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Why Do Developers Hate Meetings?

Picture this: you’re a software developer at a small startup. A product manager just handed you some requirements for a new project. The project overall seems pretty simple. Roughly 2 weeks of work for the majority of it. However, hidden in those requirements is a single sentence that calls for concurrency. You’re going to need to coordinate data between multiple users in real time and it has to be accurate.

You start worrying. That single requirement complicates the project significantly. You look at projects in the past with similar requirements and those all needed an additional 3 weeks.

I remember working with someone in this exact same situation a few years back. They were pretty exasperated because the team was under pressure to release something that would earn revenue.

I was on a different team so I wasn’t under the same pressure. But I did want to help. I looked at the requirements. I thought about the use cases. Then I calmly went to the product manager and simply asked what value concurrency added to the users. We talked it over for 5 minutes and decided the value was not worth the cost. Requirement cut.

Three weeks of development prevented from a 5 minute meeting.

Photo by Marvin Meyer

It was this experience and several others like it that changed my opinion of meetings. I used to hate meetings. I had spent countless hours in the past listening to people talk about frivolous things to make it seem like they were being productive. The schedule of those meetings often broke the focus I needed to write code. It gave me the impression many developers share that meetings were a complete waste of time and should be avoided at all costs.

I now see meetings for what they really are: a communication tool that can be used well or used poorly.

Good communication is as important to software development as the code that’s written. Good communication ensures that the code that’s written is actually the code that should be written. It ensures that we’re building software that will actually get used rather than just released and ignored.

There are other communication tools like Slack and email. Why not use those instead of a meeting? Wouldn’t they be less disrupting?

Maybe. Depends on the situation.

Asynchronous communication is great when you have a simple question that requires a simple answer. Or to send something that’s informational and doesn’t require a response.

Asynchronous communication is actually more disruptive if you need a discussion. Think about a Slack discussion between 5 people. One person asks a question. 5 minutes later, someone responds. 8 minutes later, another response. 3 minutes later, another response. And on it goes.

I’ve seen a discussion like this occur over the course of 8 hours. 8 hours of being interrupted every few minutes. Talk about not being able to focus on writing code!

And all of it to get to a resolution we could have reached in a 30 minute meeting.

Meetings are just another tool. Used well, they can really help. We just need to avoid some of the pitfalls of meetings. 20+ person meetings are informational at best. They can often be replaced with email. They are not good places to have Q&A sessions.

We often schedule 30 min or an hour for a meeting because we don’t know how long it’ll take. That’s fine. At the same time, you don’t need to use the full time if you’ve solved the problem in 10 minutes. Just end the meeting early. That’s a win.

Not everyone who is invited into a meeting needs to be there. There should be no shame in walking out if you don’t feel like you’re needed. There should be no judgement of people who do.

There’s also no reason to schedule a meeting if you only need to talk to 1-2 other people and you’re all standing around together. Just talk then. Impromptu meetings are often the most productive.

On the topic of avoiding meetings at all costs: while meetings are a tool that can be used well, Slack and email are also communication tools that can be used poorly. Trying to get to every conversation in every channel or hitting inbox zero is often a waste of time. It’s no different than the people using meetings to make it look like they’re getting things done instead of actually getting things done.

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