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Craig Kerstiens

How Heroku Works - Maker's Day

In my earlier post on Teams and Tools at Heroku, I mentioned how we value engineers’ time; their work has enabled us to build a great platform. As a result of what we’ve built, we’ve had great growth both of our platform and of our teams internally. With that growth inevitably comes different distractions on engineers’ time. Despite how a manager may plan things, engineering work needs long periods of uninterrupted time. To ensure that no matter what, an engineer has plenty of opportunity to do the work he or she was hired to do, Heroku has Maker’s Day.

Maker’s Day ensures that engineers get a full day of uninterrupted time to focus on making things.

Maker’s Day

The more consistent interruptions are throughout an engineer’s day, the more time will be lost due to context switching in addition to the time spent on those other activities. These interruptions may include a quick question from a manager, a question on a code problem someone else is working through, or an email or IM from a coworker. Regardless of the type of interruption, it causes an engineer to lose focus. According to Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, in a study regarding productivity among engineers, the top performers when surveyed said they were interrupted regularly 38% of the time versus the bottom performers, who were interrupted 76%. Context switching should be counted as fully wasted time for an engineer, and all too often as the number of meetings increases, the time involved with context switching is increased similarly to the following:

Cost of context switching

For more on how interruptions or context switching decreases productivity, Jeff Atwood has a great post about The Multi-Tasking Myth, which demonstrates …

Most people understand that context switching is bad, but another team may still have valid demands on your time. Pushing back against another team or manager isn’t always feasible; after all, we do work together, and each team at times may need something from another team. This is where Maker’s Day starts to come in. Every Thursday at Heroku is Maker’s Day.

Maker’s day is meant for making shit. Meetings don’t happen on Maker’s Day. If someone asks if that time on your calendar works for a meeting, the simple response is no–it’s Maker’s Day. Because Maker’s Day has been ingrained into our culture, engineers have no problem giving that response when there’s a request on their time on Maker’s Day. If someone in marketing, sales, or another non-engineering role wants to book meetings, they’re welcome to do so, but they’re going to be without engineers. However, even for non-engineers, Maker’s Day is equally invaluable; uninterrupted hours of focus at a time are amazing for productivity in any role.

Maker’s Day varies in how it is executed from person to person. Often the office is slightly less busy due to some engineers working from home or coffee shops to maximize their productivity. To an outsider, the office may appear business as usual: engineers sit at their desks, working. At lunch, everyone is sitting around the lunch table eating together. To the unobservant eye it may appear to be just any other day, but the engineers notice the difference. There will be significantly less interruptions by someone walking over to your desk, you won’t be pulled into meetings that distract you from features, and you know it’s an opportunity to accomplish a bulk of work laid out from your weekly planning meeting.

As Heroku has grown, meetings have increased, and the value of Maker Day’s has increased exponentially.

Whether you’re in the early stages of bootstrapping a company or at a large company of thousands of engineers, one of the best practices anyone can put into place is dedicated quality time for engineers to produce code. Maker’s Day is a fantastic way to ensure this happens on a weekly basis.