Working at Reddit: Wired. Working at Wired: Tired. And Bummed.

A scene from the movie 'Office Space'.

One might say that for Aaron Swartz, one of the people behind Reddit, the honeymoon resulting from their purchase by Conde Nast/Wired is over. The problem is that one would be wrong — judging from some earlier entries in his blog, there wasn't a honeymoon at all, at least from Aaron's point of view.

Here's a snippet from his latest blog entry, Office Space, in which he describes what it's like to work at his new digs, the Wired offices in SOMA:

You wake up in the morning, take some crushing public transit system or dodge oncoming traffic to get to work, grab some food, and then sit down at your desk. If you're like most people, you sit at a cube in the middle of the office, with white noise buzzing around on every side. We're lucky enough to get our own shared office, but it's not much better since it's huge windows overlook a freeway and the resulting white noise is equally deadening.

Wired has tried to make the offices look exciting by painting the walls bright pink but the gray office monotony sneaks through all the same. Gray walls, gray desks, gray noise. The first day I showed up here, I simply couldn't take it. By lunch time I had literally locked myself in a bathroom stall and started crying. I can't imagine staying sane with someone buzzing in my ear all day, let alone getting any actual work done.

While I'd rather have my own office, I can't complain too loudly about the open office space at Tucows. It's not ideal, but I've worked in worse setups, and it's possible to be productive in such an environment. It may have helped that I've done my time at computer labs back in University, back when home machines didn't have the muscle to run Unix and could only hook up to the network via a 14.4 modem. I understand the bit about the noise from the highway; I worked in a San Francisco warehouse building near the same highway back in 2000 and 2001 and know how noisy it can get.

As for distractions from co-workers, I don't mind. I often welcome it, but that's my ENTP personality type, and talking to people is part and parcel of holding the title of technical evangelist.

While I would bristle at some of the the technology diktats set by Conde Nast (standard-issue old iBooks, only one approved email client, the administrative website is accessible only via the standard-issue machines), I don't think I'd have as big an issue with the Wired office environment. In fact, I'd probably say “Whoa! I work at Wired!” every few minutes for the first month.

I'm not as inclined as some commenters to Aaron's post to dismiss it as whining; I hung out with him quite a bit at the first O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference back in early 2002 and consider him a friend. I don't think that writing such a blog entry so early in his tenure as a Conde Nast/Wired employee is going to make management feel happy, but it does make for some interesting reading.

I wonder how long he's going to stay there.

Perhaps his entry should lead you to ask yourself this question if you're an office worker: Is Aaron having a “who moved my cheese” spell or unsuited to office life? Or is he right, and have you swallowed the Big Lie?

One reply on “Working at Reddit: Wired. Working at Wired: Tired. And Bummed.”

It made for some interesting reading indeed. I think he is in a state of culture shock right now.
Has this guy brought these things up with his boss before posting these issues on his blog? I would consider most of his grievances of a logistical nature that can be easily solved by bringing them up with his new management. One would think he is in a good bargaining position, no? I assume he failed at resolving his problems and resorted to a public venting of frustration.
What really stunned me a bit were his comments about San Francisco public transit and traffic. WTF?

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