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Uncommonly Awesome Offices

After I read Joel's description of the new Fog Creek offices, I began to wonder how uncommon that kind of environment really is. Does anyone here work in a place that nice? With private offices, two windows that look outside, extra wide desk with covert cord management, etc, etc. And does anyone work somewhere nicer? What are average programmer working conditions?


Saturday, September 27, 2003

My best "office" was a big cool noisy lab that
i usually had all to myself.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

I have been moved approximately eight times in five years.  I have worked in a small training room that was never meant to be an office (though this was great because it was all programmers - a lot of Unreal: Tournament got played), various parts/floors of an open-plan office that was full, an open-plan office that was near-empty, a crap office that was out of my way (didn't go there) and my home (that's where I went instead of the crap office).

None of them even remotely compared to this.  With two network ports per floor box in most cases and some of them broken we actually have our own switch that we paid for supplying the necessary connectivity.  Our offices aren't awful but they are just standard offices for office workers as designed about 10 years ago or more in some cases.

Thomas David Baker
Sunday, September 28, 2003

I currently work in an office which was originally a farm and was converted into large office facilities.

It's OK. but by no way not fancy as FC's offices

Sunday, September 28, 2003

The worst was a cube near the entrance door in a builing undergoing refurbishment. Anytime someone came in to the office (50 people, lots of foot traffic), I'd get a blast of pneumatic drill echoing up the stairwell.

My home office - I'd give it 93/100: Amazingly Awesome. I've got two windows. One looks to the mountains, the other to the sea. Two big desks, three PCs, good quality window blinds, uplighting for the evenings. and a decent sound system. We get maybe a dozen cars going past in a day.

If I could afford to replace the noisy PCs with quieter ones, get a new coffee machine and some new chairs it would get 99/100.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

I used to work in an old training room with my team mates on the top floor of an office building. One side of the room was all windows looking over Lake Union in the Seattle. It was the best situation we ever had. Very quiet, dark (keep those bright lights off) and productive. There were only five of us and we got to configure our desks how we wanted. Naturally we all pointed to the window, which is something they usually don't do! Like all good things in a corporation, it came to an end soon enough. Since then, I have been working from home for the last three years. It has been a blast to be around my family, but like all good things in a corporation...

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Michael, it would be interesting to know what your experience has been.

The average software developer's working conditions are no where near as nice as the new FC offices appear to be.  Shared office space, cubicles, open-plan, bull-pen, or whatever, are the norm.  A few companies provide private offices, then mess them up by not paying attention to noise levels.

I have worked in a place that was that nice.  It didn't have exotic design with angled translucent walls, etc.  It was just four sheetrock walls, a door, a couple of windows, and some standard office furniture.  And it was reasonably quiet.  That is, it had the essentials of a good programming environment.

There are a few companies that have a reputation for providing decent workspace for their developers.  Microsoft and SAS are among the few large companies that do.  Most are small companies.  Unfortunately, small companies that are successful often get bought up by large companies.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

The dozen, or so, offices I have worked in have been the usual variations on industrial ugly.  However, I have always had a reasonably comfortable chair and the environments have always been reasonably quiet and nicely lit. 

Sunday, September 28, 2003

The best office I ever has was in my last job. It was on the 17th floor of one of the few tall buildings in the Christchurch  (New Zealand) CBD. It had large windows with a view toward the Port Hills so the soutch of the city. I had a very large workstation-style desk which felt even larger due to the fact that my monitor was an 18.1in Philips Flat panel (1280x1024). Most of the time I had the office to myslef until my last month there when I shared it with a marketing/sales guy who talked very loudly on the phone.

My boss' office was better. He had the corner office on the floor. His desk was the same size but he could see the Port Hills to the south and the mountains (currently snow covered) to the West. But his monitor was a Samsung 240. So he had a large desktop in the real and virtual worlds.

Unfortunately, I don't work there anymore due to a downturn in business. It was a great place to work. Good people (if not many of them) and fun projects. Unforunately we weren't making enough of a margin on them so something had to give.

Gordon J Milne
Sunday, September 28, 2003

Dunno about the "best" office, but my worst was a doozie.

Tin shed mounted on the wall in a steelworks. Long wooden bench with plastic stacking chairs. Dirty, horrid place to work.

That was also the one place I've ever worked where I was reprimanded for wearing casual clothes. I got tired of going to work in a clean white shirt and coming home in a grey/black shirt.

Andrew Lighten
Sunday, September 28, 2003

This is what I'm planning as my office for sometime in the Spring next year.

I'll lose one view over the heathland to the south that I have from the house but instead get one to the north of the hill behind the house and through the trees.

Simon Lucy
Monday, September 29, 2003

Their ability to spell the word "chalets" correctly in the first paragraph might inspire a bit more confidence though ;-)

Monday, September 29, 2003

Picky :-)

Simon Lucy
Monday, September 29, 2003

C'mon though, they are 'delightlfully designed'.

Monday, September 29, 2003

This runs counter to what everyone else is saying, but maybe my most enjoyable office was sitting on the trading floor of a bank in Pittsburgh.  Noisy as heck, but the banter between traders was always interesting.  Smart people in a competitive environment, who spent a lot of time trying to crack each other up (including some pretty good practical jokes).  TVs on the walls usually showing CNBC, unless Tiger was playing or the NCAA basketball tournament.

I was writing risk management systems for the traders, so I was always in the middle of my customers, which helped a lot in figuring out what they really wanted and needed.  The trading floor was the 27th floor in one of the taller buildings in Pittsburgh, so we had views of the Three Rivers and most of the rest of the city.  Towards the end of my time there I was given a cubicle, but found myself missing the trading floor.

Jim Rankin
Monday, September 29, 2003

mackinac, since you asked, here are the offices I've worked in:

First job, prototypically bad scenario: tiny cube where the programmers were lumped together with salespeople and everyone else. People yapping on the phone, constant interruptions, impossible to focus.

Next: Private office with a window and a door, average desk, chair, etc. Socially acceptable to close door when it was time to really crank out some code. Good.

Next: Another private office with window and a door. Again, average desk, chair, etc. This arrangement was quite nice because when I sat at my desk, I faced both the doorway (so people couldn't walk into my office and immediately see my screen) as well as the large window that looked over the city. Nearly ideal.

Currently: Private desk in a large room with three other people, one project manager, one designer, another programmer. This isn't as bad as one might expect, largely because of this particular group of people. Everyone is respectful, stays quiet. We sometimes wear headphones when it's time to concentrate. But it is always tempting to yell across the room when you have a question for someone, breaking them out of the flow, etc. I actually am enjoying the arrangement because it's fun being around people all the time -- private offices, while unbeatable for productivity, can make you feel isolated and lonely.

I also like the aesthetics of the current place the best. Although there is less square feet per person than my past jobs, the space is attractive, in an old historic building, with newly refinished hardwood floors and huge windows that overlook downtown. The furniture is colorful and comfortable. There's a couch, and soon to be a TV and Xbox. The sum of these things is significant because they make you want to be at work -- see Greenspun's article, which Joel quoted:

Monday, September 29, 2003

>>> mackinac, since you asked, ... <<<

Michael, thanks for replying.  It sounds like you have had some nice work spaces.

I have never felt lonely and isolated in a private office.  The ones I have worked in were close to other team members and were quiet enough that the doors usually stayed open.

I did have one shared office that made me feel somewhat isolated.  That was because there was a soda machine out in the hall and we had to keep the door closed all the time to shut out the noise.

Monday, September 29, 2003

i'm depressed. i just realized a main goal of people in my profession (myself included) is to have a "really nice office."

where did I go wrong?

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

I interned at Adobe years ago.  They had office on par with Joels for about 2000 employees.  They probably put some Herman Miller salesman into retirement with the number Aeron chairs, and guest chairs that they bought.  They had one feature I've never seen in any office ever since.  The ability to raise and lower the height of your desk surface(s).  It was also on of the first 100% 100BT installations anywhere.  Oh the good ole days. 

I now work in a nice office with a view of the forest.  Not as nice as Adobe, but nice enough.  Certainly better than most.

code monkey.
Tuesday, September 30, 2003

>>They had one feature I've never seen in any office ever since.  The ability to raise and lower the height of your desk surface(s). 

I have a desk that can do that. When I need to stretch my legs I can moved the desk surface up and work standing up for some time. Yeah, thats pretty nice.

It's a shame the desk is located in a huge open office though...

Glenn. B. Hansen
Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Hmmmm.... Adobe.... nice productive offices for programmers and they OVERWHELMINGLY DOMINATE their market segment. Hmmmmm..... Microsoft... nice productive offices for programwers and they OVERWHELMINGLY DOMINATE their market segment. Hmmmm.... SAS.... nice productive offices for programmers and....

Move along! No pattern here, nothing to see folks, move along now! Veal fattening pens and outsourcinig is the way to go!

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Which results in:

Most companies do not have problems attracting smart, productive people.

Most companies *do* have problems KEEPING smart, productive people.


Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Actually Dennis, you've got to factor into the equation all the companies that gave their staff great  offices and then folded because the cost was too high (Ars Digita, boom)

And then there's the question of whether MS and 'Adobe make billions because they have nice offices, or can afford to pay for nice offices because they make billions.

And on another tack, I do suspect programmers get lousy offices in many companies because somewhere along the line office space was decided by those who had read management books about how it should be a symbol of your relative importance in the company.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

>>> you've got to factor into the equation all the companies that gave their staff great  offices and then folded because the cost was too high<<<

The incremental cost difference between a cubicle farm and nice private offices is only a few percent of a developer's salary.  Unless maybe you're in New York City.  The FC office seem to be quite pricey.

>>> And then there's the question of whether MS and 'Adobe make billions because they have nice offices, or can afford to pay for nice offices because they make billions. <<<

A good question.  The history of these companies will tell us something about that.  Any company that I know of with private offices started out that way.  That is just one characteristic of a company culture that values quality in their work.  Which has something to do with how they managed to grow and make billions.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

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