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So I know everyone here is all about private offices, how many developers actually have them. I am sort of half skeptical. I can believe that lead developers have them, but thats normally just one person in your average office. If it would not be to much to ask:

  • Do you work in a totally awesome office or a nasty old cube? (or somewhere in between)
  • What's your relative rank in the office? (junior, programmer II, senior, lead, etc.)
  • are you doing internal software, or are you in a software-centric environment? (the general thought seems to be that internal developers get cubes while others live in "Joel-Spolsky-Programmer-Candyland")
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my assumption is private offices are rare. And right now, I work in a cube farm pushing 250+ IT folk (hardware/software). –  Tony Sep 29 '10 at 11:46
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In nearly a decade and a half, for 10+ companies and lord knows how many different desks. Number of private offices = 0. Time wasted as a result of distraction > time saved as a result of hearing what's going on and reacting to it. –  adolf garlic Sep 29 '10 at 14:16
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Lets not forget that having a private office (which I do) and having the door to said office respected (not unless the door is closed, locked, and a snarky poster covering the doorknob) are two different things. ;) –  AnonJr Sep 30 '10 at 14:24
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As an aside, I swear if I try to open my office door with my house key one more time this week I'm going to cry. –  AnonJr Sep 30 '10 at 14:25
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24 Answers

up vote 44 down vote accepted

I think the question should be "How many developers should have private offices?" Which leads to the next question: "Why should they have them?"

In the management world, were concentration on a task is not an issue, offices are a means to represent status. They think "private office == more status, big private office == even more status, etc."

What most people fail to understand: Every time our concentration is broken, we create at least one bug and/or delay the deadline for another half-hour. Private offices is not a "nice to have" for developers but a must. This is not about status, this is about brain physics.

Working in an open space costs at least 30% productivity (I read that in a newspaper, start with this blog post if you want to know more). Worst part: This goes unnoticed. If you always work in such an environment, you'll never notice that it happens! Until you wonder why your neck is stiff, you feel tense/nervous all the time, etc.

If you want another productivity increase, take the telephones away, too. Unless you're doing production support, the next day is always soon enough.

To relax the team, supply free soft drinks. That costs $100-300/month for a team of 10 and makes sure they take regular breaks, drink enough (so they don't dehydrate).

The funny thing is: These aren't a bunch of myths but hard facts. Still, most companies ignore these simple, cheap ways to boost productivity. Well, except for the successful ones, of course (Google, Microsoft, etc).

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I think those are entirely different questions. –  JeffO Oct 4 '10 at 14:36
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free soft drinks = hydration? Maybe water, dunno about soft drinks... –  Xepoch Oct 4 '10 at 17:50
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Our current open space has high ceilings with two floors, and there are regular Nerf gun fights throughout the day. –  Uri Feb 21 '11 at 1:08
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This answer deserves some analogy. A programmer not having their own office is about as effective as a teacher sharing a classroom with other teachers(at the same time). –  Earlz Feb 21 '11 at 3:51
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-1 soft drinks don't make sure you hydrate. If anything they have the adverse effect. in programming soft drinks is just a sterotype and band wagon that people jump on to look cool. if hydration is a concern get a water cooler or supply water bottles –  dreza Jul 6 '12 at 10:41
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I've had both and yes the private office was nicer. But you know what, developers aren't the only people who need to concentrate or who would do better with a private office. We aren't some special class of people who need more than anyone else. Sheesh, I'm tired of this prima donna attitude. Private offices are expensive in todays world and thus rare for everyone except managers. Realistically, you can't expect to get a private office most places, so learn to work with distractions just like everyone else does.

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Just because more people than us could use offices doesn't automatically mean we shouldn't get them, and the fact that they're considered expensive doesn't mean they aren't cost-effective. Learning to work with distractions typically means learning to work less productively but with less frustration, not learning to work at top form even with distractions. –  David Thornley Dec 1 '10 at 22:03
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Private offices have always been expensive. It's also financially foolish for companies to pay the kind of money programmers command and then waste our time with distractions. –  Bob Murphy Feb 21 '11 at 1:55
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Programmers are like paintings: they cost money in proportion to their rarity and perceived value. By comparison, there would be nothing immoral or illegal about paying $100 million for a Renoir and hanging it up in your shower, but you'd be a fool to do it. In the same way, I think companies are foolish to pay the quite expensive market rates for programmers and then give them poor working conditions that don't get the most out of the company's money. And I don't think a programmer - or anyone else - is a prima-donna for pointing that out. –  Bob Murphy Feb 22 '11 at 3:39
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The Master said: “A gentleman is easy to serve, and hard to please. Nought but what is right pleases him: he fits his behests to the man. The vulgar are hard to serve, and easy to please. What is wrong may yet please them: but of their men they expect all things.”

When I had a private office, I disliked my job for other reasons (I was actually happy with compensation, and was treated very well. The lack of smart co-workers bothered me, amongst a few other things). Now I do not even have a cube, but I am happy and productive (I bought myself excellent noise-cancelling headphones for only $150, which is cheaper than paying a union-backed worker to change one light-bulb in a union-controlled building).

Instead of having luxury at work, I would rather take more $ home. Keeping my programming tools sharp is good for my salary, but I understand that a job is a job and dirty/dull work is not always avoidable.

More development managers should wear programmer's shoes, but also more programmers should have a better business sense - for instance think about how much $ just went into project X, and in the hindsight decide whether they should have bought someone else's tool instead. Just an example, and I can find many more.

Many talented developers live in a business bubble where they want to work on fun projects all year long. Street-smart developers also understand that money makes the world go round, and good customer base=everything, and sales, support, & other folks at the company matter plenty.

So, a street-smart developer will over time move to a pasture that is as green as possible, start her/his own business perhaps. An idealistic developer will ask questions on forums about how life should work, and/or will write a blog entry about how managers suck, and programmers rock, and the world is no fair to us, poor programmers.

And in the long run we are all dead, so make sure to spend your weekends wisely, such as getting drunk, having lots of sex, hiking, hitting the beach, and do not forget about ping-pong. Your list may vary. After a nice weekend work-out, your euphoria may last till Wednesday, at which point you have only 3 days of suffering without a private office left.

EDIT: When scrumming, having no walls and being able to group the new team geographically is a big plus.

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Amen and Amen! This has been my exact philosophy with regard to my career for the past 6 years, and thus, I've managed to get the kind of work & money I wanted, with the freedom to move on if things don't work out. –  jonathanconway Feb 7 '11 at 6:15
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I work in an open plan office, that is divided into several spaces by glass walls and doors (the entire business is on a single floor, and you can see end-to-end). There are several separate meeting and concentration rooms where you can go sit with your laptop if you need to focus, have meetings, make phone calls, .... The programmers all sit in a separate but shared space (no walls in between the programmers). There is the agreement that if you hold a conversation, and it starts to bother people, they can send you to one of the separate rooms. This tends to keep people in line automatically (they'll move to a separate room by themselves if they need to talk).

Overall, I can't say that I am bothered by noise. Sitting in a private office would not make it meaningfully easier to concentrate, and it would separate me physically from my fellow programmers, which I wouldn't like.

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I work at home. My office is anything but private. My grandson crawls in to help me push buttons and wrinkle paper. My granddog comes in to push my arm up and demand some attention. My 22-year old comes in to say "I'm bored". The phone rings all the time & it's not for me. But boy, you can't beat the commute!


Other "offices" I've had:

  • the botton of a garbage can turned over was my desk, along with a folding chair.

  • in a microcomputer lab, sitting on a stool, listings on lap, stepping through code one instruction at a time. Good way to get a sore neck.

  • a door on boxes in a bedroom of an apartment, starting up a start-up.

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Quick comment on French offices: cubicle are virtually unknown (very rare).
When there are several desks involved, there is none (or very little) separation between each desk.

I have always (12 years+) worked only on:

  • big rooms (4 to 8 people per room) for the smallest environments
  • huge open-spaces (15 to 30 people per space)

It sucks, but at least I learned to concentrate ,) Real hard...

Only the upper management level gets individual offices.

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So just desks in the open? sheesh. –  Morgan Herlocker Sep 29 '10 at 4:18
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@Prof: sheesh is right ;) When you are not used to it, it is quite a shock. –  VonC Sep 29 '10 at 4:19
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It's pretty much the norm in the UK too. –  Jon Hopkins Dec 1 '10 at 22:58
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When I'm at the office I share room with two other developers. Often at least one of them is not there. As our group has recently moved to a completely empty floor everyone could have an office for himself, but most of my collegues seem to prefer offices with two or three people together. I prefer having other people nearby -- maybe it's because I come to work two days in the week and spend the rest alone working remotely.

As for the other questions:

  • I guess "senior programmer" would fit.
  • We sell software we're making.
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I left a job 2 years ago because they took away my private office. The office manager complained that I was the newest person and that he didn't have an office, so they decided to make me share my office, and eventually devised a strategy to make things really delightful; Change offices and offices co-inhabitants once every two months, just to mix things up a bit :) My office wasn't the only reason, but it all started there. If you have trouble working outside of a quiet, dark room, avoid a cubical job. It'll make you hate programming.

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OMG! So every two months you'd have to gather all your stuff and move somewhere else? That's the most stupid idea I've ever heard! –  Eldelshell Sep 29 '10 at 10:27
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I'd move my stuff every day if it was to a quiter location. –  JeffO Oct 4 '10 at 14:37
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I worked in a security company which sells alarms. All the IT and Tech operations where in the same floor, with long lines of desks facing each other. It was hell to work there, since most of the time, some of the tests required some alarm to be set. All day long you were working with 60+ people, on-desk meetings, alarms going on and on. Best place I worked at we had a small office for all three of us programmers. It was apart from the rest of the business departments and I loved it. The only conversations were technical or about girls.

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Right now, I'm quite privileged, I got a nice 10 X 15 ft. private office. I got a window to look at when I need to think and I could see a lake from it.

I work for a small company that just expanded its building before hiring me. The main purpose of the expansion was to get a bigger showroom/warehouse and some class rooms for client training. They build the class rooms on top of the showroom/warehouse with some private offices, so they moved the software/training department to the new part of the building.

Just beside my office, there is a 15 X 20 ft. office that is for "future expansion", but that expansion was postponed because of the economic troubles. So the next programmer we will hire will have a huge office, but he will have to share it, eventually.

Before that, I had a government job with a cubicle,. Office space where highly regulated, and only management had a private office. Even it's an it's size was regulated among their position in the hierarchy.

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Every person at my company has a private office( or the opportunity for one ), with the exception of warehouse staff and two accounting staff who work together so closely that a shared office makes more sense.

Our UI developer is the one who has the option to have a private office, but he chooses to work in the hallway instead( don't ask, I don't get it either ).

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UI developer works in the hallway? I wonder if that's to facilitate hallway usability testing. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usability_testing#Hallway_testing –  Jeffrey Hantin Oct 11 '10 at 21:24
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I have a semi-private office, i.e. a fairly spacious office with two large desks, bookcase, two credenzas and a whiteboard which I share with another programmer who is working on the same project as I am (embedded software). We are both senior level. I have a separate lab for doing hardware-type stuff.

The only other programmer in the company (who works on our web GUI and backend) has a private office next to ours, about 2/3 the size of ours. Our manager, who is also the architect and technical lead (he does some programming), has a single office the same size of ours with a desk, credenza, bookcase, whiteboard, and a table and four chairs for group meetings.

Each developer also has two LCD wide-screen monitors, and the company has free soft-drinks.

This is a small startup (~ 15 people). At my last long-term contract, which was at a large company, I was in a cubicle, but at least it was a large cubicle with an outside window.

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  • Cube Farm
  • Only Developer
  • internal corporate use software

planning on making push to work from home a couple days a week.

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Is there any software company in the US besides Microsoft and FogCreek Software which provides private offices for software engineers?

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They did when I worked at Autodesk in the late 80s and early 90s. –  Bob Murphy Feb 21 '11 at 1:56
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It's not a software company but software developers at Chick-fil-a headquarters have private offices... one developer per office, with a door that closes and walls that go floor to ceiling. Not all the offices however have windows that look out to the exterior of the building. They also kick you out of the building at 5pm since overtime is pretty much prohibited. Neckties are required so there are some trade offs for getting that private office.

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At my work you have to have a very high rank to work in an office. I'm coming up on 5 years and still have a long way to go to get to the level of having my own office. In my group's defense we work for a big company and have to abide by their rules, my group at least caters to us with nice keyboards and monitors and other perks. On to your questions:

  • I have a 'nasty old cube' assigned to me but i'm almost never there, my particular group happens to work in a secure lab with 20-ish developers all setup at lab benches in open space.
  • I'm a Sr. software engineer, which may map more closely to 'Programmer II"
  • My group is pretty software centric but our company as a whole does lots of other stuff so we're not a 'software-only' shop

Thanx, T.J.

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My most productive project was one where the two of us had our own Skunkworks office. We took a traditionally waterfall company kicking and screaming into iterative development.

Two of us wrote a 500k+ user social networking app in 6 months.

But after going live, the team grew and are now in an open-plan workspace. Communication is better, but interruptions are a lot more frequent.

Both have their pluses and minuses I think.

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I had a private office for 3 years. Then worked for a company that had the developers in cubicles. At first the cubes had 4' walls then after some discussion they were replaced with 6' walls. That change made a significant difference; probably because there was less visual distraction.

Most developers I know, including me, are in cubicles or big open rooms.

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In four programming jobs I've only ever had one office (and that was in my first job). In my current position there are four people sharing two to an office in a team of around 10, with everyone else in a "shared working area". I've also been self-employed, where I had my own space by default.

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I'm a lead. I work in a shared space (cube-like, but open) that's about 20x30 with two other people.

I'm not like other developers in that I like to have light while I work, so I have lamps in my section with the lights off elsewhere.

I develop mostly web stuff (Flash, Javascript) and occasional apps (Air or Objective-C). I work in an ad agency.

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  • Private office. All of the programmers here have them. Supervisors get windows.
  • "System Software Developer"
  • Used to do web apps. Now do internal development.
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For the last year I've worked in my living room, which I share with my two dogs.

Previously I've either had a private office, or shared an office with between 1 and 3 other people. I haven't worked in a cube since I was a co-op student.

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Team office is 9.5m 8 6.5m ( that's roughly 30' x 20' for my American cousins)

So plenty of space for both team members. With five 18" wide floor to ceiling windows.

We have a door.

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My personal experience is as follows

  • Home: + Nicest environment, because it exists purely to accommodate you, you've shaped the space specifically to your needs and likes. + Zero commute. + Everything you need is in easy reach. - Too easy to get distracted by personal life encroaching in your work time. - Have to pay to provide your own broadband, hardware, software, etc. - Easy to become detached from the rest of the team. - harder to convince your superiors that you're working as hard as you would if you were at the office, even if you are.
  • Open plan: + Er... - Massively distracting, too noisy, most other people aren't programmers and won't show any consideration to the need to not be interrupted, the need for quiet, etc. - Almost impossible to work when Sales are being given a motivational speech/sales report/etc. - No privacy. - If you're not a worker directly related to what the business does (sales, management, marketing etc) you'll probably be shown no respect by your co-workers.
  • Private office: + Quiet + Privacy + Fewer interruptions. - Sense of isolation and detachment from the business can form. - Easy to lose touch with the rest of the team. - Someone will always be gunning for your office (See other answers regarding office == status symbol).
  • Team office (Smallish office for just the IT team): + Surrounded by like-minded people who understand the needs of a developer. + Probably few objections to wanting to listening to Jonathan Coulton. + Separated enough from the departments that would otherwise be a huge distraction. - Less privacy compared to a private office.

My ideal working space would be at home but hardly anyone allows that unless you're working for yourself. Failing that, I think my preference is for the team office. If you put all the devs in their own individual offices the sense of being part of a team can disintegrate, which is the last thing you want. An office for your team gives you a working environment that's well suited to development as most devs won't do stuff that they wouldn't want their co-workers doing to them, but it provides enough of a social environment for there to still be a strong sense of a team.

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