracting as the accounting group sitting all around me. What saved me were white noise mp3s. I put on noise reducing headphones and pipe ocean or rain sounds through them. My productivity went way up. At the end of the day I wasn't completely wiped from trying to focus on my work so I was able to have a social life. I am also much less irritable during the day.

      Many people have auditory processing and other disorders that cause them to react strongly to distr

  • be constructive (Score:5, Insightful)

    by obarthelemy ( 160321 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:35AM (#30412476)

    I assume, since he's a boss, that he has a private office ? If that's the case, offer him to come do some cerebral, non-social work (not on the phone, more like writing a report or something) for a half day in one of your cubicles, and judge for himself if he really thinks he wouldn't have worked better being isolated from the chatter.

    Stress out to him that it's not like you're buying 10 new CDs a day and listening intently to them while on the company's time, but just whiting out very distracting noises so that you can focus on your job.

    Show him how you come to work with your music already chosen, and spend 0 time on it (I can spend hours building a playlist :-p )

    Be careful to NOT discuss music with you coworkers for a while, nor visit any music sites...

    Try and find examples of companies that he will judge well-run (not geeky nerdy ones, more in his frame of reference - Google, MS... don't count) that do allow music for programmers.

    If all that doesn't work, try and work out an agreed playlist / music genre, or just wear earplugs/muffs ? That would suck, though.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by petes_PoV ( 912422 )
      People don't have offices for quiet environments. They have offices either as a status symbol or as a means of controlling access to themselves - either because they are dealing in confidential matters that the drones should not see/hear or in order to reduce the number of interruptions.
    • by mopower70 ( 250015 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @09:25AM (#30413344) Homepage

      I assume, since he's a boss, that he has a private office ? If that's the case, offer him to come do some cerebral, non-social work (not on the phone, more like writing a report or something) for a half day in one of your cubicles, and judge for himself if he really thinks he wouldn't have worked better being isolated from the chatter.

      No kidding! My company refused to move me until I made the facilities woman come over and stand in my cube and listen to Chatty McSnotsucker gabbing about her latest cleansing diet and the quality of her shits when the laxatives kick in, all the while trying to clear her sinuses from a chronic post-nasal drip evidently made of horse-glue. She lasted three minutes before she left my cube gagging. I got my transfer.

  • by StupiderThanYou ( 896020 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:35AM (#30412480)
    ...sing. Loudly.
  • by Tei ( 520358 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @06:55AM (#30412592) Journal

    I have programmed drunk, with not enough sleep, in my dreams (thats code that always run but is written in the most volatile material), angry, happy, hot, ...everything. I have programmed in enviroments with HEAVY noise around, not problem. But I can't work with music, and much less with radio of people talking. My mind is distracted by sound (information) that has a message. To be honest, I like programming in the night, with zero sounds. I like the silence much more than music.

  • by Eternal Vigilance ( 573501 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @07:01AM (#30412624)
    It sounds like your boss isn't a programmer, otherwise they wouldn't even be making their assertion. sigh...

    So your boss claims when you listen to music you're collectively distracted and you make more mistakes. You should then, since you take anything that can improve the quality of the code seriously, hold this meta-contribution to the corporate codebase to the same standard as anything else - in other words, require it be tested and verified before committing it.

    While from your standpoint this is likely to get you what you want, since it's very unlikely that your boss has anything factual to back up their position, it's also the most respectful way of considering your boss' potential contribution. "OK, even though you're not a skilled programmer, we'll still accept and treat your contribution just as if you were. Now here's the level of quality we all expect and demand from everything we put in our product - does what you intend to add actually meet the standards our company requires?"

    And this also gives them the possibility of showing you how they're right, and for whatever reason the programming group is distracted and error-prone. Even if music isn't the immediate cause (perhaps more of a late-stage symptom of some other systemic problem), that would still be very helpful to know.

    Of course, if you're just a bunch guys sitting around slinging code, you're gonna be SOL in this if you don't have any structure, testing and metrics to your development - and if you don't then your boss might strictly speaking be mistaken but indirectly be life's way of helpfully prompting you to get your act together. :-)

    Good luck improving your work environment. Rock out with your awk out!
  • by thegoldenear ( 323630 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @07:12AM (#30412656) Homepage

    Robert M. Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance said very clearly that seeing mechanics work with music in the background was the sound of a poor quality workshop. I've thought about this with regard to programming and I sway between needing total silence and needing music.

    Pete Boyd

  • White Noise (Score:4, Interesting)

    by martijnd ( 148684 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @07:47AM (#30412838)

    I do a lot of work next to the sales team -- mostly that is not a problem as I am fairly able to tune out their prattle.

    But something I really NEED to concentrate on something. I find that listening to white noise (ocean waves or something) quickly filters out the conversations around me.

    I am completely unable to work with music on -- my preferred working environment is one of pure silence.

  • Lyrics distract (Score:4, Informative)

    by Xenna ( 37238 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @08:20AM (#30412988)

    I think I read somewhere that music is OK, but lyrics basically have the same effect as chatting people, some part of your brain listens to and interprets the words. Unfortunately that uses language and logic skills that you also need while programming. So, stick to classical and other instrumental music and you should be OK. MUch better than chatting people in the background. Here in Europe, at least we have doors that can be closed :)

    • Re:Lyrics distract (Score:4, Interesting)

      by dgym ( 584252 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @09:45AM (#30413456)
      Or listen to swedish death metal, there might be lyrics at some imaginary level, but nothing I can discern. Literally something to scream along to.

      One place I worked had a guitar we could use when we wanted. Again, no lyrics, just people quietly playing away to the best of their ability, easily drowned out by headphones if necessary.

      There is something about the rhythm, pace and harmony of playing on a guitar for half an hour that seemed to help me make the right changes to the code when I went back to the computer. This was a place where the importance of making the right changes (and preferably only the right changes) was well understood.
  • by bradley13 ( 1118935 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @08:25AM (#30413016) Homepage

    Assuming that all of the programmers are in agreement, here is what you should do:

    • Choose a time when you know that your boss has no appointments. Do not make an appointment yourselves - just walk in and say that you need to talk.
    • It is essential that you go as a group - all of you physically present. This shows that it is a real problem, and not just one or two disgrunted individuals.
    • Choose your spokesperson in advance - best is a senior developer who carries a lot of responsibility.
    • Do not make this an issue about listening to music - that is entirely irrelevant. The problem is the office chatter and the ability to concentrate. The real solution is to isolate the programmers from the chatter.

    Let me emphasize that last point: the problem is not the lack of music. The problem is the noise. The solution you want is a separate room, or else a sound-proof partition in the current room. As you point out, the music is mainly to drown out the chatter. Get rid of the chatter, and the music is a non-issue.

  • White noise (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jbohumil ( 517473 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @08:47AM (#30413136)
    Get a white noise generator. I have an ancient one that sits in the corner of my office. It helps drown out the background chit chat and definitely helps me focus my attention without distraction. No one notices that is is on but if I ever turn it off you suddenly become aware of just how noisy everyone is, you can hear every sniffle and word spoken and you realize just how distracting that really is. Maybe stage such a demo, have your noise generator running for a couple of weeks, then one day when your boss is in your cube, just reach over casually and turn it off. When he suddenly becomes aware of all the distracting chit chat pouring in, point out how much more productive you have been since you got the white noise generator and how it serves the same purpose for you music used to do when it was allowed. It might open his mind a little. Or not. But the main thing is you can concentrate.
  • by cruff ( 171569 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @08:54AM (#30413178) Homepage

    I have a full office (walls, door) where I work, and I still need to use headphones because of the sound conduction through the wall and suspended tile ceiling, and I only have to deal with one person in the adjacent office, but sometimes it is due to people blabbing out in the hallway. I find that certain types of music are conducive to my concentration if I am programming, and if I am not programming, more types of music are also acceptable.

  • by gillbates ( 106458 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:17AM (#30414094) Homepage Journal

    After a few bars of Oklahoma! ... you'll get your music players back.

    When questioned, explain that it helps you concentrate on the task at hand. Remind him that IBM hired musicians for the first programmers.

  • 8-bit mix (Score:4, Funny)

    by FlyByPC ( 841016 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:41AM (#30414300) Homepage
    I enjoy what I call my "8-bit mix" -- various songs, each with some kind of "8-bit" flavor to them. Some are old Nintendo themes (Tetris for the GB had great music for looping), some are simple classical instrumentals (pieces by Rameau, The Harmonious Blacksmith, etc.)

    But then again, my programming tends to be very procedural (and often 8-bit assembly). YMMV.

    About the only common theme seems to be order, as opposed to chaos.
  • by Dr_Art ( 937436 ) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @03:45PM (#30416472) Journal
    The big issue here is the boss' PERCEPTION that developers are not producing at a level he expects or that the code being produced is crappy. The music edict is just a proxy for his real concern. It is critical for you to make sure the boss doesn't have this perception about YOU specifically. If so, you need to either find a way to change the boss' perception of you, or find another job. Most likely the boss' perception is general, and is not based on any real metrics of productivity or quality. What might help is suggesting to the boss how to collect such metrics, and more importantly how to present to his management that his team is very productive and has the highest quality work. It's very likely that the boss is being pressured by his management, so giving him the tools to fight back will help your teams' chance of avoiding the next round of layoffs. This is good for everyone: the boss gets credit, you are adding value, and everyone is aligned with the company's goals.

He: Let's end it all, bequeathin' our brains to science. She: What?!? Science got enough trouble with their OWN brains. -- Walt Kelly