Thursday, August 15, 2013

Programmer Productivity By Jonathan Erickson, September 26, 2009

Multitasking is good when it comes to computer programs, letting them do more with less. But when computer programmers start multitasking, productivity flies out the door.

For one thing, when programmers have to shift tasks, it takes "a really, really, really long time," says Joel Spolsky, host of the Joel On Software Web site and co-founder of Fog Creek Software. Programmers have to keep a lot of things in their heads at once, Spolsky says, and the more they remember, the more productive they are. "A programmer coding at full throttle is keeping zillions of things in their head at once," he says, "everything from names of variables, data structures, important APIs, the names of utility functions that they call a lot, even the name of the sub-directory where they store their source code."

On top of that, as applications have become more collaborative, complex, modular, and distributed, developers are having to track an increasing number of tasks and deal with more interruptions from the people with whom they're collaborating. As a result, they're multitasking more frequently and becoming less productive.

How bad is the problem? Developers spend an average of 11 minutes on one task before being interrupted to deal with another, according to Gloria Mark of the University of California at Irvine's Department of Informatics, who has spent years examining developers' work environments. It then takes them 25 minutes to return to the original task.

Keeping programmers productive in these fragmented work environments is a challenge for large software developers as well as for IT shops developing for end users. In both cases, application life-cycle management tools and processes can help. They automate steps -- such as change management, build processes, and testing -- in the development process, off-loading work from developers and cutting back on the number of interruptions they face.
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