Part 2: Multitasking, is it a skill or does it slow us down?

In part 2 of the series Thoughts in the daily life of an IT professional I want to stress the effects of multitasking on our work. I have a Master in Clinical Psychology and thus an interesting viewpoint on this subject.

Wikipedia defines multitasking as

Human multitasking is an apparent human ability to perform more than one task, or activity, over a short period of time. An example of multitasking is taking phone calls while typing an email and reading a book.

Indeed, this is a popular definition of multitasking. For me multitasking is serial: doing your tasks one at a time, continuously switching between them. Parallel multitasking is doing different tasks at one time, much like Wikipedia defines.

Really, I find that multitasking IS serial in our job as web developers. You can’t edit a css-file and a  html-file at the same time. You can switch from one to the other at high speed but cannot handle them at the same time. That’s why I think multitasking is serial in nature, at least for web developers. There is a lot of research that backs it up: parallel multitasking is a myth.

Everyone knows the feeling of switching back to a previous task and thinking ‘where the hell was I at?’. The effects of multitasking include a loss of efficiency and performance. There’s even evidence that someone who is new at multitasking and likes to do one thing at a time outperforms someone who is ‘skilled’ at it. The effects take over and become automatic in nature.

Most employers demand multitasking skills of their employees. This implies that the effects of multitasking are not well known. It’s important to keep this in mind: multitasking will have a negative impact on your work. Try to be assertive and protect the outcome of your work.

Try to find a balance between your schedule and unexpected tasks. Keep your boss, but most importantly yourself, happy.



Part 1: Being a good developer or being the best developer

In this series Thoughts in the daily life of an IT professional I’m going to write down thoughts on my developer experience.

In Part 1: Being a good developer or being the best developer?
I’m going to explore the question Do we need to push ourself to be the best developer or do we have to be satisfied with being a good developer?

I’m reading a book written by John Z. Somnez, Soft Skills. It has the all-embracing subtitle: The Software Developer’s life manual.


This is what caught my attention (the first paragraph I read):

To all developers who strive for continuous self-improvement… .

Who are not satisfied with good enough

Who always seek every opportunity to expand their horizons and explore the unknown.

Whose thirst for knowledge is never fully quenched

who believe that software development means more than just writing code

Who know that failure is not the end, but merely a step in the journey

Who struggle at times, and sometimes fall, but always get back up again

Who have the will and determination to seek the harder path in life

And, most importantly, who are willing to help others along the way

Needless to say: this also concerns web developers.  Our profession demands that we keep up with knowledge that is continuously under development.

I see a lot of information like modules, PHP libraries, repositories and other passing by. With it comes a feeling of I want to be able to do that! Let me learn it!  Let me work on it.

My work requires a different set of skills. Don’t get me wrong: my primary function is backend developer. But as senior developer I have to undertake different tasks:

  • Switching hard drives, iMAC and PC
  • First line support with supervising
  • Supervising the junior developers
  • DNS management
  • Inhouse support
  • Network administrator

If it has a source of power, it is my responsibility to maintain it and keep it running, sort of speak. FYI the office where I work has 10 employees.

I have to skip a lot of things I want to learn. Mostly I take it home with me and gets my attention if it is really interesting. There’s a course to be launched in September. Cisco Certified Network Associate. Yep, I’m in.

We have to select our own expertise. That’s what changed over the years. I remember the time of GeoCities. It was so simple, html was simple. Everyone could be an all-round web developer.

These day we have to accept that we are just human beings and cannot keep up with every new item in our work field. Just focus on the parts that you feel at ease with. Make your own expertise, don’t worry too much about the things you see passing by and of which you think you don’t understand.