The Zen of Tech Office Design

Where you work matters.

Spend an hour with a group of developers and the debates will start. Open plan versus private offices. One monitor versus two or even three. Mac versus Windows. Laptop versus home-built desktop. Music preferences. The list goes on. There are even studies that purport to show how productivity changes with more display space, or that open plans decrease productivity. And all of those studies are roundly disputed.

In  the end, the ideal work environment is a very personal thing.

Here’s my desk.

I’m a consultant. I work here about two days a week, plus evenings and weekends. I’m at a client site two days a week, and one day a week I’m usually at meetings or working at my local library. Most of my coding work is Web development or working on Linux systems (hence, the Mac).

Let’s take a tour, shall we?

  • No paper. Paper on my desk drives me nuts. There’s a filing cabinet in a closet in the office. If at all possible, I’ll scan and toss paper. If I can’t, then it goes into the filing cabinet.
  • Yes, it’s a Mac. Specifically, it’s a 15-inch MacBook Pro. I’m not religious about operating systems, but I have grown highly dependent on SSH, awk, grep and the like. In addition, most of the software I develop is deployed on Linux boxes, and the toolchains translate more easily than they do from Windows. Plus, I have Windows available using VMWare — great for browser testing!
  • iPad and iPhone. You can’t see the phone because I used it to take this picture. A couple of my clients are creating software for these platforms, and it’s handy to have them available.
  • One Big Monitor. That’s a 27-inch cinema display. I prefer a single monitor when possible, and that gives me all the pixels I need. It’s a dream to work on. (I confess I don’t use full screen mode much.)
  • The LEGO guy in the background is made of actual LEGOs and is about two feet tall. He occasionally shows up as the user avatar in demos. He’s fun!
  • You can barely make out the plant behind the monitor. It’s a sort of spiky tree-like thing that holds the distinction of being the one kind of plant I haven’t killed. I do not have a green thumb. The greenery is nice, though.

What does your work environment look like? Share your pictures in the comments below.

No Responses to “The Zen of Tech Office Design”

  1. If I posted a picture of my desk it would drive you nuts; lots paper and other stuff. I like paper, AND I like bric-a-brac that reminds me of my real passions. After all, technology is only tool, it is not my life. If you were able to read the paper(s) you would note that much of it has nothing to do with tech stuff.

    When I worked in an office my desk was either “a mess” or very orderly depending on for whom I was working. Some positions were long term project oriented and hence my desk was clean except for the project docs, and I was not allowed to be interrupted. Other jobs had a strong bias toward technical support, and multiple competing priorities so the desk surface was not so orderly.

    Years ago I used a term emulator that allowed multiple sessions on a PC when I connected to the primary system(s). I’ve also worked with VTs that allowed multiple sessions, through which I would toggle as necessary. I chuckle when I view some work stations with multiple monitors, and understand that for some folks the toys are their life, and they hide behind the toys rather than interact with people.

    • Catherine Powell

      It probably would! I had a colleague for a while who was addicted to tiny sticky notes (about 1″x2″). His monitor was festooned with them, and they were piled up on his desk in some system that seemed completely organized to him and meant nothing at all to the rest of us. I couldn’t have dealt with his desk, but it worked very well for him.

      I used to keep a rubik’s cube on my desk, which I find really useful when I was thinking through a problem. It kept my hands busy so I wouldn’t start typing before I’d really thought through whatever it was. I keep it in a drawer now and pull it out when I need it.

      • Thanks for the response !

        The cube probably also kept you focused on the task you were solving. One reason I was not allowed to be interrupted with “not his project but will require him to contemplate the situation” was because once distracted it could take considerable time to retrace my steps to my previous position. Hence, I too kept “mindless” on or in my desk for those occasions when a build (what we called compile/link) would take several minutes or more.

  2. Top Coder

    I don’t know ANY developers that use only one monitor. Not really a debate on that one, everyone uses more than 1. I guess if they are a consultant at a client site that forbids 2 monitors they would use 1.

    • Unless you have eyes like a chameleon you can’t actually use more than one monitor at a time. Hence, except for being very trendy and cool, you (and all the developers you know) are simply taking up desk space with toys. I worked with a woman who had 6 sessions running on one monitor. I never had a need for more than 4.

      • Patrick,

        I will guess you are about 25YO, and your entire world is PCs, Windows and perhaps Macs, or “ix”. You’ve never seen an EBCDIC file, or a tape, perhaps not even a 3.5 disk. You need to get out more and expand your horizons. Move one of your monitors so you can see beyond your desk 😉

        I started out on PCs. Moved to mainframes, Then to minis. To minis and PCs. To PCs. To minis, To PCs. Matters not to me. They are only tools. People were the important part of my work. Funny thing is that my wide variety of experience spelled SUCCESS when folks with only PC experience were stopped dead in their tracks.