Talking for the sake of it

Software Engineering is a group activity.  As part of this, I like to talk about the work I’m doing.  It can spark conversations about how I’m implementing a particular piece of work or even self-illuminate.  As part of that, I have a bit of a habit of talking about my work quite often.  This is especially true in my current team where I still feel like I’m quite new (as I’ve only been in it about nine months, with a five month break in the middle).  I’m sure we all agree in theory that communicating with some other person, whom we presumably consider to have reasonable opinions on such matters, is useful.  But in practice, it seems to be more difficult than that and interacting with the soft and squishy parts of software development tends to result in http-like results.  <gratuitous_geek_joke>269, 307, 413 and on particularly bad days 418.  It is almost uncommon to get a 200 straight away</gratuitous_geek_joke>  Maybe that’s unfair – the guys I work with always try their best to be accommodating, but they do want to get their work done too…

I haven’t yet formed a complete opinion on talking about my work.  It’s quite possibly something that, sigh, doesn’t have a hard and fast rule.  Sometimes, like I did this week, I needed to explain what I had seen to someone else, such that I could be certain that my levels of sanity were unchanged from normal, for a given value of normal.  And sometimes, I want to vent my frustration at the stupid code and why it’s not playing ball.  It’s not exactly asking for help, but that’s the intent that is often assumed.  And when someone sits down to pair with me, I rarely push them away.

Of course that’s not the whole story, is it?  I do grab the attention of my colleagues in the normal “Hey, can you help me out with this?” way, but there’s only so much I perceive them being able to put up with before I’m becoming an intrusion.  So I start to feel guilty and will avoid talking about things I perhaps should.  Eventually I’ll either get over it and ask them anyway, figure it out myself the hard way or find some other victim.  Wearing headphones is another curly one that I struggle with.  Some people use them as a sign of “I want to get this done, leave me alone” whereas people like myself just like to have some sort of background noise to help them concentrate.  I’m listening to music on headphones as I write this, not despite no one else being home, but because no one else is around.

It also depends on my level of respect for said other person, I suppose.  I certainly have less patience for people who have made a habit of interrupting me for things that I consider any professional should either know or be capable of doing themselves.  That, necessarily, is a hugely biased comment and what I expect from others depends both on their age, standing in the company and experience.  Sure, age != experience, but it influences me nonetheless.  I didn’t say it was fair.  I worry that I’m inflicting similar levels of aggravation when it comes to the folk I want to talk to.

Which brings me nicely to my next point.  Real questions which are primarily in my knowledge domain (as opposed to other team members) never, ever, raise  my blood pressure.  If I’m seriously busy trying to do something, I will happily say so (which is not an excuse I’ll use to get rid of those unhelpful questions, oddly).  In saying that, there are many times when only after saying the question out loud does it become an obvious one  (perhaps I [or my aggravated colleagues] should invest in a rubber duck for me to use), or the first question thrown back at me I can’t answer, which is usually a fairly obvious one to ask, just not to me.

So what does all this mean?  I like to talk about my work (which kind of explains why I write a software-related blog) and I like others talking to me about their work, so long as I have some respect for them and their purposeful/distracting question ratio is tipped towards the right end.  I don’t like it when people just make statements about what they’re doing, even though I freely admit that I do it myself.  Of course, these statements (more often than I think we even notice) have side-effects which make life better for everyone.  So now I feel like I’m less clear than I was to begin with.  Surely anything that crosses the line into aggravating should be minimised, yet it’s often so useful, whether or not it’s entirely necessary.  Sigh.


About Michael Malone
30-something web dev, self-confessed Linux lover, Ruby enthusiast, and obsessed with programming. Former embedded C and desktop .NET developer.

2 Responses to Talking for the sake of it

  1. Can I just mention that this long-winding post was not a passive-aggressive attempt to tell my colleagues to please be quiet? The folk who I know to be even an occasional reader are in the category of having interesting things to say and I encourage them to talk to me until I say to their face that I’ve had enough!

  2. Pingback: Software As A Team Sport « A Million Code Monkeys

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