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Why Quit? Because the other company has bigger monitors. (kloninger.com)
301 points by sefk on May 18, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 241 comments

For the engineers I've hired onto my team, I insist they be provided the very things that I want as an engineer:

  - Two big monitors
  - New dev machine/laptop, running latest bits
  - A top-of-the-line chair
  - Some natural light (not to be confused with *natty light*)
These are the non-negotiable items, and having taken a few senior mgmt positions, it's now something I state upfront: this is how we roll, no exceptions.

There's a second tier, depending on the environment: personal whiteboards. This is a function of the physical space, obviously; but anytime someone has a brilliant idea, I don't want them waving hands in front of me, I want expo markers flying around.

Aside from standard company stuff, that's it. And it's across the board -- everyone gets this. Everyone is valued, because your time is valued. I expect a lot from my team, and don't want anything petty getting in the way -- especially a few pieces of hardware and furniture that are negligible compared to the cost of the engineer.

It might not be everything in the world, but it sure seems to keep everyone happy because they are seriously productive.

Natural light can't be emphasized enough. I just moved to a window-less fluorescent fishbowl shared by three analysts/developers, and I've never had so many headaches.

I hate natural light and windows; give me a windowless room where I can set the temperature, light level, etc. exactly, independent of time of day.

The first thing after "private offices for anyone who wants them" is "24x7 HVAC adjustable as close to individually as possible"; I have a shared office in an invite-only coworking space which I largely don't use because the HVAC shuts off at 6pm and is on again at 9am, with huge windows -- it's barely ok in the evenings/mornings during the week, but unusable on weekends.

Maybe it's not possible if you're sharing a room, but in the past I was in a similar situation with regard to natural light. I turned off the ceiling fluorescents and brought in incandescent desk and floor lamps. It made the room much more comfortable and got rid of my headaches.

Another thing is desk position, I hate working at a desk that is right in the corner of the room staring directly at a blank wall.

adding two more to the list - peace and quiet, and as less meetings as possible

Big monitors, small offices. Give me a room where I can close the door. I'll share it with one other person, but it can't be a tight fit. If you expect me to work while you're interrupting me every 5 minutes, then you don't really expect me to be productive. Also good- conference rooms for ad hoc meetings. (Maybe for the people who like to work together in a room they can take over a conference room or whatever.... make your layout flexible enough.)

One company, when I was hired, asked me to tell them exactly what I wanted computer wise-- I was quite impressed with that. No more being forced to use crappy windows computers, I specified a MacBook Pro, etc. They said "whatever you want, within reason."

But I remember... years of fighting to have decent sized monitors. I think two big monitors is good, three might be a bit better. It seems displays these days are shockingly cheap compared to the value they offer over even just one year.

Yeah, the office thing has always been a function of available space for us. Some of our folks want complete isolation, others like an open environment. I've always tried to accommodate personal preferences, so I try to pull that from folks as we work together. Sometimes, what somebody wanted last year changes with this year; I try to be accommodating to allow everyone to change around; no need letting the workplace get stale, when simple movement can solve a problem.

I always give our engineers their choice of platform -- windows, osx, linux, whatever. I count on them to make sure they have the environment available to develop on. It's up to them to make sure they can work locally. (Shared services like data/caching/etc. are of course handled remotely.)

Our last few hires requested 17-inch Macbook Pro laptops, with dual Thunderbolt displays. Done. I do not sit around wondering if the cost of the tool is worth the expense, as it simply doesn't compare to the cost of the time of the engineer involved. Even if anyone might consider the developer is getting the "better end of the deal", I don't care -- I trust my team to produce. I just simply refuse to let hardware get in the way of potential output.

BTW: if a developer wants three monitors vs. two...great. Again, I trust my team and I have faith in them to make good business decisions about resources. Somebody tells me they want three monitors, it's a task delegated to our asset team. Done.

I'm envious, that's very enlightened. I've mentioned to my current and past bosses the fact that not everyone wants to work in a romper room environment and would actually prefer quiet instead, only to receive incredulous responses. The ability to recognize that your own preferences might not be optimal for everyone else is a surprisingly rare skill.

You sounds like a very enlightened manager. I particularly like your point about evaluating the situation periodically. People's preferences change over time and it's great that you try to adjust as they do.

I don't get this new obsession with "let's just put everyone in a giant room so they can collaborate". I think it's a cop-out to not get bigger/better laid out offices.

Developers need to write code either alone or in pairs. Large places breed interruptions, killing productivity. All these experimental ideas with unassigned offices where anyone uses them when they need to don't work either because people will simply squat on them.

If you want your developers to do actual work instead of being distracted, give them individual offices + lots of shared meeting space with whiteboards. This is the gold standard. Anything less (e.g.: n developers per office) will reduce productivity.

Here's my formula:

  productivity = hours_per_week * total_developers * (baseline + (1-baseline)/(avg_developers_per_office^ALPHA))
Where baseline is the minimum fraction (0 to 1) of work a developer can get done even while being distracted at all times, and ALPHA is a constant left to the reader to determine. productivity is measured in useful hours per week for the whole team.

In my experience (in bigger companies), if you get to know (to a level of trust) the real estate people and then happen to ask them, they'll tell you the decision is top down and cost-driven. 100%. It's all about square feet (meters) / employee.

That would be the immediate, upfront cost. A real/realistic assessment of expected employee productivity is hard to find. (Though reference to various external "studies" and "assessments" may be made. "Best practices", "industry standards/norms", etc.)

The internal publicity is heavily or entirely about "collaboration" and "facilitation" and "workflow", etc. Whatever. Just ask the people over in real estate (if they trust you).

Some people prefer an open office environment. I know I do. I just from a job where our whole team sat in one room to a place where we all have our own offices. I kind of hate it. It's not that I'm any more/less productive, it's that all kinds of other conversations just don't happen.

"Did you see that article on hacker news about X?" "Hey, what do you guys think about this design?"

All of that stuff can happen, but you have to force it to happen by leaving your office. It doesn't happen as naturally. You might think of these as distractions, but I think these are the type of interactions that make people more invested and passionate.

Also, I get WAY more distracted when I have my own office. I find it really easy to just sit and browse the Internet instead of working. When my peers are around me it's harder to get lost on the Internet because I don't want to look like a slacker.

To each their own. I can understand the advantages and disadvantages of both.

What's new about it? It's rare these days to get your own office for any job. Open plan somehow took over all the workplaces to all our detriment.

I think the relatively recent thing is putting everyone in an open room with nothing really separating you from the person sitting at the long table next to you, as opposed to putting people in cubicles which at least have a tiny suggestion of separation.

I'm not sure it's a new obsession -- I've worked in those environments eons ago.

We have a combination of open environment + offices now, with several people sharing offices. Privacy quite often leads to productivity, but I've found it ebbs and flows with people over time. Sometimes a few folks need to be out in the atrium or in the common area, it just really depends. No judgment from us, if they want to crawl in the vent and work, get to climbing!

We always try to make sure we can accommodate most everyone's wishes for workspaces.

I agree that distraction and interruption are giant problems, but I don't think that private offices are the only way to solve that.

I'm much happier in team spaces, where everybody who's involved is nearby. You do have to be disciplined to make it a good environment for coding. E.g., requiring that off-topic conversations happen elsewhere, and that people be generally quiet and respectful. But it can definitely work, and it makes collaboration 10x easier.

One of my summer jobs needed a lot of stapling. Everything I did ended up being stapled to something else.

The stapler broke. A nice stapler costs just £10. It will last, with care, ten years.

I ask for a stapler. I get given a nasty plastic[1] bit of rubbish. It breaks after half a day. I use my minimum wage to buy myself a stapler.

I learn to hate that employer.

[1] the plastic was nasty - that translucent coloured plastic popular when iMacs appeared.

>No more being forced to use crappy windows computers

I laughed at this part of your post.

I want to work with you.

I've currently got a ~4' whiteboard, a ~13" laptop with a ~15" 4:3 monitor attached to it in my cube.

Takes some getting used to compared to the IdeaPaint-covered WALL at my home office and the two 24" widescreens.

I have a whiteboard wall at my office. Let me make a recommendation.

Don't do it. Paint your wall white, or whatever, and get a big sheet of glass (or a few). Mount that sucker on the wall.

Glass doesn't suck up color the way whiteboards do, and it's easy as hell to clean. It's also cheap as all get out - it's a big sheet of sand, after all. And you can do nifty things - arduino, RGB LED, mild paper backing, and you've got a damn mood-light / whiteboard :)

Anyway, I recommend this to everyone I know that talks about this. A company we sub for in VA did this because I was in town when they were planning the whiteboards for their new office, and they love it.

Actual "glass whiteboards" are tremendously expensive - we're talking thousands of dollars. They seem really slick. Are you doing a DIY sort of thing, like this: http://www.ikeahackers.net/2012/01/not-expensive-glass-white...


We have a bunch of Ikea glass-top desks, which at first I thought would be lousy. Turns out the glass is far better on your skin than the various other finishes of wood-type desks (the ones from Ikea).

But, huge side benefit -- people are writing notes, designs, etc. all over their desks. It's very cool.

Or buy a huge piece of shower board for $12 and mount that on the wall.

I read this and think back...

The only ones who got dual monitors were management and HR. One of our developers wanted two monitors - he was told to go buy them himself, so he did.

Whiteboard? More frequent is post-it notes.

Current development equipment - Was doing kernel development in 2003 on Pentium 75s.

"he was told to go buy them himself, so he did."

Which is a problem in itself. I understand he needed another monitor. But buying it himself shows the management that they have absolutely no need to invest in that, if devs are ready to buy it themselves in the end.

Valuing an employee's time is definitely something that should be considered.

But even taken a few steps further than "I need another monitor to increase productivity", and you're floating dangerously close to self-entitlement, and simple, pathetic whining.

At Yahoo, I distinctly remember a thread on devel-random where one employee, in a single post, complained about things like how ugly the color scheme of the walls were, the fact that buildings in Mercado had too many floors, so when he left work, he has to stop at all the floors, and that the parking lot had flies that would get stuck in his hair gel. He called Yahoo the "worst place in the world to work at" because of this. It was incredibly sickening how ridiculous the email was.

The employer-employee relationship is a balance. If it swings too far in one direction where the employees get their ass kissed every day, then you breed self-entitled spoiled brats that are intolerable to work with. If it swings too far towards the employer, you get a dictatorship. I've worked in both environments, and neither of them are any good.

But to quit because you think that monitors are a litmus test about the engineering culture is ridiculous and is more of a reflection on you than the engineering culture. If you have a problem, solve it like an adult. It sounds like the employee didn't even mention it to his boss until he left. (It also sounds like the boss didn't bother asking the employee at their 1:1's about what they thought needed changing, or maybe he was just unapproachable.) Maybe it was just an oversight, maybe they didn't have the money, who knows. Life in general is a lot easier if you're flexible and less of a prima donna and go with the flow. To keep quibbling over the minutiae and extrapolate that to mean something more than it is, to me, is more whining than anything else.

> It also sounds like the boss didn't bother asking the employee at their 1:1's about what they thought needed changing, or maybe he was just unapproachable.

I'm an owner / CTO of a consultancy, and this point always frustrates me. We are only 12 or so employees, and we're all very comfortable with one another (we'll have game nights at the office, watch the GSL, etc). Still, when me and my partner have a 1:1 or talk to the employees, about 80% of them will not tell us their concerns or things they need.

It's a huge problem for us - we are very interested in spending our money on benefits, etc. that people care about, rather than just guessing, but it's virtually impossible to do this. Story time:

We had a designer leave recently (I <3'd him, awesome guy) to go work somewhere else, and a huge part of his decision, in the exit interview, was about a difference in health insurance between the two places. We had met with him 2 months prior EXPLICITLY to ask him (and other employees) if they wanted us to pursue any changes to health insurance, and were universally told that our existing benefits in that regard were fine.

We have since modified our health insurance to be just fantastically good, because apparently this was a concern (and we've had to forego a few other things in order to be able to afford it). But the point is, this is a guy that I was friends with, and he just would not tell me what weight to give the health insurance benefit vector.

It's maddening because I'm a very data-driven guy, and for whatever reason I can't get good data on employee concerns to save my life. Does anyone have any pointers here?

Coming from the UK, I'm always amazed at how important health insurance is in the US, and what a broad range of quality of healthcare there is. Our company provide a free, private healthcare (BUPA), but I've never felt the need to use it.

Recently, I had surgery for an ACL tear. Unfortunately, for some reason, it later went septic. The day the consultant found it was septic he rushed me into surgery that afternoon and I spent the next 6 nights on IV antibiotics, followed by a course of oral antibiotics. At no point did I have to worry about how much all this cost - and I didn't ring BUPA just because I couldn't be bothered and it was all perfectly satisfactory care.

When I was a kid I had extremely bad asthma. A new respirator type device had just been invented and I was one of the first in the North West to have one. These things cost thousands of pounds at the time and there's no way my parents would have been able to afford it, but they got it loaned to them completely free. It quite possibly saved my life.

I used to think how lucky I was that I wasn't born in some third world country where I would probably not have survived, but recently I've started to be glad I wasn't born in the US.

You guys really need to sort this out.

All that would likely have happened in the US also. Most people have health insurance. The ones who don't still get medical care, it just costs them money. If they don't have the money, they can settle with the hospital on a payment plan they can afford. It's definitely not perfect, but it's not as bad as it seems at first glance. I'll see posts about people's 30,000 dollar hospital bill, but in reality they'll never end up paying that much.

I work for one of the top 10 hospitals in the United States. Our health insurance, ironically, isn't all that great. Co-pays are relatively high, certain things not covered, etc. So it got me thinking about health insurance and how it affects us (US residents), in comparison to our European counterparts.

One may argue that Europe went too far with their "social" expenses (hence, the current financial meltdown). Possibly. However, their view of healthcare (education, and other items) as a BASIC human right is one I strongly believe in. Healthcare should NOT be a luxury item. Yet, it is treated as such in the US. Almost exactly a year ago, I had a bike accident right off the Golden Gate Bridge. For 10 minutes I was limping my way to Sausalito until I happened to run into a police officer who thought I should be picked up by an ambulance to taken to the hospital (although they suspected that I had a concussion, broke my arm and shoulder, I came out with just scratches). I HAVE insurance, but for weeks after this injury, I was opening my mailbox at home, expecting a $20K bill (just the 15 minute ambulance ride was $2000). I was absolutely terrified. Imagine... and I HAVE insurance. Luckily, I ended up paying just a few co-pays, and the issue was resolved.

One of the benefits of a great employer in the US (like you have -- Microsoft, for example) is "Health insurance, Dental covered" etc. That's how they post it in job boards. Shouldn't health insurance be a given??

To your argument that things are settled through loans, etc: I am utterly against it. Obviously, statistics show that these things don't work. The hospital I work for serves an under-served population. People suffering from chronic diseases and who should be seeing a doctor on a regular basis do not. Why? Cost. They end up showing up in the ER with a MAJOR issue months later. Their condition is much more complicated to treat, and significantly costlier. So, we "saved" on a silly, cheap follow-up, but ended up spending a huge amount later. And guess what? These patients can't pay their bill anyhow, so we have to write the expense off.

I am familiar with quite a few people who would have loved to change their jobs, or even start their own business, but are too worried about losing their health insurance benefits. Is that the right way to go for the US? Probably not.

[edited: put it initially under the wrong parent. text left as is]

>One may argue that Europe went too far with their "social" expenses (hence, the current financial meltdown).

I'm not sure Greece in particular went too far, as such; isn't the problem that they've got a massive epidemic of tax evasion, and no political will to tackle it? If they were enforcing the tax laws on the books, maybe they'd have the money to pay for the services they're providing.

>So, we "saved" on a silly, cheap follow-up, but ended up spending a huge amount later. And guess what? These patients can't pay their bill anyhow, so we have to write the expense off.

Hear, hear.

> One may argue that Europe went too far with their "social" expenses (hence, the current financial meltdown)

One may argue that if she has no understanding of the European financial meltdown, and just wants to find evidence for the failure of the welfare state where there is none. The crisis happened primarily because of the Spanish real estate crisis, and it became exacerbated because of (1) structural flaws in the monetary union and (2) imposition of rapid austerity.

As for the rest, I agree.

> One may argue that if she has no understanding of the European financial meltdown, and just wants to find evidence for the failure of the welfare state where there is none

There there. Relax. I was not arguing that the social measures were the only cause of the financial meltdown. They are, probably, a contributing factor. You brought up Spain, which in particular, I am quite familiar with due to personal relations with a Spanish. Real estate was the major factor (as it was in the US), that is true. However, when Spanish citizens tell me they show up at the ER for a sore throat because the ER is closer to work/fit their schedule/whatever instead of setting an appointment with a doctor, I think that's a big "social" expense that could and should be avoided. Why do they do that? Because it's free! So who cares, right? There's nothing wrong with providing free health insurance (and I'm a big advocate for it), but showing up to the ER without a reason should be penalized.

Also, when I hear that people who have no desire to work (because they're homemakers, for example) show up at the unemployment office simply to collect unemployment or just to be eligible to "fun" courses (to fill up their days), that's a social expense (in Spain, if you're unemployed, even for an extended period of time, the government will pay for all kinds of courses, be it knitting, accounting, or something else). Those are expenses that affect a country's well-being. I AM all for these things. But that's what I meant that they may have gone too far.

Health insurance in the US is highly variable. Many plans expect consumers to pay a substantial portion of their medical bills. The term "underinsured" tries to capture this segment of the population that is nominally insured but in reality would incur huge bills if they took advantage of their insurance. And while some people manage to get out of paying their bills by exploiting HIPAA, most just take the massive hit to their credit and walk away from it. So no they don't end up paying that much, but the stress and economic fallout they endure is nothing to wave away either.

But, still, medical bills are a major (#1?) cause of bankruptcy. And our health outcomes are significantly worsened by how many people never get preventative care.

I think the data you're looking for has to come from having good relationships with your employees. For example, did you know the following about your ex-designer:

1) Is he married or looking to get married? 2) Does he have kids or plan to have them soon? 3) Has he had any serious health issues in his family (e.g. history of heart disease)?

Obviously, those type of questions can get you in trouble if they are asked on an employer->employee basis. But in the course of really getting to know someone, those types of things will come up. It's then on you to think about what you'd want in that situation and do it for them.

So if ex-designer was planning on having kids, you might consider the cost of the family plan and be willing to splurge on that at the expense of the beer and snacks budget (or something focused on single people).

My main problems with employers have been their ignorance and/or lack of concern about what is important to me. I had one company that bragged about fully paying for our health insurance. Well, the owners of the company all had several kids. I didn't even have a girlfriend at the time. Health insurance as a young, healthy, single guy was barely even on my radar. That was easily accessible data (which they had), and yet they didn't act on it at all.

Simply, put yourself in their shoes and ask, "What would I want in this situation?" Considering you were friends with the ex-designer, my thought would be that you could have probably spent more time thinking about what he wanted instead of just asking. For some reason, many people won't speak up about what they want. Many times they themselves don't know until someone shows it to them.

My 2 cents.

Elicit anonymous feedback. It's hard (for me, at least) to complain face-to-face, especially to someone who writes your checks.

Ditto. Also, from previous managers they may have learned that criticism, even constructive criticism, is a great way to bag a negative performance review. Such effects need to be accounted for.

Getting people to open up is a skill. It's also much easier to do with peers.

Honestly, it's enough of a skill that I can't give you "quick pointers"-but check out the book The Charisma Myth, and pay special attention to Focus Charisma. That's the skill that you need to get people to open up about all their problems & concerns.

Cultivate a less intimidating environment. I jabber all week and clam up in a 1, even with a nice manager. ask people to write down their thoughts during he week, email them to you or jot down notes, then discuss the notes in the 1:1. And if you ever show a hint of condescension or retaliation for feedback, it will never appear again.

Sounds like your guy left because he wanted to leave, and the insurance was a made-up excuse.

Oh, I see. People just randomly leave. Of course! No need to look further, nothing that could have been done.

That's a big load off my mind. Thanks for pointing this out :)

Not sure why this sounds so incredulous. I have left (or even better, been laid off and happy to collect severance) more than once. It's not strictly "random" of course, it usually comes down to boredom and need for change but the bottom line is that indeed nothing could have been done.

Yeah, there's also "an excellent opportunity arose," and "time for a new challenge," or "looking for a bigger/smaller, riskier/stable team/company/toaster/product.

N.B. I use the term employer throughout where it really can also mean manager or generally anyone responsible for figuring out what employees would value as compensation/perks.

One thing I've noticed being an employee is that when employers try to get feedback in how to compensate their employees or what kind of perks they can additionally offer the question asked is usually, "Is there anything I can do to make you happy?" That question is vague and oftentimes sounds like it should be answered in the negative. The employee doesn't want to look needy of course. Instead, the employer should ask, "Hey, are you happy with your hardware? You've been messing a lot with databases lately. Do you have enough RAM? Do you want some extra disks to mess with different RAIDs or filesystems?" or maybe, "Do you think we should get developers a second monitor? I really don't mind spending the money, it just never occured to me until now that it might be useful." Once an employer actually opens up a dialogue with an explicit offer or idea, the feedback the employer wants to hear will much more likely flow naturally.

More specifically with a topic such as health insurance, I as an employee need to be given some idea of what options are on the table when it comes to "improving" my health insurance plan. Are we talking about the employer paying more of the insurance or perhaps am I concerned about the lack of a plan that offers an unlimited lifetime benefits clause.

I feel my job as an employee is to do work that adds value to the company. If the company wants to genuinely add value to my well-being, but wants it to be more thoughtful or mutually beneficial than a raise, the ball's in their court to be creative and come up with a list of starter ideas. Now I'm not averse to thinking of what would be useful, but a vague email, or even a 1 on 1 asking me what can be improved is unfortunately not going to get any feedback because my mind really won't turn its attention to thinking about that for the time necessary. A personal anecdote offered in lesson form:

A CEO of a startup may hold a discussion on company offered stock options, to fill in people on how it works on a compensation level. When questions come up that the CEO does not feel comfortable answering (considering he's not a certified accountant), a normal CEO will advise you to ask an accountant (accountant? I'm 22 years old, I don't have an accountant, should I take off work hours to find an accountant, go to an accountant and ask him/her?). A creative CEO will get an accountant in the office for a day and schedule those with questions to have a 1 on 1 meeting.

I'm sure I'm just telling you things you already know, but I think it's worth reminding. When you want to try to understand the thought process behind someone's actions, put yourself in their shoes.

Okay. So now you're an employee who has been asked by his employer what he needs. Maybe you'd like higher pay/greater compensation. Do you have the bargaining power for greater pay? Would asking for greater pay indicate dissatisfaction to your employer? Maybe you don't want to communicate dissatisfaction. So maybe it's best to just say that everything is fine and keep working until you find a better position.

So maybe now you've found another position with more compensation. Do you hold a proverbial gun to your employer's head and say "greater compensation or I leave"? Is there any acceptable way of asking for more with no real way of promising anything in return?

I appreciate your efforts in trying to keep the lines of communication open, but maybe if you want information, you should give some in return. Something like "we still have $100k left to spend in employee benefits. How would you like this allocated? Pay? Insurance plan? Company party?" Or maybe you can offer choices. "Would you rather we increase 401k matching by 3%? Increase pay by 1%? etc" And obviously give them time to respond (so that they can consider things, discuss things, etc) It might be a pain, but if that's still not acceptable, and you still want more data, I doubt you'll get data asking directly from your employees what amounts to "do you want more stuff?" and "what more stuff do you want?".

If you find success with something though, whether it was something I suggested or not, please let us know!

I am not so sure that the situation is as simple as that. My perception is that these tiny issues are usually symptoms of an underlying reason why there is no longer (if there ever was) a fit between the company and a person. I think what happens is that once a person consciously or not realizes that this underlying reason has come up, all these tiny things start becoming more and more irritating, until the person explodes.

Mercado -> Mission College?

You have to admit the color scheme was really bad.

And weren't there giant freaky spiders infesting the main campus?

My main memory of the main campus was (aside from the depressed-looking employees) the inexplicably birdshit-splattered sidewalks and pathways.

you'd think that at the very least the spiders would have done something about the flies in the parking lot!

you're floating dangerously close to self-entitlement, and simple, pathetic whining

Developers acting like this, and getting away with it, should ring the bubble alarm bells. It's how it was in the 90s too.

There have been entitled office workers for a very long time, regardless of how well the office might be doing.

this developer was at Yahoo, which burst long ago.

I can't imagine how a second monitor could improve productivity for anyone. What would you display on it other than a distracting irc room or twitter feed? Technological hubris at it's most despicable I say :)

I have three monitors and it saves me a tonne of headache. Left to right: 1. (Ubuntu) Project Firebug Browser, Reference Browser, FTP 2. (Ubuntu) Source Editor, Email, Console 3. (Win 7) Photoshop, IE Tester, MS Office junk

I can easily live with two, but there was a spare old monitor kicking about, so I absconded with it. With only one monitor, I spend a lot of clicking through the task bar trying to figure out what window I need next. With lots of monitors, I'm able to remain focused by just glancing back and forth between monitors.

• Editor on one monitor, running application on the other.

• Editor on one monitor, documentation on the other.

• More source code at once.

I mean, seriously, have you never run out of screen real estate when you have five source code files, a web inspector window, and a browser window open?

There seems to be a clear dividing line. On one hand you have things that benefit productivity-- like monitors and good chairs and a decent work environment. On the other hand you have convenience petty complaints like the flies in the parking lot or too many floors in the buildings.

Good management should be able to tell the difference between the two and at least score well on the productivity relevant ones. In my career I've been regularly surprised just how penny wise and pound foolish management can be in this regard.

To tell the difference between the two is the problem. An understanding of decent work environment varies from person to person. Is it better to have small or large offices? I'd say the larger the better, having working people around helps me concentrate. Does coffee benefit productivity? I'd say it certainly does not (contrast to a good nap at the right moment), and probably isn't very good for health. Now, if I'm a manager, do I put all employees in large spaces without a coffee machine around? Probably a bad idea.

IMO it's more important for the management to recognize and fulfill employee's real needs. Give people what they need before they ask for it. Because some would ask for wrong things (e.g., not knowing that the company can provide a better solution to their problem), and others will never ask for anything, continuing to suffer in silence.

> Does coffee benefit productivity? I'd say it certainly does not (contrast to a good nap at the right moment), and probably isn't very good for health.

I know this isn't the point of your comment, but I had to point out this recent study that begs to differ.


Well it suggests? That study had minimal controls for correlating factors, only alcohol and red meat, nothing about careers and lifestyles that correlate to coffee consumption. Less likely to die from "accidents" is an especially suspicious measurement.

i bet you're a blast to work with.

The monitors, I totally understand and agree with. That's about actual productivity.

But choosing your own e-mail address? There must be a thousand little details like that in my life, every day, that I have no control over, like the color of my desk, or the sound of a coworker's voice. By all means, try to find a workplace that suits you the best, but if a seemingly tiny detail like that bothers you so much, unless company policy turns your e-mail address into something offensive, I can't help but feel you're going to have a hard time being happy anywhere.

Am I the only one who's literally never thought about their corporate e-mail address form before?

At Google your username appears everywhere. In mail, code reviews, chat, irc - everywhere. I know some of my colleagues by their username only, I don't even remember their real names.

When we start we get to specify three usernames in order of preference. You are given the first one that is available. It means a lot to me to be adg@google.com.

Interesting... Considering Google+ at some point did not allow nicknames.

kind of different, considering gmail has always allowed nicknames. you'd have a point if google let you pick the name on your paycheck.

Does gmail allow general public to register usernames that are less than six characters now?

do you really want your raw email available publically?

I've been posting my e-mail addresses in plaintext all over the web for a good decade and a half. I still use those same addresses. I see no spam. Spam filters work.

Why are people afraid of having their e-mail address out there without obfuscation?

I also remember reading a while back that trying to disguise your email with the "username (at) gmail (dot) com" approach is worse than just putting the raw email out there because it's not only just as easy to sniff out on the page, but you can also search for it in search engines: try searching for "at gmail dot com" vs "@gmail.com" in various search engines

edit: source: http://varenhor.st/2010/01/email-at-domain-dot-com-is-making...

Yes , interestingly enough the first assignment on the stanford NLP online course is too write an email harvester that finds those email addresses.

Back when Usenet and mailing lists were the medium for most of the important conversations on the internet (that is, before 1994 or 1995) if you tried to post to Usenet or a mailing list with an obfuscated email address, people would complain (in replies to your post) if the admins running Usenet or the mailing list let your post through at all.

This was enforced with various levels of strictness.

DE usenet is still pretty strict about not allowed munged email addresses, and only allowing you to use an address that you have control of.

Other bits of Usenet would tolerate carefully munged From headers, but insist on empty or real Reply-to headers. (Reply to wasn't returned in a simple header retrieval, meaning it wasn't as often scraped. And it was optional. So either have it real, or don't have it at all.) Other bits didn't care what you did.

Since poorly munged email addresses could cause considerable amounts of spam to be sent to that address it's fair enough to remind people not to inadvertently use another person's real email address.

email filters then were not great; email addresses were scraped; downloading a lot of headers over lousy dial-up was annoying; and huge mailboxes was rare.

>Other bits of Usenet would tolerate carefully munged From headers

before 1994?

No, sorry. I should have said it was later than 1994; probably around 1998.

I get a boatload of spam daily. On gmail.

Did you turn off or otherwise adjust spam filtering? Otherwise, I don't believe you.

At my last job (large, successful startup) I got the wildcard mail and got close to zero spam. Gmail spam filtering definitely works very well.

Insanely well. I've been posting publicly as dmd@3e.org for 16 years now, and at a few other addresses that forward to that for 22. All of that mail goes to gmail. My spam folder gets ~600 messages per day. I get a false-negative (spam in inbox) about once a month. I check for false-positives (ham in spambox) pretty regularly, but haven't ever found one.

I use Gmail, but I definitely get spam. I get false-positive spam all of the time (mailing lists I'm on have a decent chance of going to the spam box), and whenever a spammer has 'Google' in the email title, it has about a 60% chance of being a false-negative (i.e. showing up in the inbox). I also get false-negatives on spam when there is just a title and message body.

Perhaps Gmail's spam filters are mostly based on how you train them, so people who receive more email get a better filter?

Who cares about how much it filters out? The question is how much false positives does it have? And google most definitely are not good enough to even be usable in that department. If you never know if you've missed something you have to constantly check the filtered mails as well, making the spam filtering much worse than nothing.

If you rely on something as blunt as gmail spam filtering you don't take emailing seriously.

Nope. I don't mess with it. I am using GAFYD though.

Very interesting! I wonder if spammers steer clear of @gmail.com addresses to prevent Google's algorithms from learning about their spam. (If so, they probably want to steer clear of GAFYD addresses, too, but maybe they don't know how to identify them).

yeah, spammers don't know how to make a DNS query

Every year I get 3-5 nigerian-type spam in my gmail inbox. The most recent one use google group to deliver the spam.

I don't care.

It's really not that big of a deal. More people should do it, especially constituent-friendly people.

A good test of Gmail filtering abilities, I suppose.

May I ask how many letters there are in your last name? Mine has nine letters, and it killed me to work somewhere that my username was "mschiral" and I had to type most of it but then stop two letters early.

It's like Shave and a Haircut without the "two bits".

I have a similar issue where most of the time 'surname+first_initial' means I end up with the last letter of my Surname being cut off. This becomes really annoying as because the email address is structured that way, my name on documents starts cropping up with the typo as well (as people will often just check the email address for the spelling)

> It's like Shave and a Haircut without the "two bits".

This is what makes me miss working at reddit.

Where I work, your username is automatically assigned in this fashion:

First letter is U or V depending on whether you are temp or perm employee. Next 4 letters are first 4 of last name. Final two letters are first 2 of first name.

I'm vmamema

Nice to meet you

Be grateful your name's not Ashton Agincourt.

Great example of one of the most frustrating cases I've seen. Thanks.

It might not be important to you, but I don't think the article is saying that it has to be. I think it's a good yardstick, though, for taking the 'temperature' of the sorts of policies and the kind of work environment you're about to be standing in if you decide to take a job.

As someone recently said to me when I asked if their e-mail address was "firstname.lastname@" -- "Please, we're still a startup; firstname@ is fine." It's a part of the corporate culture, no matter how small, and I suspect if you dig deeper you'll easily find other seemingly trivial but illustrative examples of how people think and work in a company.

In some large Silicon Valley companies, "firstname@company.com" is a badge of honor because it indicates that you were an employee back when the company was small. New employees don't receive that option at some point.

Yep, that's how it works with my employer. Typically, your email address and network ID are setup prior to your first day, which doesn't bother me much since what I got matches what I'm used to using.

Exactly jclulow -- it's a clue. Thanks for explaining.

Nowadays web email services like Gmail set the minimum standard for how email should work. You should be able to choose your email address from what's available, and also create new email addresses whenever you need them (with self service).

If the corporate email system cannot provide service that is as good, then people will start using services like Gmail instead. I see it happen all the time.

Personally I also regard it a sign of cluefulness to have an email address with very short local part. I always hated Gmail's 6-char minimum limit for usernames.

Recently I volunteered for a political campaign, and I signed in with a pen and wrote my email address on the sign-in page. It's mylastname@gmail.com. The campaign director saw this and said to me, "how were you able to get that address?" I said, "I've had Gmail since the day it was offered to the public in 2004." He said, "wow." Not a big deal to me, but email namespaces matter. I totally agree with the OP.

I have heard it many times here and elsewhere, but customized email addresses are a huge boon for having your own domain that I'm discovering.

I have one for my wife, son, and I. It makes life so easy when people ask for an email address and I say firstname@firstnamelastname.com (and my surname is really short and really common). Invariably, some think you are some sort of uber hacker because you pay $7/year for this service.

And then they try to send mail to firstnamelastname@gmail.com :) I have a similar domain and people have a shockingly hard time getting it right: "Yes, "john" AT "j" followed by my last name, dot com"

Email addresses, agreed, not so much. But one thing that annoys me where I work is our logins are of the form 'u0123456' (roughly sequentially allocated, but starting from 0100000)... and they're tied to our source control system. So you look through the commit logs, and all you can see are Unumbers - no names. Half the whiteboards in the office are covered in lookup tables of U-to-name.

It's a real downer when someone joins the company too - pretty much the first thing you have tell them is "you're a number now - everything in the company is accessed by this number". You can see in their eyes an "oh shit what have I gotten into" moment.

At one job, I used my usual email (tedu@), until the new IT director decided it wasn't corporate enough, and I got tunangst@. Within days, I started getting emails from recruiters playing guess the email based on my linkedin profile, which I had never received before.

Self-correcting problem!

I detest my corporate email name. Detest. It's chosen by formula, part drawn from part of your name, and part drawn from I have no idea. When I first started, HR got my name wrong (my name, not my email), and just assigned me a name. They made something up that let them move to the next form. Then IT applied the email name formula to my made up name.

Relevant! Thanks.

A friend of mine in college had a name that would be mildly offensive and embarrassing to him if it was his first initial and last name. Having your own username/email might be something to think about and would be a rather painless perk to offer to prospective employees.

Like you said, when was the last time you thought about your email address?

Sometimes an E-mail is used on other company systems as a log-in, in whole or in part. I used to sympathize with past co-workers who had names much longer than mine, imagining them having to type "really_long_first.really_long_last@company.com" just to log into some web site.

I've also seen IT people enforce their random rules on everyone, leading to things like "rba186" as someone's actual E-mail address name instead of something meaningful.

So yes, choosing your own log-in and E-mail name would be pretty nice.

My school did your initials + 4 random digits, presumably to help prevent collisions and spam. It was pretty decent, actually, because you kind of got in the habit of chanting out a username in the same pattern, "a b c, 12, 34".

Works better than my current company, which does first initial + middle initial + 5 letters of your last name.

I've seen initials used too, which is at least a nice hint; but the case I based the example on conjured these characters essentially at random. The real kicker was that they were forced upon users in Unix environments who had been using CVS, Subversion, etc. and went from seeing useful log messages like "changed by jsmith" to aggravating ones like "changed by rjx133".

Yeah, I think the CDC does the random email thing. It seems really weird, but I guess I can only imagine how many @cdc.gov email addresses there are.

the email doesn't matter, it's the exception to policy. Setting up your email address is probably one of the first things that happens when you get hired. Being told by the boss that it's not worth 5 minutes of IT's time to make you happy is not a good tone to start off a new job with.

As an engineer, I mostly just use my corporate email for internal communications anyway, so it doesn't bother me at all (ours is first initial, last name, and I have a doozy of a last name). I agree with crazygringo that it's probably a bit of a dangerous yardstick if you're looking for a job in the non-startup world.

My email adress at my university contains the full name. But because I have 3 first names, all are included, which brings the total adress to 41 characters. I hate it.

I never really thought about it until one place actually misspelled my name and then told me I was wrong about it. That was fun to straighten out.

For many it doesn't matter, but for some it's a big deal. Either because they have a handle that is important to them, or because what the policy comes up with is unappealing (for many reasons).

My point is: if its important to your engineer, it should be important to the company.

I've gotten lastname.firstname2@... before. It was a (brief) nightmare.

These kinds of details are important though. I've been in a few work environments that were pleasant if you looked at the big picture, but unpleasant once you started adding up all the little details.

I had a stint working at a massive corporation. I was given a "recycled" machine (full of crap from the previous user), whatever keyboard and mouse I could scrounge up from empty desks nearby, and two 19" monitors of different brands, one of which suffered from serious burn-in. Oh, and my work environment was filthy when I got there, I didn't have all sorts of access set up, and I had probably the noisiest spot on the floor. These conditions left an indelible negative first impression when I arrived, and things only got worse.

It takes an honest commitment by the People in Charge to ensure the best possible work conditions, and that commitment needs to be asserted every day. When you stop caring about the environment in which your developers work, then you've stopped caring. And that lack of care will be apparent the whole way through -- from top-level processes, to architecture, right down to the desks at which people work.

At least I had an Aeron chair. So I had that going for me, which is nice.

Of all the "big companies" I've seen, Facebook has the best internal IT. A lot of those policies were set by Yishan Wong; basically, if something can be done more efficiently by an individual employee than by using IT, the process is broken. (http://algeri-wong.com/yishan/) Facebook IT is basically a cache, but if something is faster to get from the Apple Store or whatever, that's how they did it -- not sure how it is done now.

It's hilarious how in big companies it takes weeks+ to get things done in IT which could be trivially accomplished with a credit card and web browser, for less money. Yes, there are security policies (which should be enforced in the infrastructure and by user policy, not by end user hardware alone, and it should be carrot vs. stick for common builds), but things like ordering keyboards and chairs shouldn't be bottlenecked.

If you think corporate IT is dysfunctional, try working at a government agency or a public university.

Something as simple as buying a new desktop computer to replace a ten year old, dying computer turns into a multi-week affair where every step of the purchase is stymied by some layer of bureaucracy. (Inevitably, one of those layers of bureaucracy is on vacation this week and won't get around to rejecting your purchase requisition until next Monday.)

If your purchase exceeds some magic dollar amount and has to go out for bids, ${DEITY} help you. You might put out an RFP for a toaster and end up with Purchasing selecting a bidder offering a lawnmower because they're a small business, woman-owned business, or minority-owned business, and that fact gave them enough extra points in the selection matrix to beat all of the bidders offering a toaster.

I spent most of 2004-2010 working on government/military (including NATO and Iraqi and Afghan government, which were the worst) IT contracting.

For instance, it took me 5 months and a 3-star general's approval needed to make a (trivial) firewall change, between two lobes of a network all at the same accreditation level. It only happened THAT fast because making the change had a measurable impact on trauma care (i.e. it probably saved >1 life).

Ah, yes, now I am recalling the AC Adapter Saga from my last employer. We all got free cell phones (with free data plans), but for some reason mine didn’t have an AC adapter in the box. No big deal; I could just recharge it over USB. But it took weeks if not months before the adapter actually arrived. I pointed out to the HR person that if they would reimburse me, I would be happy to run out to Radio Shack and buy the appropriate adapter, but of course, That Simply Was Not Done.

The kicker, of course, is that my employer WAS THE COMPANY THAT MADE THE CELL PHONES.

Thanks for the link, it has great comments, but for me the most important was: "every modern IT organization is actively destroying value in their company", which in the Big Co I work is totally true.

I'm shocked at how few companies let their knowledge workers pick out their machines. I've been using OS X since 10.1, but I keep going to companies that stick me with Windows, despite the fact that I'm probably 10-20 percent less productive (maybe more when you factor in all the OS X-only software that I'm used to). My last job eventually got me a Macbook Pro, and I'm trying to work on this new employer.

I was able to get a big external monitor but only after asking. It's not something that you're asked about when you start.

I don't work for a software or engineering company, and I enjoy the work, but I'd really like to be on a machine that really worked well for me and my needs. I really dislike Windows software in particular, and have found some real gems on OS X.

Too many companies try to nickle and dime IT spending. Saving a few hundred dollars or so on an employees machine isn't going to do you a lot of good if that means a lot of lost productivity.

The problem is that the people at the top often spend more time in meetings than working and only do email, PowerPoint, Word and Excel. They don't quite grasp how a better system could lead to more productivity, because their jobs aren't to produce things.

Of course, if you don't understand how your employees produce things, maybe you shouldn't be at the top.

I see lots of different comments here about monitors. I think you're kind of missing the point.

The point of the article is that engineers value being trusted and allowed to create the work environment that bests suits them.

Whether you prefer 3 x 23" monitors or a single 30" monitor or even a 13" MacBook Air, you should be able to use the tools that make you most efficient (especially if you're being paid $120k+… what's the impact of a $1,000 27" display on the cashflow).

This is exactly it. At my company, the cost of someone's engineering rig ends up being a rounding error. So the prevailing popular setup these days is a loaded Macbook Air or Pro (sometimes with Linux installed instead of OSX) and a 30" monitor. I think the only real restriction is that we do not run Windows, which would be an impedance mismatch and support hassle for what we do (massively parallel real-time analytical databases). Of course, this means people have to support their own system if they run some odd OS flavor but no one seems to mind. Whatever makes people happy.

For that matter, we also let everyone pick their own email address as well.

Why is being allowed to create a work environment that best suits them given engineers? Wouldn't this improve most anyone's productivity who works in an office? Besides that, isn't it fair that if the engineer gets to hand pick his chair and his lighting levels shouldn't the bus dev, HR or PR person get the same?

I agree. But as it so often happens, engineers love to talk about their personal preference of monitors. I imagine that's because there isn't another place where you can candidly discuss this topic

If it is so valuable to your productivity, why not buy your own kit (outside of security managed OS) and finance it out of the big raise or reduced work hours you need to produce? If your management doesn't reward productivity, it is more a babysitting arrangement than an enterprise, so you should work on your startup in your unproductive time a work.

I think the meta-point sort of makes sense. Places that don't skimp on resources which are a comparatively small fraction of salary (monitors, fancy coffee makers, catered food, etc...) are more likely to value their employees.

That said: I use a single 15.6" laptop on a stand (or, of course, in my lap) for pretty much everything I do. I find the added productivity of always having everything I work on in front of me in exactly the state I always use it outweighs any benefit of a fancier workstation. I wouldn't know what to do with a 30" monitor.

Right with you on things that impact productivity, e.g. monitors, chairs, etc., but coming from finance I'm impressed by how Silicon Valley will take huge pay cuts for little things like catered food, pinball machines, or hammocks. I didn't realise it until a VC (not going to name them, but a big one) showed me a graph during his pitch of how much less his start-ups pay in cash + equity versus similar companies for "throwing candy bars at the coders".

Because I spend at least 8 hours of every weekday- often 60% of my waking day (more if you skip commuting/eating/etc). Salary generally improves my life outside of work, but niceties at the office improve the chunk of my life that money can't. A $900 chair that lasts for 5 years is negligible next to my salary in terms of actual cost to the company, but it huge in terms of the impact on my life.

They're not mutually exclusive. The pay difference is often substantially more than the cost of the benefits disbursed, i.e. if salaries were normalised you could more than buy all the benefits on your own. Salary can improve your life at work as well, e.g. I got sick of waiting for my seventh monitor and so just bought one while procurement did its 6 days for a line of code routine.

I got yelled at once for adding 512meg of ram to my corporate desktop out of my own pocket. Went from either 256 or 512 to 768 or 1gig - can't remember. Either way, I was transitioning in to some Java/Eclipse work, and the current RAM wasn't cutting it, so after waiting for a couple weeks, I just went to the store and bought some. Apparently, that's not good. :/

> Salary generally improves my life outside of work

It also reduces the amount of time you are dependent on someone else to write you paychecks and reduces the likelihood that you will be stuck in an undesirable situation due to financials.

I would rather have a higher salary at a place that let me buy and use my own $900 chair, second monitor, or what have you, because the salary increase will likely be much greater than the cost of those items and the company's willingness to let me do that tells me quite a bit about the environment and culture I will be working in.

Being allowed to use the laptop that you prefer is a good thing, no?

A bad PHB would happily force you to stop using the laptop and start using the clunky PC with an OS that's slightly tweaked away from what you're familiar[1] with and without allowing you to tweak it back; with some really annoying software that loads on boot that you're not allowed to turn off; and with some stupid seemingly trivial but not at all trivial fault (sticky 'y' key - "It's okay, just type it harder") that'll never get fixed.

But hey, you've got a big monitor now, so why isn't the work done yet?

[1] Left handed mouse settings, for example.

At my previous work we used docking stations for the laptops. So at desk I had my big 22" monitor, mouse and regular keyboard connected to my laptop and whenever I am away I still had everything that I worked on with me.

Then again I was a manager so all I had open most of the time was Thunderbird and Excel. I don't know if the extra pixels helped in my case ;).

In any case I would recommend that setup for work.

I have two 24" screens in front of me at work and use all of the screen real estate. One monitor (the one directly in front of me) is for my terminal, controlled by tmux. Most of my windows in tmux are split into panes, with the exception tending to be vim (I use vim's inbuilt panes systems). The other monitor has a browser, skype, office, and performance monitoring apps.

Lucky. I do front-end dev, so it really helps to have my website & the PSD I'm working off of side-by-side.

Speak for yourself. In operations, I have far too many graphs and widgets and knick-knacks, and I can really use all the real estate given to me (particularly when in command). I have duals and still don't have enough. At my last job, I even stuck a USB dongle on my iMac for a third, but it ended up being a painful experience and negatively impacted things like Exposé.

You can never go too Star Trek when it comes to cool graphs. It's not a pissing contest, either, honest; I genuinely need all of that information in front of me in a crisis.

I am dying to hear what all your graphs and widgets and knick-knacks are. Maybe post a screenshot with mini-paragraphs of what each thing is and why you genuinely need it in a crisis?

IMO graphs should be on a separate machine(s)/monitor(s) for all to see & watch, this could clear up space for your own work. While encouraging knowledge to be disseminated.

Any critical information you could still keep close, but the less important stuff can be pushed to central monitor(s).

I think it should be both. It's a lot harder to see stuff from a distance. Put it in front of me, please.

I always prefer lots of screens of different sizes on a few machines (some running while in different states of deconstruction), as while you can never have too many pixels available, sometimes you may not want to use them all at once. And also computers just die sometimes, so I never like to try and rely on just one of them.

Two monitor stories:

1. In my last job I calculated the price of a nice monitor as a percentage of my salary and told my boss that it would only have to make me 0.4% more productive for it to be a good investment. Did I get a new monitor? Nope.

2. A friend of mine works at Google in Sydney and I went to visit. The first thing that struck me as I gazed out across their cube farm (they have a nice office, but it's still a cube farm) was that the OpenGL screensavers on every single desktop were running at a decent framerate, a marked contrast to my workspace, which runs the same screensavers but only 10% have the right video drivers installed :)

Monitors are nice indeed, but the one infrastructure item that would get me to turn down a job offer is Lotus Notes. I depend entirely too much on email to be able to do my job to saddle myself with that piece of junk. Using Notes is like trying to run a marathon with snowshoes on.

omg - does that still exist?

Yes, I work for a large insurance company, and we're wedded to Notes until death do us part.

And it's not just for email, it's for a huge number of custom applications that use the Notes framework.

Greedo - it's not in North Carolina, is it?

I worked tech support last year and yes, there is still a small percentage of people that use Notes in their daily work. I have no idea how they did not get an internal employee revolt yet. I didn't dare ask :|

I have to use Lotus notes at my work. As a result my team doesn't use email.

We pretty much don't communicate in any reliable way and insert all of these strange rules on our tracking system so things don't get lost.


General motors still runs their entire email system on Lotus Notes. Some people are even still running version 6, which I think is 2 or 3 versions behind...

Agree with the monitors.

The email thing less so. A consistent email format, helps people remember and communicate better.

Yes it has less of "YOUR" ego imprinted all over it, but surely there are a plenty of other ways to express yourself?

Seems a bit petty, and creates admin more work for you sysadmin and his managers. "GodHatesFags@yourcompany.com". See, now you need a policy against that sort of unpleasantness. Becomes more complicated. "Just use common sense" as a policy also has issues, because what is acceptable to some, and "common sense", is not to others.

The size of the company, is also relative to the number of policies/guidelines needed. Social acceptability is easier to pull off, in a small group, where the values are easily sub-communicated.

That does not scale however.

Yeh I agree with that, I recently joined a new company and was a little disappointed that I wasnt asked what email I wanted 'dale@company.com' (dale is usually just rare enough that I can get firstnames in these situations)

I got dharvey@company.com, and within a few days I realised that every time I needed to email someone I didnt know I never needed to go searching for their email address, I already knew it.

This is solved at my company because we use Google Apps and everyone in the company is auto-completed when typing an email (based on their full-name). Of course we also mostly do a first letter of first name followed by last name as well.

I usually set up "preferred address" (specified by the user, defaulting to firstname), then set up aliases for firstname, lastname, firstname.lastname, firstnamelastname, flastname, firstl.

The thing which annoys me is when I have firstname on a major public service, and other people have weird derivatives (like first1@ or firstl), and I get misdirected mail. On google I have firstname.lastname and an annoying realtor(tm) has firstname.b.lastname@ and I get huge amounts of useless mail.

I wonder why corporate email systems aren't smart enough to take reasonable action. The first time I try to send a message to 'dale' the system should be able to infer the recipient from context. With a good naming convention to avoid false positives (forcing subsquent dales to add a distinguishing letter) this system would be very reliable.

Unfortunately, I've been singed when Gmail decided 'dale' actually meant 'daboss@client.com'. So, please no second-guessing in email addressing.

With good directory typeahead (I won't mention the system because its blue and yellow and smells), it's not really a problem.

> See, now you need a policy against that sort of unpleasantness.

No you don't. Choosing a name like "GodHatesFags' would be a firing offense at any law-abiding company in the US.

Google scales it quite well, I'd say....

A consistent email format is only useful for companies too lazy to set up a directory service in their email clients. And personal names are way easier to remember for people outside the organization.

Really? Are you seriously making an argument against convenience, by labelling people "lazy"?


He's not making an argument against convenience, he's making an argument for convenience applied consistently. It's inconvenient for people outside the company to remember your first initial and last name if you can use something else, like your first name or your last name.

I see. Yeah my bad. Didn't read it properly.

I totally get the monitor point, totally disagree with the email point though. Absolutely zero of my personal identity is tied into how company related correspondence are routed to my inbox.

If the email thing really is that big a deal let a cookie cutter corporate email address be a constant reminder to you that somebody else owns your time until you build something of your own, and then you can decide email names.

Strictly speaking, I would leave for two monitors rather than a big one. Productivity-wise I find that makes all the difference. But the point about the engineering culture is certainly valid.

Yeah, I was trying to decide if I would be happier with bigger monitors (a co-worker bought himself an Apple Cinema display, for example) since I've only got 20 inch monitors. But then I realized I have 3 20 inch monitors on my desk, so that's probably preferable to anything else I could think of.

I'm just the opposite. I was offered a couple of 20" monitors but asked for a huge monitor. Do not regret it.

I'm in the one big ass monitor camp too, I've got two 20s right now and one is almost wasted (it's the Outlook, chat client, and music playing holder). I've tried actually utilizing both but my field of vision feels off the whole time because I dont like having the break between the two centered, too much context switching. But to each their own.

I've really gotten into adjustable monitor arms; I have 3 x 24" and a laptop stand, all on dual ergotron arms. Being able to reassign monitors on multiple systems (mba, mbp, desktop linux, system-under-test) is really nice.

I'd probably add a core 30" if I didn't already have more 24" than I needed at the time. 30" + 24" portrait (2?) is probably the sweet spot for a single desktop machine + laptop.

Count me in too. I'm just not a fan of tennis. One 2560x1600 monitor feels much more fluid than tracking my head across two monitors that amount to a 16:5 screen with 3" of deadspace (bezels) running down the middle.

This has always been a tell for what kind of management runs a software company. If you can't get a 24" monitor because the guy in charge has a 24 and has to have a 30 before anyone else can have a 24, time to run away.

Haha, yeah. That happened to me.

Google is the only employer that ever offered me a 30" monitor from day one. Google was also the absolute worst employer of my professional career. I've gone into why on other threads - just take it as a given that Google and I really really clashed culturally - and the best thing to do was to leave as fast as I possibly could.

That said, I can certainly see a manager who asks upfront what I need to be productive as a good sign and an absolute refusal to consider such needs as a bad one.

Just a thought I'm not sure I actually believe myself: Does catering to every trivial whim (email address? really?) of your employees create a culture of entitled whiners? I've never worked at such a place, so I wouldn't know.

I'm guessing it's a hacker status thing. We care a lot about seemingly trivial things, but not nearly as much about other things, that might appear more important. We're easily appeased entitled whiners :)

It sounds to me like it makes a culture of happy people. If someone wants something that doesn't hurt anyone, and it's super easy to provide them the thing, why wouldn't you do it?

Asking for and giving things that fit that description is common sense, not being an entitled whiner.

Yes. But what's the point of spending all that money on employees if they aren't 100% happy?

To get the most work out of them for the least amount of money.

I too fall for the big monitor fallacy, I like running an external monitor at high rez. One screen with a web browser and the other with a split terminal vim split in 2-4 panes. But it's really just moat. I could do well with just one terminal and a little better short-term memory. If I work focused and take breaks, I can work with just one terminal window @ fullscreen, control-z for task management and a web browser to switch between.

Just look at zedshaw. He works with a couple of junk linux laptops and a white macbook, and gets the shit done. The hardware doesn't matter that much, especially if you're doing your work in the terminal most any computer is fast enough.

I suspect though, that when it comes to guitars he has a little more equipment jones.

I used to work on a white macbook 1:st gen for years, but I bought a new mbp 15" a couple of years ago so that I could run vmware and not have the machine melt every time there was flash on a webpage.

In short, equipment doesn't matter that much (unless you're running an IDE), it's more important to take breaks and stay focused.

This article wasn't about equipment. It was about external signs about culture. You can use whatever you love, be it iPad, old MB or Dell workstation with Windows on it. Whatever get job done.

But if company not willing spend money (quite little in the long run) on equipment - this is a sign that this place is bad for engineers since management value engineers less than equipment.

That really does depend on your code base. If you have some large 1 million line C++ codebase that your computer fails to index half the time and compiles that take 20 minutes minimum; you need the 27" resolution to view all the panes of a running program at the same time; a better machine and larger screens are very useful.

If someone's complaining about the size of a monitor as a reason for leaving then there's a good chance that it isn't the monitors! People don't like burning bridges when they leave a job, so they are highly unlikely to say the real reason - especially when the person that's asking for the reason is the actual problem.

Yeah, the monitor isn’t the reason; the monitor is a symptom.

Best Buy is selling 27" monitors for about $300 and 30" monitors for about $1,500. As a percentage of a full-time developer’s salary, depreciated over three years, $600 is pocket change and even $3,000 is defensible. So if a company is nickel-and-diming its developers over this kind of thing, what does that say about the overall attitude of the management?

Screw the monitors, as long as I have some good coffee, a filtered water machine, and my desk is close to the bathrooms (see previous two reqs), I'm in heaven. Well that and actually having something worth working for. Greenfield projects are the best, followed by high-profile, high-pressure applications where you directly affect the company's bottom line. Sadly none of these can be found in the corporate jobs I've been working at lately.

Those are both good indicators, and at least some companies get them right. I would add a few more that almost no one gets right: does the culture create meaningful chunks of interruption-free time (Paul Graham's "Maker's Schedule")? Do programmers get quiet places to work?

My first work email ever was first initial and last name. It made sense. I liked it. That is what I used when I got my own domain later. It is what I got @gmail. Interestingly, every job I have had since that first has also used the same format. If I was given the chance at my next job to pick my own email address.. it would probably be the same. :)

The email comment makes no sense. If someone is so adamant they need a specific email address, what else will they be unreasonable about? I'm more interested in whether the company does everything possible to make the office a place you never want to leave. The right equipment for every job should be default. Food follows closely after, followed by nontraditional work spaces. Some of my best work is done either standing at a desk or sitting on a couch with my feet up. Flexible schedules also seem more important than an email address.

Well, you shouldn't compromise on any of those if they're important to you. And if you don't care about your username, then great, one less thing to have to worry about.

But I think for anyone that does care about their username, it's a sign of respect when the company lets you choose it, and a sign -- not the end-all, but a sign -- of trouble ahead if they can't, and the OP's point is valid.

(The thing about large monitors isn't the end-all-be-all way of judging an employer either! These are just litmus tests that give a very quick way of judging whether they have an engineering-focused culture. I'd expect these factors to largely align, but hey, if there's somewhere that gets both these tests wrong but everything else right and is still an awesome place to be an engineer -- more power to them.)

Well said Matt, thanks

I think the monitors thing only matters if it's applied consistently, such as getting the biggest/latest/greatest when starting or when requested by the employee for a work reason. If the company doesn't give that to you in the first place but does when you are pressured to get a project done, that's not valuing you - that's desperation. The previous department head in my company has resorted to something similar and that was a complete turn-off as it was more about his ass being saved than caring for his people.

As a corollary, I've found that salary is a good indicator of how good a company's culture is. Not because of the actual money of course (money doesn't buy happiness, blah blah blah), but because a company that pays its engineers more generally values its engineers more. Most of the "hip" companies with good culture (FB, Google, Palantir) pay quite well, whereas other companies associated with a bad culture (which I will not name) tend to pay poorly. Not always true, of course, but a good heuristic.

And facebook sits engineers at grand long tables people complain about.

I find his domain highly ironic given his views on email addresses.

My identity is with my personal email addresses. Company address is ephemeral and "throw-away" over the long haul.

The real power is to be able to expense the monitor of your choice.

This is what all companies should do for "knowledge worker" I/O devices, within reason. For some definition of reason, that is, that at least covers my Thunderbolt display and "large" Wacom tablet.

To be honest these days I kind of expect the company to either provide me with a reasonable budget and tell me to go buy what I need, or let me bring in my own hardware.

Then I can be sure I'm getting what I need (which is, yes, two 27inch mons and a mb pro)

Hm, I think a few people have missed the point of the post by the 'omg how self-entitled' posts I've just scanned through. This isn't just about getting bigger monitors, or a fancy email or a dozen other things, it's about companies that don't understand the development environment that works best is whatever the developer needs. Your company makes software? The developers are their biggest asset.

Plus given a blank cheque most of us wouldn't go wild, we understand what we need and skip the rest.

Actually on a related topic, do people know what's the typical ratio of capital spending vs revenue of a typical software company? Capital spending should include equipments, IT infrastructure, operation infrastructure, etc.

I was at one company with 1% cap/revenue ratio and it was horrible. People had to bring in their own big monitors if they wanted a bigger one. Of course the CEO was proud with such low ratio.

Is it just me or is too many monitors distracting? I find that I have cut down to just one monitor at both work and home. I was using one monitor for work and one monitor for communication. I realized it was easier just to quit the chat apps.

(Mind you, at the company I run, employees get whatever they want, hardware-wise. Everyone seems to have settled on the 27" apple monitor + the laptop display.)

Reminds me of the days at the Sun offices in Santa Clara back in 2004. One personal office, two top of the line Sun workstations with 21 inch monitors, an additional windows PC if required. One big whiteboard and two phones. Damn, get into your office, shut the door and get on with your work. It felt like your own personal control room :).

Apparently this site is using CloudFlare, and it's failing:

DNS Resolution Error

You've requested a page on a website (sef.kloninger.com) that is on the CloudFlare network. Unfortunately, CloudFlare is currently unable to resolve your requested domain (sef.kloninger.com). There are two potential causes of this:

Most likely: if the owner just signed up for CloudFlare it can take a few minutes for the website's information to be distributed to our global network. Check back in about 5 minutes and the site should be up and running and enjoying all the benefits of CloudFlare.

Less likely: something is wrong with this site's configuration. Usually this happens when accounts have been signed up with a partner organization (e.g., a hosting provider) and the provider's DNS fails.

Also let the coders name the internal libraries/apps they write. It's their creation, also improves the culture. Generic names are just not good.

Even our internal servers are called with strange names, //pictures being the main intranet for the studio :) It's all good...

I personally like formulated emails. Maybe it's the fact that I really like consistency but it also makes emailing coworkers much easier. I don't want to have to go hunting through a directory to find their custom email.

Really, it's not as big a deal as you'd think. You simply know your coworkers by their e-mail address, not by their name. (Yes, I call people by their handle, and they call me by mine. We get along just fine)

2 large monitors? really? How very 2004, I thought all the rockstar programmers these days did everything from starbucks on an 11" Macbook air or through an SSH session from their iPad!

Except at Github, apparently: http://instagr.am/p/Kt05fpp2OL/

We have an unlimited budget for hardware. You want three monitors? You got it. A desktop and a laptop? Sold.

The caveat of course, is be a reasonable adult and don't ask for a $50,000 gold-plated MacBook or something. As long as you can get more incremental value out of the hardware than it costs for us to get it for you, it's yours.

I think it all comes down to trust - as the article states, it's not about bigger monitors but the company trusting you to do the right thing.

As somebody squeezing my eyes into a 19 inch with shitty resolution, I see where you are coming from.

Also, I don't have admin access to my computer. I'm forcibly handicapped.

I'm not personally invested in my work email address, but my last employer insisted I use their format for my IRC nick. That was unpleasant.

At my place, you get name.surname@mycompany.com and can have as many aliases as you want, I don't care - I'll always send you mail to name.surname@mycompany.com.

How is it NOT geeky to have local mail parts in friggin' order?

Also, even if I had money to provide some hardware to people working for me, I'd call them whining b....s they are. We'll organically upgrade on neccesity and keep it lean at all times.

"Money goes where it’s wanted, and stays where it’s well treated." The same goes for developers.

There are a lot of clueless companies and managers out there.

My wife interviewed with a company that was trying to hire a developer to commercialize their in house printing software. The hiring manager was surprised that developers aren't interested in working in a place with NO vacation the first year. He was also surprised that she was used to coming in and leaving at something besides 8:30 to 5:00 or (gasp!) leave the building for lunch at her previous job. I don't think the manager was a bad guy, just clueless.

The manager who calls his reports "whining..b" and would make them less productive to save a few bucks probably won't realize why he has a high churn rate or why candidates give his company a pass after the interview.

congrats, you found the most effective way to ensure that you only hire candidates who couldn't get on at more enjoyable places to work.

No, I attract hard working, no nonsense people who take joy in getting things done with least amount of friction, and who don't need masseuse to write code.

Smart working people can just go elsewhere. The hardworking people can make use of recycled computers scavenged off the street. If you can't wait 10 minutes for the test suite to run, things to compile or files to finish transferring - then you're just a wining bitch. Using old hard drives is fine, an SSD will just make the work easier. Work should be hard, and painful - otherwise it's just play. Why would you want to see multiple views of your data, when you can just flip between windows all the time and scroll a lot?

Think of all the joy they'd have, less friction and money saved if they got rid of their manager. ;-)

You don't need chairs either, or central heating or even colour screens for that matter.

Choose your own email address? It can take weeks of hassling here to get any email address set up here. I consider it a luxury to be able to receive email, clone our git repositories or connect to webservices I'm coding for. On the plus side I've got quite good at setting up ssh tunnels.

Pah, monitors, blah, blah. What about a comfy chair? I'd go anywhere for a nice chair. ;)

pfft, chairs. what, do you sit down all day long, you slob?

As with most things in life, the little things count because the little things show that people care (or, at least, are putting in enough effort to look like they do) and don't think you're just a cog in a machine.

This post confuses masterful flourishes with substance. And by the way, I don't like big monitors - I get too many degrees of freedom and find it too hard to focus. I have a 27" cinema that I never use with my 13" MBP.

How can you fit a line of Java code on a 13" screen?

I am productive using my 15 inch Macbook Pro. They offered me a Samsung 23 inch monitor but the quality was poorer than my MBP's screen, and it looked cheap and not very elegant to share the same deskspace.

it's hard for me to imagine that the first apple computer would be have been created if woz insisted on using a large cinema projector, much less two projectors

he hacked a regular tv instead, and that's how apple was born

Back in those days, printers were macho 160-column beasts that could spew out 10,000+ lines of code in one continuous folded scroll.

I then debugged by taking that enormous scroll of paper to the beach, the park, or somewhere else pleasant and scribbled all over it.

While I love 30" monitors, something has been lost in abandoning that method of reviewing code. Just sayin'...

If cinema projectors were bog standard then, there would have been no market for the Apple.

Want to know if a company has good engineering culture? Look up the company's engineers' facebook and twitter feeds and see what they're saying. Engineers who are happy tell everyone about it. Big monitors and choosing your email addresses are great; for a couple of weeks. Then after the big monitor honeymoon phase is over and the daily slog begins, the engineers realize that they have a big monitor that buries them in the horrible culture of the company that attracts people based on looks and surface happiness. Two big monitors and nice chairs are byproducts of a culture that is good, not reasons that a culture is good.

Find a company where the engineers are happy, where the engineers don't leave, and where the management understands that happiness doesn't mean a couple of monitors or a nice chair. Happiness is having your opinions valued, getting fulfillment out of your work and being able to effect change within the company.

Absolutely true. There is a company here in Charlotte, NC (any dev in Charlotte will know who this is) who puts all the toys on display to attract employees: flat screens on the wall, all the monitors on your desk you can handle, etc. etc. The actual company, though, is a soul-crushing hell hole with more churn than an amish dairy farm. That place is pure evil.

Interesting... I worked in Charlotte for a few years and can't think of anywhere like this. I wonder who you could be referring to?

Let's just say the first word in the name is "Red" and the second is "Ventures". And there is no third word. They're consistently on the Inc. 500's "best places to work" list because they strong-arm employees into rating them well and most likely pay for the recognition.

Interesting. A senior manager from Red Ventures came to my school last year to talk about his company and recruit at my school. He made it sound pretty cool but looks can definitely be deceiving.

There's a reason they are always hiring. Churn is accepted and regular practice. The CEO is quoted as saying, "The graveyard is littered with 'indispensable employees'". They chronically under-pay and overwork. I could go on forever, but in summary, they charm perspective employees into a truly toxic and demeaning environment.

Then after you have found that company ask for the equipment you need? Sure the culture is more than just a few monitors, but I think a company not giving you the optimal gear is less likely to have a good culture.

The theory behind "2 monitors" is that companies that allow 2 monitors aren't the sort of places which have lots of soul crushing work. It's a proxy for a good company.

Not a very good theory, because I recently left a place with lots of soul-crushing work but where people in the software functional all had two monitors.

I was working mostly as a software engineer, but was actually categorized as a systems engineer; I did not have two monitors. They had people in the electrical and test orgs working effectively as software engineers also, and few of them had two. This (dys)functional organization was not at all apparent to an outside observer, no matter how much research they did, without someone on the inside.

So, while I would certainly be more favorably inclined towards a company that promised two monitors, choice of dev box, or other things, I would not use such things as a primary or secondary filter on where I want to work.

  melissa@tellus$ whoami

  Last login: Fri May 18 09:29:53 on ttys002
  MelBook:~ melissa$ whoami

Amen to Dual Monitors

Some projets


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