I own a good set of headphones that fully enclose my ears. I am not an audiophile, I just don't like to hear other people talk at me.  When I am staring at my Emacs windows with headphones on, it generally isn't a physical cue that I am looking for conversation. In fact, when I am that deep into thinking out a problem and I get interrupted, I think about the anti-workplace-violence clause in the employee handbook, and how a poorly lit parking lot probably doesn't qualify as "company property".

Interrupting a thinking programmer is a sucker punch to productivity's kidney. Of course it's still important to keep open communication channels, especially in a small team. I don't mind answering questions and helping out, so long as it's not an immediate context switch for me, i.e. I'll help you if I don't have to speak.

Instant messaging is a decent first attempt, but it's only person-to-person communication. (And no, group-IM never fucking works right) Programming teams need group chat.  White-label Twitter clones like Yammer are okay, but I feel icky using a product that is hailed as a technological advance for supporting the ability to identify topics by prefixing a word with a pound sign. That, and I want to keep an eye on the conversation as I work, and my attention isn't on my IM client or browser when I'm coding. It's on Emacs.

The answer, of course is IRC.

My team recently grew, and four of us need to communicate constantly. I set up an IRC server and brought people in. One non-programmer who needed to be in the loop had never used IRC, but caught on quickly. Productivity is up, as is communication. The developer chat channel is right in front of me as I work, as a window in Emacs:

at-the-crunchies-i-got-drunk-and-started-heckling-people-who-used-to-be-important.pngThink of developer communication like I/O. There's blocking and nonblocking. When somebody talks to me as I work, my programming train of thought needs to block. With inline chat like you see above, I can answer questions when I have spare cycles. Since the conversation is integrated into my development environment, I don't need to look around at other applications, and there's no popup notification bouncing around like a Jack Russell terrier who got into my Adderall supply. Also since it's Emacs, it's not vim. If you use vim, /quit #life.

Collaboration technology doesn't need to be re-invented every six years. The stuff we had in the eighties works just fine.