Music for better software development

A typical day at your office is as follows: You set up your workspace, grab at your project plan and prioritize your tasks. You start Emacs and load a bunch of TCL, PHP or whatever files. You concentrate on some algorithms but the moment you are really focused your colleagues step in and tell you the newest rumor heard on the evening before – unaskedly.

You switch to multitasking mode and try to keep both conversation and development up in parallel. Of course one of the „threads“ will fail due to your human nature. Your colleague gets irritated because you laugh the moment he tells you his best friend died or you sigh when he offers you half of his lottery winnings, just because you’re not all ears. If you go the conversation path instead your flawless and pristine algorithm that was meant to control temperature of a nuclear power station will a few years later be projected onto a canvas in a court room as part of a litigation – and it’s not the heat of the device’s lamp that will make you transpire like a fountain.

The solution

That said, there’s a solution to overcome the typical factors of disturbance in daily office life: Earphones. E-a-r-p-h-o-n-e-s. A technical solution for a human problem, great. Earphones work like a stop sign, a mental barrier for others to interrupt you. The effect is impressing if you furthermore stare at your monitor and avoid eye contact. But I recommend earphones over earplugs. What you need is utilization of left and right part of your brain to stop distraction not cerumen. As you might know from some advertisments in magazins we only utilize 5 percent of our brain’s power. So we have 95 percent at our disposal. 95 percent to be filled with some kind of heavy metal. Studies of urologists or ufologists (don’t remember right now) support that thesis. There have been experiments concerning the use of classical music but the stimulus was not as effective as the more emotional, complex and disturbing effects of today’s metal.

Low carb and mathematics

But it’s not easy. The world of heavy metal is h-u-g-e. Results of my self-experiments (two weeks of at least 5 hours metal during a workday, interrupted only for necessary telephone calls, meetings or phagocytosis) let me recommend the following: Concentrate on only two CDs that you can deploy in your most common situations. Speaking for myself I found two bands most suitable that look back on a great track record and are well known to the community of headbangers already while growing attention of elite software developers. I talk about „Opeth“ and „Bolt Thrower„. While the latter are known to me since my early life, „Opeth“ was recently recommended to me by Amazon in the context of books about low carb diets (…). I owe Amazons recommendation engine so much, really.

Deployment in the field

If your task is to develop something more complicated, something new with no flowchart available, where the focus is more on the creative part, I recommend listening to „Still life“ from Opeth. It was their fourth volume recorded 1999. The sound is not mixed that pumping, „phat“ or direct it hogs the limelight. But it’s complex with dozens of variations of speed, riffs, melody and singing (real singing and the typical grunts). Their overall sound allows you to pause and contemplate over type casting or union selects but also boosts your skills when you are on the tricky parts. The lead guitar really „leads“ and impresses with melody lines that support the theme of the particular song.

Of course there are other situations, the unforseeable ones. When a hacker or customer attacks your software. When you need a solution not in hours but yesterday. You need to code at full throttle. Bolt Thrower and their album „Those once loyal“ (2005) provide you with that self-confidence. They offer structure, power, speed. Their pumping, heavy, intuitive, pre-monotone sound with that abyssal-powerful-aggressive „singing“ along with the war theme is their own trademark. This is grindcore that evolved – but not beyond recognition. Compare the song „War Master“ from the album of the same name (1999) with this CD. You don’t have to judge. You listen to a band that provides a steady sound of satisfaction over years.


With Bolt Thrower you open 10 bash shells at once and find a rootkit fast. You wade through gigs of logfiles, create great iptable or spamfilter rules. Your code becomes stable and pragmatic.
With Opeth you code more elegant. You come back to a function and think twice. You are more explorer than commander. Your code becomes efficient and reusable.

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