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Hyper sensitive to sounds

 
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I know we programmers are all considered to be a little crazy, especially by the management, but I just wonder, and ask you, if there is something wrong with me? I know that most people can cut themselves off from sounds in their environment. Like closing a mental sound door. I cannot. Totally not. Hence especially when I am doing analyzing work that demands concentration, which is often the programmers job, I get very irritated. I have even chosen another job a few times, when the 'open office' working environment set my teeth on edge. Happily I have technical capabilities with which I can find a job quite easily. But is there anything I can do about this, apart from wearing earplugs and changing my job? Do I have some abnormality in the way my brain functions? Sometimes I am getting crazy, and I hate my job, and the colleagues that make noise. I presently have one coworker who insist in drumming with his fingers all day. I have asked him dozens of times to stop it, but he thinks I am a whiner and just continues. And I have thought about changing my job again, actually.
 
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Is it a matter of mere irritation or does it feel so intrusive that you can never focus on your work?

It is most likely just that you are a bit sensitive to sound but as someone with Autism I feel as though I should mention that this is a common symptom of someone on the autistic spectrum. I by no means want to cast assumptions or stereotypes but when I read your description it just reminded me of myself.

To be honest, it is most likely just irritation in which case I recommend listening to music. If you go on Spotify you can find lots playlists for people who are programming in that they won't stop you concentrating.

Good luck!
 
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I've worked with guys who suffer the same irritations to noise levels. They invested in a good pair of noise cancelling headphones.
 
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I also work best in a quiet environment.

Some people like to program while listening to music. I couldn't do that, the music would be too distracting to me.
 
Jan de Boer
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Right @Samual. I am always afraid that if I mention it, for example to a manager, I get marked by those stereotypes. I can do my job, and I am actually very good in it. But it does get on my nerves.

I have one problem though @Tim, music also irritates me when I am working. So a set of headphones with music is not a solution. What does help is "white noise". It are recordings of for example the sound of a rainy day, a waterfall, a train.

The idiotic thing is, that I once thought that to be the solution. I was listening to "rain on the river", and then a noisy guy directly complained that I should turn that sound off. I mean the sound on my headphone. The same guy that was always drumming, talking in himself, whistling, humming, putting the radio on that we agreed not to put on. The white noise from my headphone though irritated him. I wanted to hit is brain out with a hammer! But maybe this noisy person here wont complain if I buy a mp3 player and put "rain on the river" on. Other alternatives I have thought about are working from home, remote, for a few days. Or even working freelance and then only work for assignments at home.

I think I might have something like autism but I totally do not have any of the other symptoms. I can communicate very freely, I am even one of the guys with the biggest mouth and the stories. I am very widely oriented in my interests. I am reasonably good in languages for example, I can speak six. Well not all fluently off course. It is just when I am concentrated, when I analyze stuff, I want silence.

 
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You sound a bit more sensitive to noise than average, but I agree that it can be difficult to concentrate on "brain work" in a noisy working environment. Open-plan offices are a nightmare in this respect, although not as bad as one place I worked: I had a short contract doing some bug fixes to a system in a banking call centre, and the only PC I could use was right in the middle of the call centre with about 200 phone operators busy answering calls all around me. It was like working in a battery chicken farm.

I think the problem is that a lot of people's jobs are about "communication" i.e. talking in person or on the phone, going to meetings etc. IMO, a lot of this "communication" is just displacement activity i.e. a substitute for doing something. I have a lot of colleagues who seem to think if they just hold enough meetings about a problem, they've somehow solved the problem without actually doing anything.

The "communicators" often don't understand that some people's work - like developers - requires us to stop and think hard about what we're doing, and you just can't do that very well in a noisy environment. When I did my DSDM course years ago, they recommended a "quiet room" for the team i.e. a place where you could actually hear yourself think. Unfortunately, most managers are "communicators", so it's hard to persuade them to see the problem.

Working a couple of days a week from home could be a good solution - I do this now. I can get a lot of work done at home without all the distractions, noise and meetings that fill my usual working day. Then I can schedule meetings and other BS tasks for the days when I'm in the office and wouldn't expect to get any real work done anyway. Music also works for me, but Bach or Tallis is usually more effective than the Pixies!

 
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Jan de Boer wrote:I just wonder, and ask you, if there is something wrong with me?


The answer to this question, no matter who is asking, is always "yes".

More seriously...everyone is different. I prefer music when i'm trying to concentrate, but usually it's music i'm familiar with, so I don't pay close attention to it. If a song i've never heard before comes on (I use Pandora), that will distract me as I have to listen to it. But overall, i find the music blocks out the other noises - conversations, clicking keyboards, etc.

I also use full muff headphones - not ear buds, not walkman foam things...but full ear enclosure padded headphones. They weren't super expensive (I think $50) and I can have my music up loud enough to block out everything else, and nobody else can hear it. I would think you could get a white noise generator with a headphone jack. Might that solve the problem?
 
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I need quiet to work. I could not work in an open area. I have odd hearing and hear too well. Once I went to a job interview and one of the 'perks' was the loud rock music the programmers got to listen to! I left the interview and wondered how any decent code was written. Both music and talking distract me because I listen to the words.The only music I can have on that doesn't do this is classical, no vocals. Fortunately I have always had an office and can shut my door.

At home same issue but my spouse is used to it. She watches T.V. a lot so I found a head-phone amplifier that uses one of the fiber optic ports on the T.V. and whenever I want to read or work on the computer she goes under headphones. That way we can both be in the living room and talk once in awhile but enjoy our own activities. I tried getting big sound blocking industrial ear muffs that Fred is talking about but they do not block medium T.V. sound level especially when commercials come on and the volume jumps. Using white noise to block other noise has never worked for me and I hear two sound sets (clashing).
 
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If you do get a good set of headphones, make sure to get "circumaural" ones, as Fred suggested, and with closed backs. A lot of headphones are open-back, as they supposedly have a higher sound quality, but people around you may hear what you're listening to.

Personally, I have the opposite problem. I can't focus when it's quiet. Usually at home, I listen to music while I work, but I work best in environments where there is a murmur of talking people.
 
Jan de Boer
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Thanks for all your suggestions. One thing is true, managers don't understand it, like you said @Chris. Many times I just keep my mouth shut, since I suspect the manager not to understand this anyway. Also I am afraid that if I do tell him I get stigmatized as the Autistic or the Asperger syndrome guy. My present manager is totally not a programmer guy, and he thinks he can cheer me up if comes into the open office space, starts whistling very load, and overactingly starts to behave happy. Then screaming informationless sentence to the quadrant like: "Oh, nice cup of coffee I have guys!!! GOOOOOODMOORNING!!" (like Good morning Vietnam with Robin Williams). Any idea what am referring to, do you know this type? He will never understand my desire for silence, I just know it. The full enclosure padded headphones are a good suggestion. I actually would very much like it that other people cannot hear my "rain on the river like", white noisy I would play on it. Maybe I am negative, but sometimes it seems I am on an alien planet considering this. I again expect if people hear me listening to white noise instead of music, I'll be put in the 'nerd corner' again.

Furthermore, I found it encouraging that I am at least not the only one with a problem like this. I actually did think I was a little crazy or something.
 
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I get this way once in a while - if I am working on a particularly difficult problem. I have an office, which helps, but I have a manager on the one side who does everything loudly (talks loudly even to himself, pounds on the keyboard, and my least favorite eats with an open mouth making really loud noises). On the other side there is a programmer who either listens to music I don't care for or listens to political podcasts loudly. I would say 80% of the time I can tune it out, but sometimes it really bothers me. Music doesn't seem to work (I am not a big music fan to begin with) but white noise does a lot. I have a white noise app on my phone, I use ear buds and everything seems okay (the app I have plays rain, or trains, or the like... I wish I could find one that plays plain, randomly generated static... I think I would like that better). I will soon be working in an team-room space so hopefully I can continue to use this technique.
 
fred rosenberger
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Jan de Boer wrote: I'll be put in the 'nerd corner' again.


you work in IT. You're already in the 'nerd corner'.

I'm not sure where you are in the world, but I know many places in the States try to respect individual's needs - at least to some degree. My office has cubicles, but when we started using a building next door, they went to an 'open office' where everyone can see everyone. But anyone is allowed to use headphones. My boss knows I work better with them, and all my colleagues know they can message or email me, or even come over and tap me on the shoulder if they need me right this second.

Depending on the laws of your country, being "labeled" with Asperger's may even grant you extra protection...but that is a thorny legal issue I'm not really qualified to comment on.
 
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This may be interesting ... In my job, I get to work "on-site" a lot, helping developers with my company's products. With one customer, many years ago, the IT department was mixed in with the trading floor. Now, imagine working with a room full of traders...

Wow. I will never complain about any of my sometimes noisy cubical neighbors again !!

Henry

 
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Depends on what I'm doing. If I'm writing normal code, I'm hypersensitive too. If I'm debugging some hairy code, say real time or interrupt driven multi-threaded stuff, I can't stand any noise. None. For this work, I work at home, after the family has gone to bed. Usually from about 10 PM until 4 or 6 AM.

When I'm deep into the debugger, I find any noise causes me to lose my place. It can take several hours to get to that place. I can't stand having to restart.
 
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I am very sensitive to sounds of any kind while I'm working on something that requires concentration. I'm too easily disturbed.

At my first job, we had a gang of co-workers from another team who loved to come for breaks towards our side of cubicles and they loved to talk about movies/fashion/politics/sports and what not too loudly. We had a very grand cafeteria in the 11th floor but they wouldn't go there. Also we had kind of a decently nice walking space in the campus but they wouldn't go there also. They just loved to disturb us. Once we put up a note on the adjacent wall that said - 'people are working in the adjacent, so please keep the volume down'. But that didn't help much. I used to frequently go to an unoccupied conference room and work from there. Thank God, we had those conference rooms.

And I've realized that I end up editing my posts that say things about my current workplace.



 
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