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Making Software by Greg Wilson, Andy Oram

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Doors That Close

Let us begin with a straw man argument: money spent enhancing the workplace of software developers is money down the drain. Developers who insist on having individual offices with doors that close and phones that can be turned off are pampered prima donnas who can’t ever be appeased. If you give each of them a nice office (and where will the space or the money for these offices even come from?), they’ll start to complain about the kitchenette, or the lack of indoor bike parking, or the glare from the windows in their monitors. Inevitably they’ll demand gourmet catering of organic, locally grown food, on-site massages, and ball pits, like those Google folks. And even if developers don’t go that far, individual offices are expensive, far more expensive than cubicles. Why should an organization choose to spend its money on perks with only marginal and dubious productivity gains—especially when most of its competitors aren’t doing it?

As you may already know, there is a very important reason to do it. Anybody who has developed software knows how cognitively complex and demanding this work can be. Developers face problems so intricate and immaterial, and they struggle with so many implications and ramifications to their actions, that they often need to concentrate completely in their tasks, to the point where everything else becomes a blur, time drifts away, and their craft is all that matters. Csikszentmihalyi called that optimal state of deep concentration flow, an ...

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