My buddy Dave was beside himself. He simply could not fathom that his manager had taken away his precious second monitor. He was seething so much that I thought he looked a little like Gollum pining for “my precious” – except this was no fantastical ring, it was a piece of hardware.
“Why is it such a big deal?” I asked with the naiveté of a manager who hasn’t written code in years.
Dave rolled his eyes and said, “Because my manager keeps loading on the work since they cut a couple developers last year and I need every advantage I can get. With an extra monitor I’m able to write and test code faster.”
He continued, “And she was such a beauty! A LED backlight 22-inch widescreen display with full HD 1920×1080 resolution and mega dynamic contrast ratio. I’ll admit the pure darkness provided by the contrast ratio was more suited for watching movies, but I need downtime too!”
In my head I’m thinking Dave is just ticked because he lost another toy and that the “watching movies” part was bothering him more than lost coding productivity. So I probed a bit deeper.
“What was your manager’s excuse for taking it away?”
Dave answered, “Would you believe he just sent me an email AFTER he took it? I walked in one morning and thought someone had literally stolen my monitor. My manager said it was needed by some new employee in the accounting department. I mean are you serious? Like some accountant needs a 22-inch monitor? Please!”
“Okay, he should have talked to you about it before taking it, but Dave, when you can have multiple windows open on one monitor, why does having a second monitor make that big of a difference?”
Dave smirked at me and said, “You really need to write some code again. Isn’t it obvious? I can compare code side-by-side to see where integration points are failing. I can easily cut and paste reusable code chunks. I can read how an API works while actually writing it. I can run tests while keeping the source code open. I can…”
I held up my hand and said “Okay, stop, I see your point. But your other monitor is also 22 inches, right?
“Well, I see the developers on my team using similar large screen real estate to have multiple windows open and realizing a lot of the same benefits. What’s the difference?”
Now Dave really looked like he was getting exasperated with me. “So you really don’t get it? I was actually about to request a THIRD monitor because the more screen real estate I have to work with the more multitasking I can do. I’m less likely to make mistakes, too, because everything I need is a glance away. You can only fit so much on one or even two screens.”
I decided to play devil’s advocate.
“Dave, think about the great perks you have where you work. These perks aren’t all that common because we don’t have the luxury of living in Silicon Valley. Your company provides free lunch, free snacks all day long, an on-site car wash service, dry cleaning pick-up and periodic massages.”
I took a breath and continued on. “ You may find this hard to believe, but those are outstanding perks that most people would kill for. Plus you are paid very well with great health benefits, right?”
Dave eyed me suspiciously and said, “Yes, but what does that have to do with my monitor being stolen?”
“Ah my dear friend, you keep saying stolen, but it was never yours to begin with. That monitor is company property. And management must find a balance between perks and the bottom line. Every free perk you have costs the company money and decisions have to be made based on keeping employees like you happy and productive versus the cost of doing so.”
Dave responded, “That is a load of crap. The monitor costs like $150.”
“True,” I agreed. “But if the accounting department didn’t have the budget for a new monitor this year, then they had to get it from somewhere. And your manager was probably told by his boss to give up one of the “extra” monitors assigned to his group.”
Dave answered with a hint of bitterness, “So some accountant is more valuable than my productivity? I don’t think so. Just give him or her some old 17-inch CRT from the back room scrap heap. My manager has no spine”
I was going to go into how eco-unfriendly that would be and the higher energy costs, but that would have been pointless.Dave felt slighted, mostly due to the heavy workload issue, which was the true driver of his frustrations.
After we parted ways, I did some research and found that studies have actually been done on this and one study found a 20 – 30% increase in productivity when an extra monitor is added. Even the mighty Bill Gates sang the praises of his multiple monitor set up, saying that once you have multiple monitors you’ll never go back because of the direct impact on productivity.
I also found Jeff Atwood, a developer who created his own “Developer Bill of Rights
” and guess what was number one?
Yep – “Every Developer Shall Have Two Monitors.”
Although it seems to me that “Two” will have to be updated to “Multiple” based on all the comments from developers I have read online. Now that monitors are so thin that desk space isn’t a challenge,you can even mount them on your cubicle wall and make your developer workspace look like NASA’s Mission Control.
Finally, I came across Patrick Dubroy’s article that asked Multiple-Monitor Productivity: Fact or Fiction? And have to agree with his conclusion that the productivity boost is real, but in an average developer’s day a few percentage increase is more likely than a true 30% boost.
The next week I met up with Dave again for lunch. (Why he even goes out for lunch when he can eat for free at work is a question for another time. )
I started in with a smile and said “Has your coding ability been severely handicapped by having just one monitor.”
“Laugh all you want, but you’ll never believe what I’m about to tell you.”
“I’m all ears,” I said.
Now Dave was smiling back at me. “When I walked into my cubicle yesterday, there was a brand new 22-inch monitor sitting on my desk.”
“You’re kidding! Your manager got it back for you?” I asked.
“Nope, even better. He bought me a new monitor with his own money. Said it was on loan until next year’s budget was approved. How cool is that?!”
“That is one cool spineless manager you have there, Dave.”
“Yeah, yeah, so maybe he isn’t spineless. Tomorrow I’ll give him a chance to prove it. I’m going to ask him to include a third monitor in the budget. Think he’ll go for that?”
I’d say that Dave shouldn’t be looking a gift horse in the mouth.