The 5 Most Important Items in Your New Software Development Office

Dr Stuart Woolley
Apr 15 · 6 min read

Aced the interview, hit the target salary, pocket full of shares? Here are some vital tips for your new ‘office life’.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Office Working 101

The world of software engineering can be fun, exciting, and challenging — but it can also be humiliating, frustrating, and overwhelmingly disappointing.

It’s a rare event when an employer manages to align the stars just right for your first day — bringing a desk, chair, and computer into the same region of local spacetime is of a similar difficulty to finding a workable solutions to Einstein’s field equations where spacetime is made entirely of quark muffins and neutrino unicorns.

Here are five specific tangible items that you should make your own in any office environment — especially since after the current pandemic offices will be less populous thus even more competitive for the meagre resources that management has ordained you to fight over.

A Desk

You can sit with an iPhone, an iPad at a push, perhaps even a lap warming (or scorching if it’s Intel based) laptop for a time but sooner or later the dreaded RSI, or more importantly, looming ever present HR Health and Safety rulebook will bring you down.

Inevitably, you’re going to require a desk upon which to mount a monitor, keyboard, and trackpad (who uses mice aside from gaming, come on).

If on the first day you’re sitting at someone else’s who’s away on leave that’s not so bad as chances are you’re looking out of the window or are at least a fair distance from the toilets. For a while anyway, so enjoy it while you can.

Some other desk in the distance, beyond the fog of war, is being hoisted into place right now in the gap between the existing juniors, next to the coffee station and recycling bins, and it’s got your name on it.

Make noise, protest, trumpet your vital dependence on the essential vitamin D of daylight as once you’re ensconced it’s dead man’s shoes all along the winding way to the office window. You’ll most likely move companies before you get a shot at a window seat again.

On the other hand, if you’re escorted to a new desk the only way out of there is promotion, resignation, or the aforementioned shoes. The plan has already been made, you’re a pawn and you have a place in the game.

A Chair

Along with a desk comes what is probably the most important piece of office equipment you’ll ever think you actually own. Whole years’ worth of animosity, careers of the high and mighty, the very survival of a company have often rested (no pun intended) upon the acquisition and retention of the humble office chair.

Have you never wondered why some of the more astute developers Tippex their names onto the plastic wheel covers? Or how wheels get mysteriously broken making them hard to push, perhaps? You think those rips are real? Look closer, it’s just a sharpie line. They know what they’re doing.

If you snagged a new chair, customise² it immediately it in some non-specific way to make it your own. Otherwise, the very next day you’ll have an orange covered, foam leaking, monstrosity of what was previously loosely described as a chair. Don’t even mention the bizarre beige stains and crumbs that come from years of office eating.

However, if you’re given a pre-used chair just know that every other person in the office has already rejected it. Give it some love, try to repair it, and then switch it out with someone who hasn’t taken the precautions that you will take with theirs once you’ve bagged it. Be creative too, carry liquid paper.

A Monitor

At a similar level of importance to the chair, the monitor has also been the item over which many bloody battles have been fought. Luckily, with the advent of cheap flat panel LED displays the muscle straining, searing hard X-Ray generating cathode ray tube fun and frolics of the past is now firmly behind us. Thankfully. It’s one thing to be irradiated on a daily basis, but it’s a while other thing developing lifelong skeletal and muscle problems from moving your monitor around.

These days you’ll be fighting over two things — resolution and size.

Forget refresh rate unless you’re working for a gaming company, it’s most likely that management will glaze over when you mention them and anyway the IT department will have kept those for itself.

You may think that viewing a spreadsheet or putting together some slides wouldn’t need a curved top-of-the-line 32" 4k ultra-thin OLED display but management knows better. Editing code for 8 hours a day on a 14" VGA monitor with backlight bleeding so bad that #000000 becomes #555555? That’s going to be your future unless you snag yourself something appropriate and find a way of holding onto it.

Find a decent monitor, etch your name on it, and duct tape the power cord to the stand. Ideally find a way of latching it to a nearby conduit with a security cord to which you have the only key.

Upgrades are only generally available when your neighbours leave. Desktop monitors have never and will never be a priority for managers unless they’re sitting on their own desk in which case their previous monitor becomes a sought after hand-me-down.

If the power cord isn’t physically welded in some way to the desk it’s going to go bye-bye the moment you’re not around and the conference room, IT, or your open-plan neighbour needs a power cord. From then on it becomes a game of musical power cords and monitors, a game which can ultimately never be won.

A Computer

One word that can have so many meanings — one for management, one for developers, and one more for the CEO level higher ups.

Ah, but you’re just writing code” is the stock reply from management while they justify their top of the range multicore threadripper on the number of tabs they have open in Chrome and the number of cells they have to view simultaneously in Excel.

Unless you’re on a greenfield project with a generous budget (i.e. a startup burning through VC cash) changes are you’re getting another hand-me-down with a dodgy battery and some curious screen ghosting that never really goes away.

In the old days⁴ people did get desktops, but with the advent of employees becoming home workers (i.e. constantly working) laptops are now deemed essential in the same way as GPS tags are for habitual criminals allowed to live at home.

There’s no real chance of swapping it out and upgrades are generally on the following progression:

  • CTO gets a top of the line laptop.
  • Project manager gets CTO’s laptop with a few keys not working and a dent in the case.
  • Senior developer gets PM’s laptop with a few more unresponsive keys, crumbs under the spacebar, and a battery life of 10 minutes.
  • Junior developer gets senior developer’s old laptop which runs at a constant 80°C, fans at full speed, and a screen that is so faint that it can only be seen in the pitch darkness when you’re squinting.

Life in a Nutshell

So there you have it, things to make your own. At least now you’ll be able to sit down and get to work — well, if you had power and a network connection, but that’s for another day…

Also, how many of you noticed I only put 4 things?

[1]: If anything there’s another reason to work from home if ever I heard it.
[2]: Damage.
[3]: “Hang on, I thought they were all like that?” I hear you say. Indeed.
[4]: I remember the ‘happy times’ as I like to call them.

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Dr Stuart Woolley

Written by

Worries about the future. Way too involved with software. Likes coffee, maths, and . Would prefer to be in academia. SpaceX, Twitter, and Overwatch fan.

Geek Culture

A new tech publication by Start it up (https://medium.com/swlh).

Dr Stuart Woolley

Written by

Worries about the future. Way too involved with software. Likes coffee, maths, and . Would prefer to be in academia. SpaceX, Twitter, and Overwatch fan.

Geek Culture

A new tech publication by Start it up (https://medium.com/swlh).

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