Why Phone Calls Suck and Coders Hate You For Making Them

Train wreck at Montparnasse_1895

<[Rant On]>

During the work day some of the most disruptive events for a coder are phone calls, getting punched in the face or bum fights in the street. Why are these events so disruptive to programmers? Much of the answer lies in the maker versus manager schedule. Let’s talk a little bit about what someone does when they make a phone call and actually manage to disrupt a coder. NOTE: This could also apply to every musician, painter, coder, programmer, database SQL writer or other occupation that actually requires doing something around a creative solution that isn’t baked into some text book.

The Mental Train Wreck

This is what happens every time the coder’s brain is interrupted with a phone call, punched in the face or a bum fight erupts outside.

Because in all of those situations, the coder must stop what they’re doing, complete a mental dump of all the things they’d loaded into their mind, to pay attention to the phone call somebody has just interrupted them with, the punch in the face or the bum fight outside. Let’s take a dive into what this interruption actually means.

Mental Dump, Starting the Train Wreck

No Dumping Brain to Bay.
No Dumping Brain to Bay.

The mental dump is the hardest part of the disruption for a coder. For a musician or artist, it often means they’re going to look at you (or the phone) and an immediate loathing of your person will occur. For a coder most will have their phone on ignore, like I myself do. If they do pick up, the first words spoken by the person calling will probably be indistinguishable. The mental dump takes more than a second or two.

But if a coder picks up the phone, they do it quickly, it often means they’ve not completed the mental dump yet. This in turn means they’re not going to be able to communicate with you in a very easy to understand way. Often a very boolean response will occur, such as “uhuh” or “uhno“. They’re hating you at this moment, because they’ve been removed from coding or thinking through the problem they were working.

What has happened here is a huge decrease in productivity for a coder. Imagine that train wreck above in the picture. How many hours, days and weeks did it take for the crews to get the train back on the tracks. How much effort did it take and how much time was lost by having the train sitting there crammed outside of the building tilted over and down on the sidewalk? I’ll tell ya, a whole freakin’ bloody lot of time, effort and frustration.

Time wasted: ~2 minutes.  (and that’s just to GET the phone call)

Getting Frontal Cortex Loaded, AKA Re-railing The Train Wreck

This mental dump takes anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes to effectively complete. At this point, a creative individual has been thrust from an effective and productive place in their mind. What’s it take to get things back on track?

The first step is to get off of the phone and settle down from the frustration of being disrupted. Getting disrupted by one of the aforementioned annoyances is very costly. Doing a mental dump is because so much has been loaded in the gray matter for use in the coding, painting, music playing or other activity. To get front loaded into a state in which actual music can be played or written, a painting can be created or coding can be done takes time. I’m not talking about a few minutes here or there either, I’m talking about 10 minutes being a low number. Often, it takes 30-45 minutes to get properly frontal cortex loaded. All of that time, upon the disruption is gone. All of it, every single minute. Sometimes a person can re-load a little bit faster then the initial loading, but often times not.

So what happens when the coder goes back to work? You guessed it, they have to get the frontal cortex loaded again. Yeah, your interruption just caused them many minutes, often 15-45 minutes just to pick up the bloody phone call.

Time wasted: ~15-45 minutes.

Maker Versus Manager Scheduling

Now we come to the serious problem. Not only did the phone call cause a disruption of epic proportions. The other massive problem is now the coder has to determine if it is even worth it to try to get the frontal cortex loaded and get back to work. Let’s take a few questions a coder has to ask themselves before getting back to work after such a disruption.

  • What if the phone call was 30 minutes before lunch? Nope, not worth it.
  • What if the phone call is 15 minutes before you’re going home? Nope, not worth it.
  • What if the phone call is 45 minutes before a meeting? Nope, that sure as hell isn’t worth it either. Meetings being a completely different topic that’s worth discussing, or ranting about sometime.

That’s just a few examples. So if the call disrupted the coder at a time before any other activity that requires they stop doing what they’re doing, it’s not even worth going back work on anything. With that in mind, if a coder is interrupted 30 minutes before lunch, that means another 30 minutes just got wasted because now the coder has to find some mundane task to do, or just surf the web ticked off that they got interrupted. Most programmers are often thinking of something that the great Captain Picard states so eloquently.

Captain Picard, not beating around the bush.
Captain Picard, not beating around the bush.

Time wasted: ~0-45 minutes or more.

Bum Fights & Punches In the Face

Punched in the face.
Punched in the face.

Ever been punched in the face? Ever had to deal with a bum fight? If you have you can totally relate to this type of interruption. The closest thing a manager is likely to experience is a bum fight or a punch in the face in comparison to a coder receiving a phone call.


The next time one thinks, “I’ll just give Bob the Programmer a call”, think again. Try not to be a complete douche bag in a land of naive obliviousness and maybe send an email or txt message. Maybe don’t even make the communication – because we all know how many times the answering box has a “hey I just called to say I called and you should call me so we can have a call“. That’s what one calls bullshit. EVERY PHONE ON EARTH has caller id, that’s a no shit sherlock moment.

So next time, please be considerate of your dear programmers, coders, SQL coders, painters, sketch artists, musicians, composers or others in your life. You’re not taking 5 minutes of their life when you call, you’re likely taking well over an hour and causing them much consternation.

Now that I’ve wasted 3 hours writing this post, mainly because I was interrupted by a phone call in the middle of writing it, I’ve got to get back to some work I was trying to wrap up post-turkey day comma.

<[/Rant Off]>

Oh yeah, this was indeed a sardonic post in case it wasn’t obvious. Oh and happy holidays!  😉