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Attention span among software developers

Our attention is one of the most important resources today and attention merchants are fighting to get a piece of it. Computer image There is entire industry designed to get a slice of your time. Which makes it feels like continuous amount of time which we spend on each individual activity diminishes as volume of information we are exposed to on a daily basis increases. Let’s have a look at historical development in that area. For centuries information had been passed verbally from one human being to another. As such information resources are scarce and access to information is very limited as it has to rely on human network. However positive side that such process holds human’s attention for prolonged period of time as they have to make sense out of the point before they can distribute it further.

With technological advances we see an automation in form of a printing press. Books and newspapers significantly improved distribution, however that improvement was primarily among educated people as reading is something people have to learn. Then came further improvement with radio. This invention allowed to broadcast same information to many people at once. Technological progress had helped to slash price of the access to information as radio gotten into every home. At the same time radio had dropped requirement for education as people gone back to verbal transmission. As radio had improved access to information, person still has to use some imagination in order to simulate pieces of message in their mind and still has to listen to a whole piece to understand it. Then TV took it to another level as information has become visual and way easier to consume. With TV every individual spent way less time to understand information and used less imagination, even 2 year old kids can consume it. And war for our attention has began! However that war was primarily among corporations, as it’s quite expensive to get on TV.

Then came the Internet and nowadays every person, even kids, can broadcast information to entire world. Given the fact that “entrance fee” to become a “broadcaster” has gone down, there are millions of those and out attention began to split between all of those YouTube stars, apps and other mediums. Today capturing even small slice of our time became a wholly grail for those attention merchants. As a result we’ve seen a rise of tools like Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram where information as short text, picture, short video can be consumed in seconds. Quality of those informational “pieces” is close to nothing and yet people are glued to their timelines on social media, consuming cheap content, because it’s flashy, because it has catchy titles and so on.

Overtime such shortening of a period necessary to consume and understand information along with improved delivery and “catchiness” of such information changed our expectations for it. People no longer expect “thoughtful conversation” and simply jumping from one sensation to another from one short viral video to the next one. If you look around changes are everywhere. There is a saying “time is money” and as a result we expect a summary delivered to us instead of thorough explanation of what is going on and why it is that way and not the other.

Now you probably thinking what all of that introduction has to do with a software developers, and why it is bad for society as a whole. Let me start with the first question.

Significant portion of today’s workforce consist of so called “millennials”, so does major user base of services like Facebook, Instagram. Those are people who has been born or grew up in digital age, they became accustomed to quick interactions, they became accustomed to short videos, quick stories, “summary” books and list goes on and on. As millennials entered workforce employers started adjusting their hiring practices and making application process “easier” to grab their attention and to presumably win that “war on talent”, especially in software development industry where real talent is scarce. That’s where I see it got broken as it turned into competition between employers on who can ask least amount of questions and provide wholly grail “one click” or “one swipe” type of experience to their jobseekers.

While I agree with the fact that application process should not be tedious and user has to have good experience applying to the job. However it should not be taken to the extreme levels otherwise it will result into hiking up cost of each individual hire. Truth is that time which job seekers should have spent during application has been shifted on recruiter’s shoulders and recruiters are happy as they are being paid to do this job, paid by employer. With technology occupations it’s even worse, as technology changing every moment and tech jobs requirements changing with it. There is no way recruiters will be qualified to make a decisions on those aspects. As employers started catering for people who can’t hold their attention together to go through whole application process, they have to keep fighting for employees attention after they were on-boarded. They have to develop expensive programs to feed attention of those millennials. Ask yourself how good is your new hire if you have to spend so much time and most importantly money to keep up their attention. Did they just join your company for perks as opposed to deep connection with your mission?

Software development industry is booming today as software being embedded into every aspect of our life. That’s why it is important to hire right people and that’s why speeding up such process may cost us in a long run. There are a lot of boot-camps today which graduate developers every few month, but such quick education can’t teach developers to be thorough in their work. Just like doctors developers, who sometimes make vital decisions about other peoples lives(Boeing is a good example), have to slow down and learn to focus on their work, which none of those boot-camps can teach them. Same with hiring process, it’s indeed important to fill position as fast as possible, but for software development engineers and quality assurance engineers alike taking time to learn what they are capable of is a right thing to do instead of seducing them with perks just to fill position.

But let’s go back and draw some conclusions: As information around us speeding forward and every one is fighting to get a slice of our attention, ability to focus and resist those attention merchants has become most valuable skill in such world, especially in among software developers. That’s why we have to focus educating young future and current generation of software developers to slowdown and take their time to produce quality work.