Monday, March 02, 2009

Gettin' My GeekSpace On

I believe that every geek needs some space to, well, geek out sometimes. For me, that involves:

  • Doing Open Source coding;
  • Playing around with technologies before I'm getting paid cash money for them;
  • Coding on the systems for the animal conservation charity of which I'm a trustee;[1]
  • Working on any startup ideas that I might have brewing at the moment.[2]

When I was living in Silicon Valley, I always had this type of space. Whether it was a bedroom that I used only for coding and sleeping (and other things requiring a bed), or a guest bedroom I appropriated for a pure geek room, I always had somewhere that I could have a nonstop whir of fans from multiple workstations, lots of monitors [3], and lots and lots of mess without any complaints from the significant other. And then I moved to London and it all ended.

When I first moved here I lived in no fewer than 4 homes in my first year[4]; none of them allowed me to set up a Geek Space. Flats here are small (you pay roughly what you do in San Francisco or Manhattan, but the flat you get for the money is drastically smaller than what you get in San Francisco for the same price [5]). Finally after 2 years we moved into a house where I finally had my Geek Room, but we only lived there for 9 months before we moved into our current home, a minimalist loft.

While a minimalist loft suits us aesthetically, it doesn't combine very well with a geek-friendly workspace. Convincing the other half that the Pawson-esque interior can support a desk covered in cables, books, scraps of paper, and at least 3 monitors (or one huge one) is a pretty hard sell. So I did what most London-based geeks do: I got a powerful laptop.

It's a compelling sell. Get a MacBook Pro and you have a system running Unix with a pretty darn beefy processor and bus. Plus, you can take it out of your cupboard when you want to do work, and put it back when you're done. Surely that's going to be good for coding and supreme geek activities, and support your small-flat aesthetic requriements? Uhm, no. When you're used to a crazy keyboard, a crazy trackball, and at least two 1600x1200 displays, restricting yourself to what you can do on a laptop is virtually impossible to do effectively. Plus, Mac key bindings are bloody retarded for coding (seriously? Steve thinks home/end should mean different things to the rest of the world? Take your mock-turtleneck and shove it, yo). You find yourself thinking to yourself constantly "I could do this faster on a real computer," and that distracts you.

Plus, I'm easily distracted. If I have a room all to myself, I can properly geek it out and ignore the distractions of being at home. If I'm in a corner of the general space I might be more social, but I'm constantly going to be distracted by being at home, and looking to just chill out on the sofa. Not conducive to being geeky.

This didn't impact me quite so much until recently: my previous two cash-money gigs were extremely laid back, and had no problems with my doing my own stuff on down-time as long as I got the job done. In addition, my jobs required me to constantly evaluate new technologies for addition to the company's recommended technology base, meaning I was being paid to play with emerging technologies. Current cash money gig? Not so much.

So when I found out that there was a desk up for rent in a shared office in Shoreditch, I went to meet the guys, and I signed up. I'll have a desk in a room with James Governor, James Stewart, and Matt Patterson. Admittedly they're there mostly during the days, and I'll mostly be there evenings (on the way home) and weekends, but I'm pretty excited about the chance to have a suitable GeekSpace where I can prevent my geek-self from intruding on my home life, and be able to geek out with others (again, previous jobs had more people conducive to doing this during business hours than the current gig). All this for less than I spend on beer in a month.

I think this probably a pretty good model that other geeks in suitably expensive domiciles might want to follow:

  • Find a cheap room reasonably close to where you work, or in between where you work and where you live;
  • Rent the room and network access;
  • Split the costs between the lot of you.
You get the best of all worlds: a space you can geek out, and no home-life strife. What's not to like?[6]

I'll be posting more about this as I get myself fully embedded, and as I learn some good rules on combining an off-site GeekSpace with an at-home life devoid of real workstations. Consider this an experiment in work-life balance for the geek set.


[1]: You'd be shocked at the level of paperwork and data management even a simple zoo would need, and how little of that appears to be general enough that you can pay someone to take the burden off your hands. I'm shocked at how charities a little bigger than we are, without a software engineer available, are able to comply with the requirements.
[2]: Of course officially I have none of these. None at all. Nothing to see here; move along, move along.
[3]: Ever tried to make sure sure an Ikea desk isn't going to collapse under 2 21" CRTs? Can be quite nerve-wracking...
[4]: My personal life got very complicated when I moved here. If you don't know me personally, that's all I'm gonna say; if you do know me, you know what happened.
[5]: 750 square foot for a 2br being a luxury? Seriously? London's that crowded? I don't think so. It's more that the planning system is so insane here that once you get the chance to build anything you cram in as many units as you can in the space. For a place that isn't a concrete canyon/jungle like Manhattan, it's a bit ridiculous, really.
[6]: This isn't relevant to the Silicon Valley set of course. What self respecting Silicon Valley geek doesn't have the ability to setup a Geek Space at home? None.

blog comments powered by Disqus