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Thread: Agile programming
face picon face BY : email (remove spam text)(Olin Lathrop)

Vitaliy wrote:
> "Nate Duehr" wrote:
>> There's at least one software business owner who wholeheartedly
>> disagrees with the "bullpen" approach.  Have you read "Joel on
>> Software"?
> Yes, I've read his article, and in fact most other articles (even
> bought the book). He's actually quoting Peopleware, where they argue
> that every programmer must have his own "quiet" place because it takes
> time to get "in the zone".

I've worked in a variety of configurations, from open area with desks and no
partitions, to a bullpen with 4 engineers bounded by tall partitions, to a
private office with a door I could close when I wanted to (although I left
it open 99% of the time).  Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

My first job out of school was the open area with desks.  That was very
useful to me as I happen to end up next to the division guru, and I could
listen in on people coming by and asking him questions and his answers.  I
could also easily ask him questions, often followups on answers he gave to
others after they left.  I was careful not to abuse this, and ended up
learning a lot of practical stuff you can't possibly learn in school.  It
was a great experience.

My second job was the bullpen.  I was closely collaborating with the guy
next to me, and it was definitely beneficial to just talk to him as needed
as apposed to having to get up and go to another office, and then possibly
finding he's not in at the moment.  It was also useful more often than you
might think to overhear technical conversations between others and jump in
with a perspective they weren't thinking about and that wouldn't have
occurred to them to ask about.  That worked in reverse sometimes too.  The
gotcha is that everyone has to have a certain etiquette about keeping
gratuitous noise and chit-chat to a minimum.  For the four of us in that
company at that time on those projects I think it worked well, and I'm sure
separate offices would not have been as effective.

In my third job I had the closed office.  Yes it was nice to have quiet when
I wanted it.  Others talking around me really breaks my concentration.
However, I still think it was not as effective as the bullpen environment,
at least for me.  I felt less connected to what was going on outside my
immediate project.  I'm the kind of guy that likes to understand the big
picture and even the technical details of areas I'm not immediately working
on.  And even though I say so myself, I'm good at watching over the big
picture technically and spotting incompatibilities and other issues before
they become problems.  It's hard for me to do that, and a little frustrating
for me, when I can't tune in to some level of project-related chit-chat
outside my official scope.  Other people just want to get their specific job
done, and are most effective if you let them focus on it and not distract
them with "irrelevant" details.  For them a private office is probably best.

So in summary, I think there is no single right answer.  The optimal type of
environment has a lot to do with the individual people and somewhat with the
nature of the project and the amount of collaboration needed.  The only rule
is that there is no rule.  Good managers learn the peculiarities,
preferences, abilities, etc of each individual and cater the environment and
responsibilities accordingly.  Of course physical space, budget, and other
necessities means you can't satisfy all of these for everyone
simultaneously.  All you can do is try to accomodate as you can.  However,
fast rules like "no closed offices" or "bullpens only" are a bad idea.

Embed Inc, Littleton Massachusetts, http://www.embedinc.com/products
(978) 742-9014.  Gold level PIC consultants since 2000.
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