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Music While Programming?

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the perl-jam dept.

Music 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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Programming without music? (5, Insightful)

javaguy (67183) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412332)

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

Re:Programming without music? (5, Insightful)

otravi (1289804) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Programming without music? (5, Interesting)

meerling (1487879) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Programming without music? (3, Insightful)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Programming without music? (5, Insightful)

sg_oneill (159032) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Programming without music? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Programming without music? (0, Offtopic)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412606)

This was me, I have no idea why I'm AC on it.

Def better with music (1)

Moldiver (1343577) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412344)

Well I can definitely work better listening to music instead of the noise my co-workers produce.

Re:Def better with music (5, Insightful)

DangerFace (1315417) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412496)

While I agree that music is much less annoying than the noise of other people trying to get their jobs done, sometimes when I'm coding alone in my house I need to crank some Aphex Twin or other discordant mentalism just for a base level of distraction - I find if 10% of my mind is trying not to get distracted it helps the other 90% just get on with the job in hand.

I suppose it's sort of like chewing gum or fiddling with stationary - there's just a bit of your mind dedicated to looking out for tigers, and if you're confident there are no tigers in your office you need to give it something else to do.

Re:Def better with music (2, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412648)

I'll bet it's one of the people making the noise that's behind the complaint. Probably somebody who, for sound[1] reasons, can't listen to music while working.

Yes, since you ask, I did just glance over at sales.

[1] sorry

Your boss is... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412346)

Higher than a crack whore after a ship comes into port.

Music to overwhelm the other crap noises in ANY office is not only beneficial, it can be necessary when you hit the zone.

Whose your boss? (1)

naniid (244073) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412348)

Thats bad. Your boss has no say in how you code but if it performs, scalable, extendable, secure and follows teams' coding norms.

I for one though don't like listening to music while coding.

Fire your boss for overstepping his authority (1, Insightful)

itsybitsy (149808) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412352)

Your boss has zero rights to tell you what you can listen to at work. Assert your human rights.

As long as the material isn't disturbing anyone else or offensive to anyone in the work environment, and how could it be if you listen with headphones, you are within your rights to listen to music as you choose.

If they are not satisfied with the quality of the work from the programmers they can address that as an orthogonal issue.

Claw back your rights from your totalitarian fuddy duddy boss. Take no guff from that kind of fool.

Of course, always make sure your professional. For example, when someone approaches your desk to speak to you make sure you pay attention setting aside your music.

You are there to get work done, not be controlled in every aspect of your life.

Re:Fire your boss for overstepping his authority (2, Informative)

synthesizerpatel (1210598) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412402)

Actually, your boss has the right to tell you what you can or can't listen to at work. More importantly, if your boss doesn't want you to do something -- it's not a matter of raging against the machine for your 'human rights'. Either you can perform your job to your superiors' requirements or you can't. If you work somewhere that says what you can or can't listen to, odds are the path that led you there wasn't a happy one to begin with.

You have no right to listen to music, just as you have no privacy in your email.. When someone's paying you to be somewhere to do something -- you do it to their (legal) specifications or they can fire you for not performing. Happily never had that situation myself, but.. in this economy you'd have to be insane to pick a fight over something this trivial.

Do what olden times people did, whistle. If people complain, _whistle in your mind_.

Re:Fire your boss for overstepping his authority (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412510)

just as you have no privacy in your email

That is not true and depends on the laws where you work. Around here it is illegal to log/read employee mails if personal use of the internet/mail account has not been explicitly forbidden.

Re:Fire your boss for overstepping his authority (1)

V!NCENT (1105021) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412664)

You're taking this way to heavy...

You've got two options.

Option 1: Start to collectively deliver crap code, or code at a very slow pace. The manager will ask what's wrong. You: "Sorry, but I simply can't concentrate without listening to music.

Option 2: Obey his will, go crazy, burn the building.

music as a distraction? depends (1)

ardiri (245358) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412360)

i think it really depends on your working environment.

in your example; you mention that the development team is intermingled with sales, marketing, accounting - those guys can be on the phone 24/7 and i think you are 100% correct that the team will be distracted by the ambient noise from the other people. however i don't think slapping on headphones is the solution; music is also a distraction; you should be thinking about the problems and coding rather than focusing on the deep beats of the music :) i think what you need to do is identify with your boss that there is ambient noise from the other divisions of the workforce; and request to be moved or isolated into an area where you wont hear them. most development teams i know prefer an open plan; you should work together and not sit in isolation in a cubicle - thats just stupid. as a technical manager myself; we move the sales and marketing guys to one side of the office and the development team to the other side - our office is designed well for this purpose.

Re:music as a distraction? depends (3, Interesting)

Undead NDR (1252916) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412422)

music is also a distraction; you should be thinking about the problems and coding rather than focusing on the deep beats of the music

That just depends on how much you concentrate on the music: if you really listen to it, it can be distracting. If you merely hear it, that shouldn't be detrimental.

Personally, I find the best music to code to - if any - is either ambient music or "smooth jazz", genres that are mostly made for staying in the background and not claiming too much attention.

Re:music as a distraction? depends (0)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412424)

There are two ways to listen to music.

1. Passive ... this is what MOST people do when they listen to music as they do things.
2. Active ... this is where you pay active attention to the music.

Re:music as a distraction? depends (1)

arjan_t (1655161) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412526)

music is also a distraction; you should be thinking about the problems and coding rather than focusing on the deep beats of the music :).

Well, it might be a distraction sometimes, but it might also help. Specific kinds of music might get you in some flow, where you just become more alert. Often at the end of the day, things can be a bit slow and developers can become a little sleepy, which is certainly not helping with thinking about problems. Music, as long as it's not of the distracting kind, can actually help here.

Next to that, not all coding requires deep thoughts about complex problems. There always is some mundane amount of work to be done. Be it moving that button from left to right, changing those Strings to Integers, replacing some hardcoded text with i18n keys, etc. I often find that putting on some music gets me through this mundane stuff. Eventually I stumble on something interesting which does require some good thinking and then I might indeed turn the music off.

Re:music as a distraction? depends (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412574)

Medieval. Tell him you can't work at all without music. Tell him that your mind only associates algorithms correctly when stimulated by harmony and melody, and that you've always coded like that and wouldn't know how to code without it. Considering how utterly clue-free your boss has to be to come up with a directive like that, it'll probably slip on past. Anyway, tell him you'll be zero productive without it, and to do the sums.

Or, simply ignore him. If he sacks you because you're wearing headphones, two things will happen: (a) Word will get around His Assholiness' circle that this happened, and he'll cop a grue, and (b) you will have the opportunity to find someplace better, which you need.

I've managed software development teams of up to 70 before. We were hugely productive and made money. And if we wanted to talk to someone we waited until they were out of the zone if we could, or touched their desk to let them return to the surface on their own terms (I was big on courtesy).

I can categorically state that the aforementioned boss is completely and wildly out of his tree, and should be sacked. Not because of the directive, but because he's clearly an idiot.

Re:music as a distraction? depends (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412578)

most development teams i know prefer an open plan

I'm not sure where you're working, but where I come from a private office is considered essential to being able to concentrate on writing code. On those few occasions where my employer was unable to provide an office, I wrote my code at home.


Re:music as a distraction? depends (2, Interesting)

adamrut (799143) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412584)

however i don't think slapping on headphones is the solution; music is also a distraction; you should be thinking about the problems and coding rather than focusing on the deep beats of the music :)

As a programmer I disagree with this statement. If you're coding anything that is complex or requires focusing then the music disappears but has that wonderful side effect of drowning out all that annoying background noise. If you're coding that boring repetitive crap that seems to be 90% of what we do then the music is the only thing getting you through.

As long as you can dissociate from the music (1)

Silverlancer (786390) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412366)

I find that music is fine as long as your mind doesn't focus too much on it. If I listen to similar music long enough it becomes a bit like breathing; it's there but I don't really notice it. It's actually quite odd; if my mind is properly defocused, I can listen to a mix containing 10 songs, all of which I know, and then be unable to pick more than half of them after the fact!

As for benefits, I'm not sure; I think it keeps me from going insane, which is probably a good enough reason.

Though sometimes when I have to focus really hard on something very difficult to visualize, I end up having to turn off the music.

None of his damn beeswax (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412370)

Asshole of a boss I have to say. Fine, if other people were getting distracted by the overflow from your headphones it's an issue but otherwise he is being a micromanaging dick.

Depends (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412372)

Could be much worse - he could have listened to your argument and installed a lousy PA system playing elevator music.

Answer (5, Insightful)

KefabiMe (730997) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412382)

Your boss is a retard.

Re:Answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412420)


Re:Answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412440)

That's not PC. He is differently enabled.

Re:Answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412636)

Your boss is a retard.

I agree, your boss is a retard. Micro-manager is another word that comes to mind. Next thing he'll want you to wear a shirt and tie because it puts you in the right frame of mind. Yeah Right. Ask him to go to a disco and report back - you'll find their much more active than the suits in the corner with the hands in their pockets.

Re:Answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412646)


Ah, good (3, Interesting)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412384)

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!

Re:Ah, good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412556)

I like working in a nice quiet office

Considering the OP started with "In our cubicle-ville, we have programmers intermixed with accounting, customer support and marketing.", I guess your post should be modded off-topic? That sounds anything but "a nice quiet office". ;)

What music? (1)

badzilla (50355) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412386)

I quite often just wear ear-canal headphones without music as they can be very effective in blocking out ambient noise. Tell your boss that's what you do too, how are they going to know.

track the difference (5, Insightful)

Cederic (9623) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412388)

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.

Re:track the difference (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412604)

Also, make sure to do this with the whole team, not just yourself.
At least then you will have proof that it isn't just yourself it works with, and you aren't trying to push your "own agenda" by obviously skewing the results.
It'd probably be better to play the music from a speaker in this case so they don't know you are really experimenting on them. Some nice relaxing music.

Old Problem (1)

BlindRobin (768267) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412392)

I had this problem in 1976 or so. In the end the boss is just a dick with control issues.

Quit , or threaten to ... (1, Insightful)

polyp2000 (444682) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412396)

I am a programmer also -

If they said that to me at work I would quit ... as simple as that.

office space (3, Funny)

wmaker (701707) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412400)

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 (5, Interesting)

mseeger (40923) | more than 4 years ago | (#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 (4, Insightful)

darf (182630) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Other reason (1)

azgard (461476) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412652)

Ok, so you are saying that some stupid covert reason and directives is better than an open discussion between the parties? Geez, that can really create an atmosphere of trust that makes people so productive.

my experience (2, Interesting)

yanyan (302849) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412406)

My experience with listening to music at the workplace has been more positive than negative. Only one employer (NEC) actively prohibited listening to personal music, while others allowed it. One other employer in particular (Epson) even had music streamed non-stop over a PA. (Granted, when management realized more people were listening to personal players instead, they discontinued the use of the PA.)

you're always going to have noise (2, Interesting)

squidgit (734454) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412408)

surely you're going to code better if what ever you do hear is pleasing to you.. Throw in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones so you can have the music on whisper-quiet and you're set.

I know this type of boss (1)

memoriesofgreen (784598) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412410)

I generally let my team do whatever they like so long as the work gets done to a good standard.

I would start to look to a variety of studies that point classical music towards increased concentration etc.

If that does'nt work then just let the edict wash over you. In a few weeks he will have forgotten about this and moved on to something else. If you make a big fuss over this then he will dig his heels and and police it more fervently.

Productivity (1)

dingen (958134) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412412)

When I put on electronic music, my productivity is at least doubled.

As a PHB... (1)

skimitar (730902) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412426)

...I don't buy the distraction argument. If you need to concentrate to code, it's fine. If you need to deal with the phone though, I'd appreciate you keeping the volume low enough to hear the ring (and yes, some people prefer to talk rather than email - mainly because it actually gets a result)

Re:As a PHB... (1)

wmaker (701707) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412466)

(and yes, some people prefer to talk rather than email - mainly because it actually gets a result) +1 so true

Re:As a PHB... (1)

arjan_t (1655161) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412590)

(and yes, some people prefer to talk rather than email - mainly because it actually gets a result)

Maybe THEY do, but for US it's a lot easier to discuss code via email than over the phone.

Ever tried to orate a code fragment of non trivial size? It ain't pretty I tell ya :P

Are you a mutltitask? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412430)

Programmers like to isolate themselves (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412432)

I have mixed feelings about this report. Many programmers like to go off into their own world when they're programming, and music can assist with this. However dealing with people in that state can be a serious pain. All in all, I reckon it's better to let the programmers have their music. Plus when you clap them on the shoulder they jump about a foot in the air.

Evidence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412434)

The burden of proof should be on your boss to show that he's not just talking outta his ass, and that he has some study or another to back up his case.

For me, I don't know what I'd do without my music now. I used to work without, and it's far, far better for my mood (and therefore my code) if I have something to listen to.

Constant Noise (5, Interesting)

adamchou (993073) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

insists he is right? (2, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412442)

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.

I can't work with music (4, Interesting)

slim (1652) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412446)

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.

Re:I can't work with music (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412514)

For me, it depends on the music, and the problem in hand. For example, when there's a problem that requires stubborn determination ("I'll fix those ten broken test cases if it's the last thing I do"), I find that aggressive music works.

On the other hand, when the problem requires lots of thinking, but little coding, something relaxing is in order. In that, I swear by Rush, something from the 80s. When it comes to that, "A Show Of Hands" is the greatest thing in programming history since sliced bread and unit tests.

This Calls For... (1)

Xeleema (453073) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412448)

...Wall To Wall Counseling (See FM 22-102 [] for more information). Seriously, this is something that you're going to have to address in numbers; either get everyone to sign a petition, or have a few of the younger guys meet the boss in the parking lot for a "Team Building One-on-One".

Micromanagement (4, Insightful)

nahdude812 (88157) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412450)

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 (1)

nahdude812 (88157) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412582)

Also, if office noise is a problem for you, get a box of foam rubber ear plugs (you can get them at the hardware store, they're used as hearing protection when working with loud equipment). This can really cut down on the distracting noise. And if (as I suspect) your boss' real problem is that people with ear phones don't respond when you walk up behind them and say their name, you may find that you're soon allowed to listen to music again (foam ear plugs block more noise than ear phones do, you are less likely to hear your name when it is called).

If you're feeling subversive, make sure you get the brightest florescent ones you can, with a nice bright cord tying them together. Wear them around your neck whenever you're not using them. Remember, in addition to being functional, you're also making a statement. If your boss doesn't like the color, he's free to supply ear plugs at his expense (at which point, remember that sanitary reasons require that you not repeatedly remove and re-insert the same ear plugs, so you're going to want to throw them out every time someone breaks your concentration by asking you a question).

Our developers got temporarily ousted from their normal space (an off-campus building with a room full of nothing but developers), and have been seated in empty seats in the call center (pretty much the worst possible location - the environment is highly noisy and disruptive, while at the same time the developers have to keep their voices down because people are on the phone). There is a visible increase in bug reports as a result. Fortunately we should be back in our normal space by the end of the year.

For people whose primary job output is intellectual capital, noisy and distracting environments detract directly from their ability to do their job in the same way as having noisy phone lines would detract directly from the ability of your call center to handle calls. With this in mind, the company could see a dramatic improvement in quality by recognizing this and segregating this class of workers from the rest.

Different angles on the problem (1)

jcii (1698854) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412454)

If your boss is responsible for both the programmers and the non-programmers, he/she may have other personnel related issues. Others may perceive it as unfair, and have complained, making their problem your problem.

From an arguing standpoint, make the case that you need to concentrate. Compare it to taking a hard math test. Most people can related to that, if not programming. If they're skeptical, ask if it's ok to wear earplugs or white-noise earphones. From a politics standpoint, you've presented a problem and solutions--they get to choose--managers love that stuff. If the you go forward with the earphones, you may not have the music you want (yet), but it also means the manager has to explain to the non-programmers that 'you're different, but it's ok because you make the computers go, so they're going to ignore you.' partial success--the office knows that you need to concentrate and need things in your ears to assist.

Let that sink in for a month. Then ask if productivity dropped. If it didn't, ask for to listen to your music and say it helps. By then you should have gotten past the 'programmers are different' memo to the bean counters, and now you're trying something to make yourself more effective. If they go for it, just make sure you get more done.


If that's too arduous of a path, just release the manager's inbox to the company. If the climatologists have skeletons in their boxes, I'm sure your boss does too.

OTT (1)

cjb110 (200521) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412456)

It does seem a rather ott response from the boss.
Our's tried a similar thing, but was slightly more reasonable and said one ear so you could still respond. luckily that seems to have been dropped now.

I would suggest you find out if there is an underlying reason, maybe he's had complaints of people ignoring the phones or something.

Play that music! (1)

arjan_t (1655161) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412468)

Our office is one large open space without any cubicles whatsoever. The developers used to be mixed with accounting, sales, etc but this was abandoned after complaints starting to pile up. Now the developers all sit together in one corner of the office, which is an improvement although you can still here some slight prattle from the other guys.

Our music policy is somewhat relaxed though. A while back me and a co-worker of my won an iphone dev competition [] , where the first prize was a speaker set that we installed at the office. I can play music on this, providing it's not too loud. There basically is only one woman in accounting who can't stand music, but we either ignore her complains or we wait till she is in a meeting or something before turning on the music.

Headphones are okay too at our place. The guy who's sitting next to me turns up the volume so much though, that we can all enjoy what he's listening to. No need to use headphone really, he might as well use the speaker set :P

Foam earplugs (4, Interesting)

jdigriz (676802) | more than 4 years ago | (#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 (5, Interesting)

javax (598925) | more than 4 years ago | (#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!

be constructive (5, Insightful)

obarthelemy (160321) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Well, don't listen... (3, Funny)

StupiderThanYou (896020) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412480)

...sing. Loudly.

Speech is more distracting (1)

chetbox (1335617) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412498)

I find that if people are talking, or if a phone rings, etc., I easily lose my train of thought. The worst thing is when people in the office are having a very loud teleconference. Music helps to drown it all out. Especially music I am familiar with. Personally I listen to Lemon Jelly, Death Cab for Cutie or anything tagged "Liquid Funk" on

I think there should be a new /. poll: "What genre of music do you listen to when coding?"

BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412502)

Wow, that is utter bullshit.

Confrences (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412508)

Your boss must have just went to a general productivity conference and someone had statistics for cashiers and other people who deal with the public and found that they perform poorly when mixed with music.

Music or marketing phone ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412512)

Maybe you should ask that marketing guys stop telephone, because it breaks concentration ?

just what is a fair day's pay? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412518)

&, if birds had radios in their butts, there would be music in the air at all times.

i fail to see how koders should have special treatment over other employees, as it makes no sense. or is it nonsense?

Soundtrack when on a roller coaster (1)

stefaanh (189270) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412524)

Normally, music, other peoples stupid jokes, shoulder taps, and office noise, they all annoy and distract me while I am analyzing a concept or a technical problem. I hate to put music between my ears when I'm thinking.

But once I know exactly what to code and how to code it, it is more fun and even more productive, to add a soundtrack to that "roller coaster" coding - until something breaks unexpectedly. Then the soundtrack stops again.

If my boss wants me to put away the headphones, I keep on nodding to the music in my head.


He doesn't, because he knows me.

I hope your boss knows you too.

Music is a stimulator (2, Interesting)

tomatensaft (661701) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412528)

When working with music on, I've found that whatever the style of music I listen to (from ambient to afrobeat to folk rock to heavy metal), it tends to put me into a trance-like state, where I am able to do good designing or a lot of routine coding work, or debugging, which makes me much more productive. But what I've also noticed is that every kind of music sets a different working rhythm, so different kinds of programming work need a different type of music for the best results.

Nice ambient, lounge, trance for example, tend to be somewhat good for designing and implementing new stuff, or cracking hard debugging issues (i.e. they stimulate abstract thinking and imagination). Hard rock, afrobeat, drum'n'bass make it easier doing some routine coding (I mean, coding which is routine) and simple routine debugging and testing, increasing your raw productivity.

I have also found, that just putting on big noise-cancelling headphones decreases the amount of effort needed to concentrate, while still allowing you to quickly respond to anyone asking you about anything. This is detrimental though, since closed earphones tend to make your ears more susceptible to catching cold, when you're using such headphones too much, something I have found out myself the hard way.

Surgeons work to music (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412534)

I've met surgeons who work to music.

They ask the patient what music they would like to hear as they are going under.

Everyone is happy and smiling and it really lightens up what can be a brutal experience.

An odd side note (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412536)

Just a hobbiest here with a note that other may find interesting.

In order to distract myself from my own non-programming thoughts
I tend to play a mix of high-Tempo Classical music (particularly Vivaldi
and Beethoven) and Heavy Metal (mostly elaborate instrumentals).
Rock and even some _very_ well written pop music also work, but not
as effectively.

If I don't have this going my mind tends to wonder towards other
distractions that I have on my machine.

Your boss is retarded. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412540)

First off, the programmers should have offices.. you need personal space and no distractions from others to design programs and crank out code.
But hey, your company has programmers in cubes next to accounting people.. obviously you're not at a software company.

To each his own, its the performance that matters. (1)

mdellerus (1196285) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412550)

It depends on the type of programming I am doing. During heavy design or debugging, I tend to turn the music down or even off. At other times, I have the design firmly in my head and am almost just transcribing it. At times like that, a little quiet music helps to drown out the surrounding noise. Other engineers in my office have their own methods of tuning into or turning off the music. Some have no music while others use headphones rather consistently. In other words, every programmer is different. Whether you have a particular editor that you work best with, a particular chair or keyboard, or whether you listen to music never, sometimes or always, it is getting the job done that matters. Luckily, I work where my performance is monitored, not my individual selections that allow me to get my particular brand of performance optimization.

Weve had similar problems. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412552)

I find this strange, because where I work its ok to have personal media players and the like, its even allowed to have a radio playing (even for the people in the call center!) I find it amazing were allowed that much freedom. I am off in a side office with a group of people, and mainly the rule is it can be played out loud as long as theres no curse words (music has to essentially be G rated, and non irritating to others, how radio passes I have no idea)

Weve had the politics thing of "why do they get to do that we cant!" come up. We would eat at our desks because we worked through lunch, while people in the call center were not allowed. They decided to enforce it on us anyways because that was what was "Fair". Productivity went down by 30-1hour per person per day, because everyone started taking lunches, management got pissed. Too bad. It became a thing of waiting out the complainers. Wait 1 month, and just start doing it again anyways, or if your boss is the reasonable type, clear it with him. 1 month after our ban we just ask the boss "has enough time passed that we can start doing this till enough people complain again" and the answer was "yeah sure". Generally the type of people that are going to complain in that manner to actually get a boss to enforce the rule wont last long, or it was a random walkthrough by a higher up that wont come through again for a while.

Your boss is an idiot. (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412554)

Use your remaining time before the company goes belly-up to find a new job.


Something caused your boss to demand this... (1)

benchbri (764527) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412560)

The most probable cause of this new policy is meddling by one of the sales/administration drones. They can't have an iPod, why should you?

You've got two choices: Sit there and take it like a man, or start meddling with the drones. Wait a month or so before you start meddling with the drones.

Eventually, morale at your business will be zero. You will have the insight that one should mind their own business, and hopefully someone else will, too.

He's living in a dream land! We need our music... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412572)

Music occupies part of my brain and keeps it busy. If I don't listen to music.... I get distracted so easily it's crazy.

If I have to listen to the inane prattle of the dipshits around me discussing the scamming of food stamps or what so and so's dysfunctional wife/brother did the last week, I tend to make a lot of mistakes because it's irritating.

Needless to say, I've found self-employment to be infinitely more rewarding than slaving for someone who doesn't 'get it'.

How to spell incompetent ... (2, Insightful)

whpsh (1014835) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412576)

When a manager is intimidated by his/her direct reports, they often focus on trivial and insignificant issues. It allows them to boost their egos while exerting their dominance over you without actually making the wrong decision on things that are actually important. And, unless you work for the military, there is a very heavy line drawn between what a manager can and can't tell you to do if it isn't already in your employee handbook. A vegetarian boss couldn't make all his/her employees eat only vegetables at work, the same can be applied to music. Particularly in this case where you've got a tradition of acceptance and so long as it doesn't interfere with anyone's work. You could also throw a passive strike and have everyone call in sick during crunch/deadline time. But that would require a solidarity that most IT folks don't share (unfortunately, as an IT union would rule the world, literally, in about 24 hours).

Standard Issue here (1)

travisb828 (1002754) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412588)

Headphones are almost standard issue at my office, and I cant really work without them. Since I work for a large ISP and our backbone is a router or two away, streaming over the Internet is more common then portable music player. In fact if there was ever a policy about music players in the office it would be more about a security risk of having a bunch of USB storage devices with gigs of space around the office then people making mistakes while coding to Lady Gaga.

In our office people have a habit to work outages on speaker phone. When there is a large enterprise wide outage there multiple people on the same bridge on speaker phone. For those of us that don't deal with support, the only alternative is to block out the noise and communicate over IM with the person sitting next to you. I find that it keeps my in my happy development bubble with my eyes on my monitors, and hands on the keyboard.

Your boss sounds like a control freak. However, you are mixed in with other groups where listing to music could be an issue. They probably don't want to give the impression that the developers have special privileges. This is probably more the case if there is a large difference in pay.

I can't work with music, but I can work with noise (3, Interesting)

Tei (520358) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412592)

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.

They do tend to hinders communication (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412594)

The biggest problem I have with people wearing headphones is that if you want to ask them just a quick question it involves waving your hands around to gain their attention and then wait for them to take their headphones off. It just hinders communication.

Your manager is an idiot. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412600)

Your manager is an idiot.

I simply cannot program in the same room as someone else without music: ideally using sound-cancelling headphones.

Plausible deniability (1)

ryrw (810868) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412602)

Get a white-noise track and when "reminded" about the new rule, just answer that it's not music but a necessary and vanilla-flavored tool to avoid distractions and be more productive. "Think of it like high-tech earplugs—only better." Demonstrate the track if they need convincing. Then either actually use the white noise track (once you get used to it, it does a few extra brain cells available compared with music), or go back to enjoying your previously scheduled music programming (minus the desk-tapping, humming, or spontaneous burst into song to add the much-needed additional vocal accompaniment to what used to be an awesome part of the song before you started belting it out off-key).

If your music player is of the Apple persuasion capable of such things, get the app: White Noise [iTunes link [] to the light version]

Headphones & Music (2, Interesting)

Phlatline_ATL (174344) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412610)

My position on this is that the manager is a troll and is a control freak.

I listen to a very large collection of music & podcasts at work.

If I had a manager actually state that as a position with the particular environs you mentioned I would be demanding a number of things:
1) segregation of the programmers to a more isolated area
2) segregation of anyone who is in sales to a basement office with sound proofing
3) scientific studies that the manager in question was not beaten up and stuffed in lockers in high school

Now while much of what I'm writing above may be construed as flame bait, I just posit it for laughs.

Seriously though, music and/or podcasts are some of the mechanisms I was using to deal with either utter silence (because my dev team was fairly isolated) or high volume sales people (after consolidation of the office employees after 1st round of layoffs).

headphones vs speakers (1)

munkey_bwy (1174569) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412612)

yeah, music is fine. i find that heaphones are more distracting than through speakers. but others are then distracted by the speakers so it can be a trade off.

Don't hear the music. (2, Funny)

metalmonkey (1083851) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412614)

When I'm really coding I don't hear the music.

A few weeks ago I had album shuffle on, using laptop speakers in office when someone came in.
It was half way through my child's nursery rhymes and I hadn't even noticed.

I quickly shut it off - I guess my guest thought my taste in music was a little strange.

Then play fair but play to win - ask for data (5, Interesting)

Eternal Vigilance (573501) | more than 4 years ago | (#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!

Find the right balance... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412626)

Putting on your headphones from the management point of view is a way to put shield to external noise... but also a shield against collaboration, a shield from listening your colleagues.

It depends... it's just a matter of finding the right balance between concentration and collaboration.

If I see a group of 5 people with headphones I can state for sure that this is not a "TEAM"

1) there is a problem with noise: don't put a shield, solve the source problem.
2) you never work in pairs ? ...try it, and let me now if you can work in pairs with headphones :)
3) OK, sometimes you really need to concentrate and work alone: then use headphones or move to a separated room/desk ... but this should be an exception, not the rule.

It depends on the person (1)

Helen O'Boyle (324127) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412628)

For me, I can have the news or a sitcom or some such audio (to an extent, even old Saturday morning cartoons) with conversation going on in the background and tune it out happily enough, while letting it serve its purpose of masking background noise.

However, put music in there, and my bain involuntarily starts to pattern match on the harmonies, chord progresions, etc., and I don't get to use all of my brain on the task I'm working on, because no matter how hard I try to keep it on task, it gets pulled away by the music. Listening to music for me seems to be necessarily a "foreground" task even if I attempt to put it in the "background" because my brain seeks patterns and it finds them in music, but not in random spoken audio. Based on how my brain reacts to music in headphones while I'm trying to do analytical work, I would not without anecdotal evidence to the contrary from colleagues believe that anyone could work with that cacophany going in their ears.

From talking to other engineers, I believe my preference for spoken audio rather than music is unusual but not necessarily rare.

This seems to be one of those things where it just depends on how your brain works. Maybe that can be explained to the boss? It's definitely not a one-size-fits-all thing, and I completely understand how someone could end up with his perspective. Time to widen his focus a bit, I think.

Won't consciously hear it anyway (1)

allcoolnameswheretak (1102727) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412642)

I rarely put on music while working, because I won't consciously hear it anyway while concentrated on work.
Often when finishing a task I would be surprised about "missing" a cool song I was waiting for. It played, but I didn't perceive it because I was too distracted.

ear plugs (1)

naeone (1430095) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412644)

ear plugs are your friend (well mine at least), takes the edge of the noise enviroment and I just love the sound of tinnitus

Headphones is reasonable policy. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412650)

Headphones do not bother anybody else.

Tell your employer: if he has a problem with your work WITH OR WITHOUT headphones, to fire you. Otherwise, leave you the hell alone to do your work your way.

Robert M. Pirsig's advice (2, Interesting)

thegoldenear (323630) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412656)

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

You have to convince your boss you're right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30412660)

If your music is helping you to work by saving you from the distracting talk of other non-developers around you, then you have to convince your boss that:
1) The "prattle" is a problem
2) The headphones are the solution

For the problem, you'll have to find some evidence of this. One technique you could try is that if someone is talking when you're trying to program, politely ask them if they can keep their voice down (or else ask them to move to a meeting room for their discussion, depending on your office environment). If enough of you do this on a regular basis, then you'll hopefully get the other people in your office to be aware of the problem, eventually trickling up to your boss. The important thing is to be polite and do it such that you can make the others know that you're just trying to do your job. I'm not sure how well the programmers get along with the other groups but hopefully the relationship is good enough that you can get them on your side. If it's phone conversations (sales calls for example), maybe discuss this issue directly with the boss, explain that it does distract you (i.e. not "I want to listen to music to help me program" but "These sales calls make it hard for us to concentrate, how can we solve this?").

For solutions, you could suggest moving all the developers to a separate office, other part of the building, etc., so as to avoid/minimize the distraction (If the boss realizes he needs to spend money to do this he might change his mind).

Hopefully once the problem is clearly identified in the bosses mind, he might realize that just letting you use your headphones is the best (cheapest) solution.

Good luck!

So... (2, Insightful)

tomstorey (1444585) | more than 4 years ago | (#30412666)

Start making lots of mistakes to prove your point. :-) I personally find that sometimes, when the right song or songs are on, I get into a groove and do much more work. As for accuracy, its probably about the same. Music more so helps with my productivity.
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