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Ask HN: What companies have private offices for programmers?
64 points by ken on April 30, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 61 comments
I've read and heard from lots of programmers who want them, but I've only ever heard of about two software companies that offer them.

careers.stackoverflow.com has "Joel Test" scores for some entries, but companies seem pretty loose with the "quiet working conditions" criterion. One of them claims a point for that, but then brags about their "open layout" office.

I'm not looking for yet another debate over the pros/cons of offices/cubes/open layout, nor a list of earplug/headphone/desk indicators as mitigation.

CircleCI - I signed the lease on Monday :)

https://circleci.com/jobs - see also http://blog.circleci.com/silence-is-for-the-weak/

Looking at the job site https://circleci.com/jobs click on "For back-end/full stack developers"

    Some of the characteristics we're looking for:
      - young, raw, talented devs who can crank out code,

Are they really looking to hire young developers only or am I misunderstanding the job description?

No absolutely not. Some other context from the page:

"we've noticed that the following correlate with the type of people that we want to work with. This is not an exhaustive list, nor a list of requirements (in fact, some of them are contradictory), but more of a rough guideline."

"senior, experienced developers, who have worked on a decent number of products, have a propensity for shipping often, probably with 8-10 years of experience and amazing coding chops (those having left coding behind them—this isn't the company for you, unfortunately)"

So those are two profiles that have worked well for us in the past, but they aren't requirements by any stretch.

We're aware that this is kinda confusing, and also that it's not very friendly to a lot of people we're trying to hire, so we'll be updating pretty soon.

Circle CI seems like an awesome company. A few unrelated questions.

What percentage of your codebase is in Clojure? What have your experiences with it been? (I've really enjoyed using Clojure thus far.)

Do you expect to have a need for a machine learning engineer in the next 0-24 months?

The backend is 100% clojure. The frontend is currently a one-page-JS app in Coffeescript, less and haml. We are experimenting with converting it to ClojureScript/om, and I expect that we will do that soon. So then we'll be 100% clojure!

We have tended towards hiring generalists (both in the sense of what they can work on, and what they _want_ to work on). I don't know when that will change, but I don't expect to have a pure-ML position soon.

Fog Creek goes out of their way to ensure that full-time developers have private offices (but not interns).

I read this as a programmer getting an intern (assistant). Like that idea, hey someone making 120-150k or more - that's not that crazy. Someone to research for you etc..

While in principle I understand the economics for that, Fog Creek doesn't use interns as gophers. They actually mentor them and, even rarer, expect them to ship meaningful software before their term is up. In addition to compensating them like they're doing meaningful work, Fog Creek does a large portion of new hires from previous interns. (Incidentally: it's all-around a great place to work.)

"expect them to ship meaningful software before their term is up"

is that rare? We expect any [programming] intern will be learning some part of the code base and making their first tiny improvements in the first week. Most of the interns have been quite productive by the end of their term... and I'm happy to say that our first intern-to-full-time-employee will be starting in a month or so.

There exist many, many internships where you're either Chief Coffee Delivery Technician or you spend all of your productive time on scutwork that no one could convince a FTE to do. Examples elided to protect the guilty.

I was an intern 20 years ago, then or now if someone told me to get coffee I'd probably throw it in their face. I've (thankfully) never seen that. Have seen em do data entry, but at our company they write production code. I've seen guys condescend to them. They should shut up. These kids are smart and would gladly do their job for half the salary starting tomorrow.

My point is, anyone making over 80k/$40 an hour making their own flight arrangements, filling out their own expense reports, is a waste of valuable time. If I have a guy billing out $200/hr - he's in the office 8 or 9 hours a day max - (most people start and end work the same time everyday) - I don't want him wasting time on that crap. Needs an AA to do it. (Note our expense system sucks and our requirements are exact - you can easily spend an hour on an expense report)..

I believe this was relatively rare before Joel started blogging about it. There's a lot of things that are now ubiquitous partially because of Joel on Software and what he did at Fog Creek.

I like Joel too, but that does not ring true to me. All our interns are helping with Real Work because we're a startup and there's lots of real work to do. Also, that's how you attract talented interns: but giving them an opportunity to work on stuff they find interesting.

I realize you're half joking but as a former six time intern, the quickest way to make me not want to join your company fulltime would be to use me as your assistant. Of course, that might be alright with you if you're not looking to hire your intern afterwards.

I shared an office with one other person at Microsoft and have the same at Google. That doesn't mean that everybody has that at either company.

Yep depends on the building. I had a single office at Microsoft, so did many others. Some shared in pods of 4-8 engineers. I don't recall any spaces with an open plan (except in the UK), but I also didn't visit every single building Microsoft had.

I interned at Google and had to share my office with 2 others, although it's probably different for interns.

I had my own office at Microsoft and so did most people on my team.

At Campaign Monitor - http://www.campaignmonitor.com/careers most employees have their own office, including programmers. There are also a few small team rooms and it's generally an awesome place to be a developer.

The company I work at (Veracross) has them for everyone - engineers and account managers. Myself and a few other engineers opted out for social reasons and instead work in a nice corner office with big windows. This works especially well while on-boarding people and working with interns.

I just quit my job today because we have 12 developers in a TINY room, worst atmosphere. I can't work to my full potential unless I work in near absolute silence. Private offices would be a god send.

I highly recommend investing in a decent pair of earphones or headphones. These will knock out a very high percentage of the ambient noise and let you concentrate almost as well as a quiet office.

It's not the same.

I had a private office pretty much the entire time I did coding for Schlumberger, though this can vary widely based on location. At the new company, it's mostly cubes.

I think the nature of office space is one of the problems with this. Most commercial office space seems to be set up in the open office/cube farm setup. If you wanted private offices, you'd have to pay to construct them yourself, and then wonder if it will cause trouble if you ever leave the space when whoever takes it next doesn't want it. It's much tougher to get private offices until you're big enough to be actually constructing your own buildings, or at least willing to spend money on a pricey build-out of existing office space.

>Most commercial office space seems to be set up in the open office/cube farm setup.

There are exceptions. The previous startup I worked for (in SOMA) used conference rooms as two-developer private offices in our first building and gave all developers two-person private offices in the second one. I don't think the offices were chosen for the purpose of having private offices either (specifically I think the second office was chosen by the company that had just acquired us.)

Out of curiosity, which location was this for Schlumberger?

I've worked at several offices for them around Houston, including Sugar Land, Katy, and San Felipe, which appears to mostly not have private offices. A facilities guy there once told me that they actually have a total of 78 offices just in Houston.

The much more common alternative is ~3 person offices. I'm going to go out on a limb and say most big software-engineer focused companies have them for a lot of people. E.g. Microsoft. I have been to MS and seen them (but it's a big place -- don't know if everyone does)

You are right to not want open-layout. Peopleware presents a study that music can interfere with creativity.

One other thing I'm seeing is Huddle rooms. They are smaller, ad-hoc offices. Teams can request them to work together on something. My sense is that they are for a short period of time, measured in days to weeks.

As a tangent on this, we're in a coworking space in London that has a dedicated "quiet floor" and actively furnished the place to reduce noise levels. The floor has fewer desks, padded dividers, sound baffles around the room, and is laid out well.

It's in London, and it's here: http://www.huckletree.com/

We chose this after finding that in our existing coworking space, that the company that moved in to the other side of our desk cluster spent the majority of their time on the phone and were loud about it.

Apple has them. Microsoft too I think. I prefer them.

EDIT: By the way, I like them, but I write this from a plastic folding table in a warehouse in Brisbane CA (AKA Drone Valley)

Microsoft used this in recruiting advertising, back when there were glossy magazines developers read. The one I remember just showed an closed door, with the text explaining how you could go in your office, close your door, and get work that needs concentration done.

Parts of Microsoft are moving towards open offices. For instance -


Yep. Most product groups still have individual offices with doors, though new hires are usually doubled with someone else until they have a couple years' tenure. There has been a recent migration toward team rooms in a few high-profile groups. Meaning ~12 people together in a bigger room, as opposed to "open plan" with dozens or hundreds in one huge space.

Yes, well, I'm pretty sure those advertisements were back from when Bill Gates was running things, or not long after and well before very slow clock cycle things like real estate could have changed.

Since then, no particular bit of insanity from Microsoft would surprise us....

I was in a 1 or 2-person office while I was at IBM. Their policy (at that branch) was a private office for senior developers and up, two to an office otherwise.

I'm at Motive right now; the large majority of developers here have their own office. (And we're hiring: developers and testers, no telecom experience necessary, mostly in Austin, TX.)

Are the developer positions in-office only, or is full-time remote (in the US) an option?

I might be weird, but I actually prefer working in an open layout. It might just be because I'm one of two programmers at my office and it's really helpful to be able to eavesdrop and talk to people as they walk by in order to figure out what's missing/working/not working.

I'm half and half on this. I've got an office just outside the open workspace where the users are. I can catch most everything that comes up, but close my door if I need a bit of privacy.

I don't think that's weird. We have an open office setup where I work and everyone bounces ideas off each other in the open room environment, and comments on conversations that they have valuable input on. We also have empty offices all around that anyone can go sit in to do work when they want. I find myself doing about 80% in the open office and 20% in the private one

I am in an open layout room with 8 people. Without my headphones blaring out Iron Maiden I estimate I would last about 3 days listening to the constant rambling and complaining on a wild variety of topics.

We recently moved RevSys into new offices where everyone has their own office. We were in a much too small office that was one big open room. I won't speak for everyone, but I know my personal productivity has shot through the roof.

All remote companies have this, in a sense.

I work for an inter-governmental organisation in the environmental services sector; ~300 people, ~40 programmers (but many others - scientists - do some coding, too). Most people have private offices, there are also 2 or 3 persons offices. I enjoy my single office. I like to put my feet on the desk when I read a paper or a book or when I fancy a quick game on my mobile :)

My company (Surge Forward) is 100% telecommute, so an office can be whatever you want it to be! Some days I work from home, or if I'm having trouble concentrating I might go work out of a coffee shop. It works perfectly for me.

Booz Allen runs the gamut(and I no longer work there, I hear things have changed) but straight out of college I had a 2 person office and it was great(also like 50-100% WFH for most folks who aren't working at a client place)

ESRI: http://www.esri.com/ the GIS company had private offices for employees. At least last time I interviewed with them.

Intersystems (Cambridge, MA) has a large number of private offices as well as cubicles, which are less often used.

When I worked at SAIC and Leidos, I had my own office. It was nice to be able to close my door and focus.

Apple has them

Every engineer at Disco gets their own office. But you'd have to move to Houston. :)


SAS (As in the analytics company) tries its best to give offices to everyone (not just devs).

Corepoint Health(Dallas, Tx Frisco area) has them for everyone in the company.

CS Disco Inc. (www.csdisco.com) for all engineers and most other employees.

Interviewed at PARC a while back. They have it.

Oracle. Not everyone, but most.

I worked at Oracle up until last year. At Oracle HQ in Redwood City, yes, many developers have private offices. But our office and the other offices I visited elsewhere that had been built-out more recently were open-plan environments.

I'm in the SUN campus. I have a personal office which is bigger than my matchbox bedroom in SF (ok, equal size).

I've already filled the whole place with geeky stuff and technical papers/articles/specs/docs/books though.

The MathWorks, I believe.

Generally correct, though as they expand their offices and their headcount sometimes people have to double/triple up until new space opens up. Sometimes they also get stuck in temporary cubicles but the general goal is an office for every full time salaried (non-hourly) employee.

adobe used to give every employee an office. don't think that's still true today though.

No longer true. The new campus in Utah is very much an open design with low-walled cubicles and large open spaces.

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