Tech Industry

Champions of Multitasking

It’s early, 8am in fact. I’m tired, it’s raining, and I’m already over it. 

I enter the bougie hotel in downtown Austin and as I turn the corner, I am greeted with a grand banquet room filled with fifteen circular tables, complete with elegant stemmed glasses and pristine table cloths. Honestly, it could have been the scene of a low-budget wedding. As I walk in, along the back, I see a long table full of cute little pastries nicely laid out on bright white ceramic dishes. The pastries are calling me, for sure, but I am on a mission to find someone I know. 

As I look up to the screen, there’s a terrible clipart graphic, circa 1991, of a laptop with words plastered over it “Sit with your team”. I spot my Tech Lead and join him at his table. Mission accomplished.

After a while, everyone trickles in and Ronaldo gets on the microphone. He’s very excited to introduce Phil, the token Amazon guy, he boasts about how they worked together before, how thankful he is that Phil is donating his precious time being here … so on and so forth, until I lose my eyeballs in the back of my head. 

After the Phil love fest, Phil takes over. He starts by telling us about all of his awesome experience at companies you’ve never really heard of. He tells us what a badass he was in the Air Force. 

Me too, bro, me too … except I had the same job as Chuck Norris. Beat that.

Me to myself

He discredits himself in passing so as to downplay its importance. He says things like, “I’ve never been trained in this stuff. I’ve never even been an Engineer.”

We spend a couple of hours doing group exercises that have no clear ties to Agile methodologies. We sit through several painfully put together slides. I mean, this was the kind of slideshow that you’d politely tell your toddler you’re proud of. As the day progresses, I’m starting to get fidgety. I start trying to be on my phone without being on my phone (y’all know that dance!). But then Phil catches my attention when he leaves this question lingering in the air:

Can humans multitask?

It’s a question that has an obvious answer and no clear ties to Agile, but I entertain it anyway. I immediately start nodding my head yes. Hands down yes. I mean, just absolutely, without any explanation needed, yes.

I hear a male voice behind me shout out “No!” There’s no need to turn around as I recognize the voice to be a direct peer of mine. Phil turns to me and asks, “How do you multitask every day?” My mind goes into a panic as I am starting to realize all I do is watch TV on my couch. I’m regretting life decisions, I’m spiraling. Luckily, I’m bailed out by a woman who yells out “I can listen and comprehend a podcast while picking out vegetables in the grocery store”. Yes, girl! Preach! 

One of the engineers sitting next to me quietly said to the table “moms can!”

Phil’s not convinced and is dead set on discounting this notion that humans can multitask. He stops to blow his nose into the microphone before moving on. 

“People cannot multitask! When we say that people are multitasking, they are really just context switching.” He goes on to explain that humans can switch more quickly between things that require the least drastic changes in context. 

Ok, Captain.

I’m still waiting for the reasoning behind why we needed to discredit multitasking in order to teach Agile practices.

What’s that like?

Phil is a member of the White Man Clan. He’s been bolstered up his whole career. He’s been supported and promoted as an outstanding Agile trainer. I know this because I witnessed leadership support for him at my company where he doesn’t even work.

Women are champions of multitasking. This is why we often act as the glue that keeps the team pushing forward. We pick up the unwanted tasks, the annoying tasks, we follow up, we get answers, we report back. This is often referred to as “glue work”. This type of work is never accounted for on a career ladder yet it is fundamental to any team’s success. Because of this, doing it, disproportionately affects women in a negative way.

So Phil, I will just leave this right here:

deal with more than one task at the same time.

Thereby, context switching is one mechanism by which we are able to multitask. You’re welcome.