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Software development: Is it appropriate to tell my boss and coworkers that it is difficult for me to discuss specs verbally?

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Amie Khalifa


( 6 months ago )

I don't know if it's because of an undiagnosed learning disability or what, but discussing specs verbally is essentially impossible for me. While I'm still processing what someone has said, they've finished discussing three other things. I very quickly get lost in meetings because I just don't absorb information that way. It's a problem I've had my entire life-- I was never able to follow lectures in school. (And I have to use captions when watching tv.)

(Before someone suggests it-- It's not a loudness issue, so a hearing aid would only hurt my ears.)

At any rate, we're using YouTrack to keep track of issues, but it's not used exclusively. I get a lot of drop-bys-- my boss and my coworkers coming to explain their code, give tweaks to the specs, etc. I just can't follow any of it.

Is it appropriate for me to just outright tell them, "I'm sorry-- I'm never going to be able to remember this without a written explanation" or something like that? It sounds to me like it would be unreasonable to say something like that, but I'm at a loss for what else to do.

NeelKamal Jha


( 6 months ago )


First, realize that some people actively process information through discussing and talking through it. You presumably are not in this group, but some people are. In a generalized sense, this is an introvert vs extrovert processing situation.

My experience as an introverted processor - I cannot follow a fast moving, unguided conversation at all - is that most people who can do this are completely and utterly oblivious to the fact that others want a structured, defined, organized conversation, and are completely lost without it.

Second, the problem you are describing is not ever fully resolvable without a defined plan. There always will be things lost in those short conversations, even for people who are "good" at processing information verbally.

My recommendations are to address both pieces of this - meetings as well as drop by requests.

  • Have a meeting agenda and shared document to edit/create. Having a meeting agenda helps you be prepared for the discussion. Having a spec/doc that is updated realtime helps everyone to confirm and finalize the discussion
    • It is probably a good idea to also have meeting notes which get sent out after a meeting capturing any decisions regardless, too
    • I've found having meeting notes be updated as part of the meeting to be hugely beneficial, particularly when combined with an agenda
  • Request updates in writing. This is simple to do and something I (and nearly everyone else in technical fields) end up doing. It's just too easy to have things lost in translation. After talking about it, just ask, "can you confirm what you are asking in email/request/etc form so I can make sure I didn't misunderstand?"
    • You may have a formalized system for this or not, but even an email can be beneficial
    • Probably best to have a formalized system though, as much as people hate them issue trackers such as jira/redmine/etc solve this problem well. I'm not familiar with YouTrack but it appears to be good for this, you may want to create tickets for people as Dan Lyons suggests

These two suggestions should solve most of your issues.

I have similar, though perhaps not as extreme, issues as you do and on at least one project I've worked on with people who love verbal processing would have been completely lost without the above. I could not follow meetings at all and was overwhelmed in the "minor spec" requests. In my case I just used a shared OneNote workbook - but it was a small enough team this worked.

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