Old Office, New Office

Summer Sojourn’s End

Joey's car (Black Honda CR-V), packed to the gills, with a red bike in the rear-mounted bike rack.

My summer immersion term at Shopify ended on Friday. I’d found my niche within the company, gotten to know the team and was ready to continue working remotely. It was time to return to Accordion City.

I moved out of the furnished apartment they provided me for the summer – affectionately dubbed the “Swank Tank” – a day early because I had a business trip to Montreal and packed everything I’d brought with me and picked up over the summer into my car. I tucked my car into Edward’s driveway for the couple of days I was away, far enough out of sight of the kind of people who break into cars to help themselves to the loot inside.

Between not knowing how much kitchen stuff would be provided by the Swank Tank’s proprietors, wanting to have a good chunk of my home office material handy over the summer and just being be ready for anything, I overpacked when I left for Ottawa in May. I’d also picked up a couple of large items over the summer, including a new monitor and bike. Looking at my car, you’d think that I’d made a permanent move and not just gone somewhere else for the summer.

I decided to wait out the Labour Day Friday cottager traffic and make the five-hour road trip from Ottawa to Toronto in the evening. I had dinner at the Smoque Shack with my coworkers Liz, Julie, Nick and Brian, picked up my car at Edward’s and went into the Shopify office one more time to get the last of my stuff.

Old Office

Here’s the entrance stairway to the current office. This won’t be our current office for too much longer; we’re moving into a newer, larger space a couple of blocks down the street later this fall:

The entry stairway to the Shopify offices

Here’s the reception area and lobby, as it appeared at 9:30-ish on Friday night:

The reception desk and lobby at Shopify

Offices take on an eerie, haunted sort of vibe late at night, so I decided to snap a couple of pictures. Here’s the “Fishtank”, the glass-enclosed room where Shopify’s design team works:

The empty desks of Shopify's design team room

The Fishtank has a big glass wall that looks out onto the main “bullpen”:

The big glass wall in the Shopify Fishtank looking out onto the main office

Right across the hall from the Fishtank is the boardroom, which you may remember from the Epic Meal Time video that was shot at our offices; this is where the final tasting scene was shot:

Shopify's boardroom, with cardboard animal "trophies" hanging on the far wall

By some strange coincidence, whenever I get an assigned space at an office – something that hasn’t happened since I left Tucows in late 2007 –- I usually get the “Keanu Reeves Location”: a desk situated in the dead centre of the mass of desks (just like his character in The Matrix had). I had that spot in the Shopify office:

Two rows of empty desks in the centre aisle of Shopify's main office

Here’s my old desk, all clear and ready for the next person to occupy it. I took the Shopify standard-issue 15” MacBook Pro, Magic Mouse and wireless keyboard with me, but left the Cinema Display and Aeron chair behind. It would’ve been nice to take both back to the home office with me, if I’d had the room in the car:

A desk that is empty except for an Apple monitor

New Office

This year’s been a bit of a weird one. Between being in the hospital, several trips (two of which lasted nearly two weeks each) and being in Ottawa for the summer, home wasn’t where I lived; it had become a nice place to visit. The (not so) recent change in the domestic situation also meant a few changes in the layout of my apartment, including a chance to reclaim the home office. I got the basics done before I left and did some serious setup over the Labour Day weekend. The results are shown below.

Here’s what you see as you enter the new home office:

Carpeted apartment bedroom converted into a home office, showing a long desk with computers and a window looking out onto treetops

Here’s a closer look at the desk. I bought it at Cooper’s old Queen Street location back in 1997 for what seemed like a lot of money back then, and it’s served me well over the years. It was originally L-shaped, but over the years, I’ve reconfigured it in all sorts of ways: L-shaped, split into two desks and finally, as a single long workstation:

Joey's workstation, as seen from the left

Here’s the desk from the other side:

Joey's workstation, as seen from the right

Opposite the desk: a set of matching shelves and a lot of organizers I’ve picked up over the years. I used to have more programming books – they used to eat up shelves – but in the age of PDFs and the iPad (plus the fact that the half-life of a tech book seems to be nine months these days), most of my tech library is in electronic form now:

Bookshelves packed with books, plus photo boxes of files and many plastic bins full of wiring and other tech equipment

Here’s another view of the whole office. The window looks west out onto the courtyard behind my building, and beyond that, the tree-lined Gothic Avenue:

Joey's home office as seen from the desks, showing a windows overlooking treetops and the bookshelves and organizers

The left side is the Windows half of the desk. My main Windows machine is the Dell 15” laptop I got as one of my fabulous parting gifts from Microsoft. The monitor is one I bought as a present to myself shortly after joining The Empire just before my birthday in 1998. And hey, who wouldn’t want to have an Xbox in their office?

The left side of Joey's workstation, with a Dell 15" laptop, 25" Samsung monitor, Wacom drawing tablet, Xbox and wireless controller and office chair

On the right side of the desk: the Mac side. That’s a 15” MacBook Pro driving a 24” LED Cinema Display that I bought from my coworker Nick just before heading back home. Note the Avenue Q “The Internet is for Porn” mousepad just to the left of the keyboard.

The right side of Joey's workstation, showing a 15" Mackbook Pro, 24" Apple monitor, several organizing containers and a "The Internet is for Porn" mousepad

The New Old Routine

Today’s my first day back at my old routine as a mobile worker. I’ll get a fair bit of work done at the home office, but I’ll also be mixing it up by being on the road, plus working at some alternate locations because I don’t like being a shut-in.

The view from the front of Cafe Novo, a cafe that opens out onto Bloor Street

I’m a member of the Hacklab, which gives me 24/7 access to their Kensington Market space; it’s often empty during the day. There are also a number of work-friendly wifi-equipped cafes where I hang out, both close to home in High Park (I’ll write about them soon) as well as closer downtown. And finally, I’ve got a fair bit of travel in my future – so much that I’m getting my Nexus card next month – which means I’ll be working from hotels, cafes, airport lounges, BarCamps, other people’s offices and so on.

It’s going to be an interesting fall.

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.


It’s One of the Perks of the Job

View from the bar at Cafe Novo, looking out onto the patio and High Park

The best antidote for a day full of meetings in boardrooms in a suburban office park is to finish it in different surroundings. So when my last meeting on Friday ended with a couple of hours of business day to spare, I made a beeline for one of my favourite “field offices” – Cafe Novo, located across the street from High Park, and a very short walk from home.

The photo above was the view from my “workstation” at 4 p.m. on Friday: the bar facing the roll-up front wall which in turn faces the park. Pictured are the tools of my trade – my trusty Dell Latitude XT2 tablet with the memory maxed out at 5 GB and the so-last-century mechanical hard drive replaced with a solid state one, my favourite portable mouse and an iced mocha.

Working in settings like this is one of the perks of the job.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


Working in the Kitchen

01 ms ottawa officeMicrosoft Ottawa’s Kitchen. It has a decent view.

Every Microsoft office has a “touchdown area”, a place filled with cubicles where visiting or mobile workers can work. I avoid these like the plague.

Thanks to all the work I’ve done in cafes or coworking spaces, I prefer to set up in Microsoft’s “kitchen” spaces. The wifi is just as accessible there, but the lighting is natural, the tables are larger. the fridge with all the free Diet Coke is nearby by and it doesn’t feel so boxed in. Unlike cafes, you can leave your stuff at the table when you go for a bathroom break.

So, when I hung out in Microsoft’s Ottawa offices on Friday while waiting for my coworker and travelling buddy Damir to finish his meeting, I eschewed the touchdown cubicle and set up shop in the kitchen. These photos show what my “office” looked like, and believe me, it’s a lot nicer than a veal-fattening pen-like cube.

02 ms ottawa office

A lot of office workers might balk at the idea of working in a kitchen space, but consider this: people have been working in kitchens for millennia. Its centralized  placement in homes and workplaces as well as its layout and design are the product of countless generations doing work that sustains life.

On the other hand, the modern office has its roots in the Industrial Revolution. Its design is based on the concept of employee as interchangeable production unit and the hypothesis that people are naturally lazy and must be coerced into being productive.

Hence in the absence of a workshop-like environment (such as the Hacklab, where I often work), I opt for the kitchen.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


FutureRuby Talk: “Artisanal Retro-Futurism and Team-Scale Anarcho-Syndicalism” [Updated]

Update: There’s a link to a video of the same talk given at an agile conference earlier this year. See the end of the article for details.

Here are my notes from the FutureRuby presentation titled Artisanal Retro-Futurism and Team-Scale Anarcho-Syndicalism by Brian Marick.

Sticker: "Artisanal Retro-Futurism and Team-Scale Anarcho Syndicalism"

  • This talk is about economies and (dis-economies) of scale
  • The idea behind this talk got started around 2000 – 2001, when I visited agile projects and people on the teams would say things like “This is the best project I’ve ever worked on! Why do it any other way?”
  • Then, two years ago, I talked to someone who’d been doing Scrum for a year and he said “At least my job doesn’t suck as much as it used to.”
  • Hearing stuff like this, people like me – the Agile Old Guard – we get distressed. We’d much rather hear what people used to say
  • The problem is that the economies of scale that drive corporations to be larger and make more money are also diseconomies for the people working within them
  • I will differ from what Nathaniel [Talbott] said in his presentation. I believe that even the wage-slave can know “joy-in-work”
  • What used to be present in Agile projects that’s gone missing in new ones? I’ll tell you what it is: it’s Artisanal Retro-Futurism and Team Scale Anarcho-Syndicalism!
  • "Yes it’s true, not everybody immediately grasps what I mean."


  • First, let’s consider what “anarcho-syndicalism” is
  • Consider an agile team. The see themselves as alone in a dangerous place, where no one else is offering any help.
    • It would be nice if a “daddy” swooped in and help save them from the mean people
    • The are problems with this approach: it’s pathetic, and it often doesn’t work
  • Here’s a story for you to illustrate things:
    • An agile team was made to work in cubicles, like the rest of the company
    • Agile methods aside, cubicles are the "single worst arrangement of humans and objects in space for the purpose of developing software"
    • The team proposed changing their workspace to an open one
    • Furniture Police turned them down
    • In response, the scrum-master went to the office over the weekend. She disassembled the cubicles and changed the office layout to an open one. On Monday, she declared to the Furniture Police that “If the cubicles come back, you will have to fire me.”
    • They gave in
  • Anarcho-syndicalism is a political/economic/trade union movement
  • It peaked in 1923, and was crushed by the U.S. government in 1924
  • “Anarcho” comes from “anarchy” — they wanted to see government go away
  • “Syndic” refers to a trade union – they wanted to replace corporations with trade unions, or more simply, they wanted to see corporations go away
  • Anarcho-syndicalism has these principles
    • Worker self-management:
      • Workers decide how to control factory
      • They’re not fans of hierarchy in general
      • The aforementioned “Cubicle Incident” is an example
    • Direct action:
      • It’s about not waiting for “daddy” to swoop in and save you
      • It’s about taking action – doing something and then saying to anyone who disagrees “What are you going to do about it?
      • There was a difference of philosophies in the labour movement over direct action:
        • Some believed that they should elect/influence/bribe elected officials to pass laws to ban the burning down the houses of people on strike
        • Other believed in a more direct form of direct action: beat up or kill the people who tried to burn down the houses of people on strike
    • Worker solidarity:
      • This is the one principle that wasn’t followed in the cubicle incident
      • The scrum master could’ve been fired
      • Under worker solidarity, the entire team would’ve said “You’ll have to fire us all!”
      • (That’s okay, though: “Scrum masters are not hard to come by” – you’ve seen the courses: "Two days, $2000, you can be a scrum master!")
  • I invert the anarcho-syndicalist flag
    • I do it to reflect something the original anarcho-syndicalists didn’’t care about: team scale
    • I believe that teams should band together more
    • Sometimes it’s "our cursed individualism" that gets in the way, the need to be the Ayn Rand hero — we’d be a lot more effective if we could get past that
    • I am advocating teamsmanship
    • We need more power in the hands of the team to counterbalance the power in the corporation
    • Remember, power can be used for good, evil…or stupid
    • If the team is completely inwardly-focused, they will do stupid things
      • Completely inwardly-fcoused teams devolve into fighting over things like who gets the workspace with the most light
  • There needs to be a manifesto for software craftsmanship, to move from journeyman to master

Plate of artisanal cheeses

  • Let’s now consider what “artisanal” is
  • It’s all about the cheese
  • As an artisanal cheesemaker, I care about cheese
  • I want to make really good cheese for really good people who will enjoy the cheese
  • I care about the cheese!
  • The interests of the executives in an organization are not necessarily aligned with the owners (shareholders) or the pesky customers
  • The teams working on a software project for an organization often care more about the project than the organization’s executives do – in the software field, they are the artisanal cheesemakers
  • We – as metaphorical artisanal cheesemakers — care about the cheese, which means “we should get away with the things we want to get away with” because these things help us get our work done

Retro-futuristic cityscape

  • Now let’s consider what “retro-futurism” is
  • The future ain’t what it used to be
  • Look at all the old science magazine articles about the future: flying cars, cities underwater and on the moon and robots that clean the house. Only one of them came true!
  • "We have 60 years of envisioning the future, and all we got for it was the Roomba"
  • The unfulfilled promises are now part of popular culture: “Where’s my jetpack?"
  • Retro-Futurism is about having optimistic images of the future
  • The spirit of retro-futurism is in Infinite in All Directions by Freeman Dyson
    • Chapter 2 is pretty good
    • The book is really good at conveying a sense of possibility
    • It says that you keep finding new things when you go in the small direction, towards the sub-atomic, but you also find new things in the big direction too, towards the universe
    • You also find new things as you go outward and see the interesting complexity of life and social organization
    • It says that there’s no end to what a curious scientist could discover
    • It is permeated with a spirit of hopefulness
  • As for you and me:
    • We’re limited in most directions
    • I want to us to try to convert ourselves to infinite in all directions””
    • Holding conferences like FutureRuby is one way to do this
    • One way not to do this is to listen to people like me
      • I once had a …vigorous debate…Ron Jeffries about test-first programming
      • It was about what programmers would rather do – would they rather write tests or new code? I kept saying that “test-first is never going to work”
      • I also said: ”In two years, you’re going to ask yourself whatever happened to all those unit tests? They’ll be gone — it’s just the way the world works!”

Painting: "Liberty" (from the French Revolution)

  • As programmers, we’re used to working within constraints
  • The context in which we work makes agile hard – we need to change the context
  • Remember, you drive the context, not the other way around!
  • I’m asking you to be scrappy in defense of producing the cheese you care about, to do what you can to do the best work you can, to make the best software you can, as enthusiastically as you can. I’m asking you to practice Artisanal Retro-Futurism and Team-Scale Anarcho-Syndicalism
  • How do you do it?
    • By getting back to your workplace?
    • By harnessing the (useful) madness of crowds
    • By proselytizing the good word of Artisanal Retro-Futurism and Team-Scale Anarcho-Syndicalism
    • By visiting, the “global headquarters of the movement”

See the Video!

There is a video available – while it’s not the presentation Brian gave at FutureRuby, but one he gave at an agile conference earlier this year, it’s pretty much the same.


The Temptation to Loaf

There’s a small TV set in my home office that I sometime turn on – usually to one of the cable news channels — as “background noise”, which I sometimes find helpful when I’m trying to get work done.

Today, I’m on the road in London, Ontario with Microsoft’s EnergizeIT tour. I’m hanging out in the hotel room with my coworker Rodney with the TV on as background noise and here’s what’s on right now:

Photo of "lower third" of the Maury Povich show: "I had a threesome...who's my baby's father?"

When I tell people that I often work from my home office, they ask if I ever get the temptation to plunk myself in front of the TV instead of getting work done. The answer is no, and part of the reason is that there’s nothing but this junk on during the day.


The Moral Life of Cubicles

The final lines of the article The Moral Life of Cubicles: “The cubicle revolution, in fact, was above all ideological. The clichés hurled at cubicles were woven into their sound-dampening fabric board from the beginning. Any discerning criticism of office life will have to take this moral history into account. Indeed, it is precisely the axioms of what makes for a good company and a good person buried within the cubicle that most need to be uncovered and held to critical attention.”