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  • feedwordpress 15:16:44 on 2017/07/28 Permalink
    Tags: , fogcreek, offices, openplan, , workspace   

    Apple is about to do something their programmers definitely don’t want. 

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    Apple spent $5 billion on a beautiful new office, Apple Park. So it’s amazing they’re about to make an extremely costly, avoidable mistake: putting their coders in an open-plan layout.

    Apple Park

    I work at Fog Creek Software, where our cofounder and former CEO Joel Spolsky has been blogging for at least 17 years about how open-plan offices are terribly bad for programmer productivity. His insights on the topic are based on Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister’s classic book Peopleware, which has been around for literally thirty years. So this isn’t a particularly new insight. And of course, in the decades since, there have been countless academic studies confirming the same result: Workers in open plan offices are frustrated, distracted and generally unhappy.

    That’s not to say there’s no place for open plan in an office — there can be great opportunities to collaborate and connect. For teams like marketing or communications or sales, sharing a space might make a lot of sense. But for tasks that require being in a state of flow? The science is settled. The answer is clear. The door is closed on the subject.

    Or, well, it would be. If workers had a door to close.

    Staying In The Flow

    Now, when it comes to jobs or roles that need to be in a state of flow, programming may be the single best example of a task that benefits from not being interrupted. And Apple has some of the best coders in the world, so it’s just common sense that they should be given a great environment.

    That’s why it was particularly jarring to see this side note in the WSJ’s glowing article about Apple’s new headquarters:

    WSJ on Apple's new HQ

    Usually, companies justify putting programmers into an open office plan for budget reasons. It does cost more to make enough room for every coder to have an office with a door that closes. But given that Apple’s already invested $5 billion into this new campus, complete with iPhone-influenced custom-built toilets for the space, it’s hard to believe this decision was about penny-pinching.

    The other possible argument for skipping private offices would be if a company didn’t know that’s what its workers would prefer. But we can test this theory— let’s see what it looks like when we ask people what they want in an office, without any prompts or suggestions to guide their responses.

    What you’ll find in the hundreds of responses to that tweet is dozens and dozens of people talking about how much they loved having a private office with a door that closed, or how much they wish they had one.

    There’s no doubt that Apple would get the same responses if they talked to their own team. So the only possibility that’s left is that there just aren’t enough people in the industry who really, truly believe the benefits of having private offices for coders. So we’ll keep banging the drum on this subject.

    A look inside

    Almost a decade ago, I remember reading about the construction of the new Fog Creek office on Joel’s blog, and when it was finally complete, I remember seeing the New York Times breathlessly cover its innovations. At the time, I would never have imagined that I’d get to work from that office someday. And I’ve been thinking a lot about how it felt to look at that article and wonder a bit skeptically whether it was really worth all that effort.

    And I have to admit, I had a moment of temptation as we started thinking about a new office for Fog Creek, wondering whether we might save a few bucks by having an office that was merely great, with the same open plan as almost every other company. It’d be so easy to make the case.

    A lot has changed at Fog Creek — about 2/3 of our company works remotely, though almost all of them work from home offices that have, you guessed it, doors that close. And we’ve got teams like sales and support that benefit from being in a shared, open-plan space. We could make the argument for giving up and just falling in line with what everybody else does.

    But even the teams that have shared spaces are excited about our new office having dedicated phone booths for them to make calls in a private space. And the members of our technical staff remain as hyper-productive as ever without working absurd hours, which we can attribute to them having the right environment to do their work.

    Best of all, focusing on making a great workspace even has us thinking of new ideas that help people get the best of both worlds, like dedicating a large conference room as a “Quiet Car”. It’ll be a place where people can sit together but still enjoy peace and quiet, inspired by everybody’s favorite Amtrak amenity.

    We would never presume to advise a company as successful as Apple about how to do products. Though we’re incredibly proud of Glitch and FogBugz, we of course have huge respect for everything Apple’s done for decades. But we didn’t want to let this one avoidable mistake go by without pointing it out, as it’s a shortcoming that Apple (and every company that has coders on its staff!) could easily fix.

    We’re glad so many companies know it’s worthwhile to invest in their employees — in everything from great healthcare to having the latest-and-greatest computer hardware. But when it comes to forcing every worker to be in an open plan shared space, even when they’re trying to concentrate, it may be time for even the biggest and most successful companies to think… uh, differently?

  • feedwordpress 13:27:01 on 2016/12/06 Permalink
    Tags: fogcreek, gomix,   

    I’m at Fog Creek. And we’re introducing Gomix! 

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    Okay, here’s the story: I’m the new CEO of Fog Creek Software! And we have an awesome new tool called Gomix that just launched today, and you should go try it out and build the app of your dreams in a few minutes.

    Want to know more? Okay, there’s more.

    If you know me, you might be familiar with Fog Creek Software. Cofounded by Joel Spolsky and Michael Pryor in 2000, it’s one of the most venerable and respected software companies in the world. I’ve known it from its earliest days, as both a customer and a fan, and have gotten to watch excitedly as they launched hugely influential tools like Trello (which Michael is now CEO of as an independent company) and Stack Overflow (also independent, and headed up by Joel as CEO). Fog Creek’s flagship product FogBugz has long been the best tool for helping teams make great software — I know because we used to use it to make Movable Type and TypePad back when I was helping get those products off the ground a decade ago.

    Fog Creek product history

    Built on Values

    But Fog Creek is a lot more to me than just a company that’s made a bunch of hugely popular applications. What first resonated for me was reading Joel’s words in his seminal posts on tech culture, like the Joel Test. Though some of the references to old Windows software are a little bit dated now, the insights in Joel’s writing are so essential and timeless that they’ve become part of the canon that almost every developer is expected to read.

    And what I found in these seminal documents of Fog Creek’s culture were a few simple statements of values that could be easily summarized:

    • Workers matter, deeply. The things they create, the environment they work in, and the ideas they imagine are worth protecting, respecting and honoring.

    • Technology and software are better when they’re accessible to more people. We need to build tools, platforms and organizations that prioritize the thoughtful dissemination of technical information, to stop coding from being an exclusionary priesthood for a small few.

    • We can build our values into our software. We aspire to having a point of view and to being thoughtful, and we can build tools that encourage other creations of technology to do the same.

    What I found was that I had a chance not just to work with some of the most talented people in the world, but to do so in an environment that was actively countering the worst excesses and abuses of the tech industry. It’s no secret that I’ve become increasingly critical of the conventional tech world’s lack of focus on ethics, humanity, and inclusion.

    But at a personal level, I realized I couldn’t in good conscience just criticize from afar. If the best way to criticize software is to make software, then the best way to criticize tech companies is to make a better tech company. And it turns out that one already exists. Even more fortunate, its brilliant and thoughtful founders Michael and Joel were willing to trust me to be the CEO of the company that have so carefully shepherded all these years.

    And frankly, after challenges like shutting down ThinkUp earlier this year, I started reckoning a bit with how to be most effective in pushing the tech industry to be a little more thoughtful. This personal inflection point became clearer as the team at Activate released this year's Activate Outlook — seven years after we'd set out to create the leading strategy consulting company, I realized we'd not just succeeded, but done so to the degree where the team could now run effectively without me being involved day-to-day. Between stepping back to an advisory role at Activate and sharpening the focus of my work for the organizations whose boards I serve on, I was able to bring some clarity to the work in front of me.

    I realized that I wanted to fully engage myself with a single, all-encompassing role that would use all my skills, and that Fog Creek's legacy of leading the industry made it the perfect place to try and push things forward again. So now, I have a simple answer if someone at a cocktail party asks what I do.

    What do I do? I'm the CEO of a small software company in downtown Manhattan that’s as influential in the tech world as companies 1000 times our size. And we're trying to make awesome products that remind people how tech can be creative, thoughtful and humane.

    (If that sounds good, we're hiring. And we welcome you, as you are, to join our team.)

    Gomix brings back the fun of the “view source” web

    Which brings me to our next chapter: Gomix. Many geeks of my cohort came of age building things on the desktop using HyperCard or Visual Basic, or by using View Source in their browser to tweak HTML pages that they uploaded to Geocities. The web’s gotten a lot more mature and a lot more powerful, but the immediacy of that kind of creation has been lost. Today, even if you’re a skilled developer, the starting point you’re working from is usually a pile of unassembled parts.

    Gomix lets you start from a working app (or bot, or site, or whatever) and then remix it into exactly the app of your dreams. If you just want to change a button from blue to green, or add your logo, you can be running instantly. See a fun or smart Alexa skill or Slack bot? You can jump in, edit the responses to be the text you want, and have your own version running in just a few minutes.

    For the past several years, I found that the overhead of provisioning servers, or trying to maintain a dev environment, or wrangling with version control took all the fun out of coding for me, to the point where I don’t just hack on things for fun anymore. I can’t imagine how much more intimidating it would be if I hadn’t spent many years coding.

    Gomix fixes all that. Really. We’re still just getting started (you might have seen the earlier preview release under the name “HyperDev”) but we’re out in beta today and I think if you have ever edited a spreadsheet or just tweaked the HTML in a blog post, you’ll immediately understand how Gomix can help you create.

    I hope you’ll give it a try, and along with the entire amazing team at Fog Creek, we’re excited to see what you create.

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