The shrinking desk

At Job #1 I had a cubical. This was during the dot-com rise and fall, so much cubical humor was had by all. There were Dilbert cartoons on the walls, because that's what you did back then. My boss' hair was not especially pointy, but our HR director had Catbert cartoons on his door so... well. Let's stop there.

I had a cubical. It had tables on three sides, shelving units, and even a pair of rolling files. I used it all. I had two keyboard trays installed because at the time I did have two PCs in there (VMWare Workstation was around back then, but memory limits make it not as useful as it is now). I had the same space as anyone else without an actual office. The Ergonomics people came by every so often to chastise me about posture and nod approvingly at my keyboard setup.

At Job #2 I had a 1970's vintage metal desk and a table, with some wall-shelves over the table. The filing was restricted to what was built into the desk. I'd give it about 60% of the desk-level horizontal work-surface I had at Job #1. I had a second computer, but it didn't get it's own keyboard tray (that's what the KVM switch was for). Nor did I have a keyboard tray, I had an old-school desk and keyboard trays don't work so well on those.

By the time I finished at #2 I was down to a single computer (lots of RAM and a quad core processor, so VMWare Workstation was how I was grooving that problem). The ergonomics had thrown both of my shoulders for a loop, and I had to move my workstation to the table from the desk since the keyboarding surface there was lower and less aggravating to me. The one time an Ergonomics person came by, he frowned at my setup, recommended a trackball mouse, and asked if I could convince my boss to find actual cubical parts.

This was during a major budget crunch so workstation upgrades of any kind were on hold. So, no luck there. Also, I expanded to fill all of my horizontal space.

Here at Job #3 I have very architectural and edgy looking oak doors on metal pipes for that industrial look that goes so well with our brick walls. I have two rolling files and no shelving what so ever. My total horizontal space is 50% of Job #1. And I, er, have, by far, the messiest desk of those of us here.

When I visited the StackOverflow offices two weeks ago for a moderator thingy, their sysadmins had even less space than I have. Probably... 30% of what I have right now. Lower Manhattan real-estate is expensive after all, but still. I don't know how George and Peter deal with that, maybe they have a bench-space somewhere they can expand into for dissections.

On my desk right now:

  • Three iPad boxes that I'm getting set up for our Sales people.
  • A probably dead KVM switch I don't have another home for.
  • A second keyboard for my computer for the use of people who find my ergonomic keyboard with the letters worn off too hard to type on.
  • Boxes for three different ExpressCard adapters
  • Three nodepads for meetings and suchlike.
  • Another laptop for those few Windows things that either don't VM well or I need an isolated environment for. And also for trouble-shooting problems with the same model of laptop for other people.
  • Keyboard, monitor, mouse, and docking-station for my primary work laptop.
If I had shelves, a lot of those things would be up there rather than on my desk.

The Devs around here are pretty good about clean-desk. Most have a few books back in a corner, all have at least one note-pad for meeting notes. Only one has a significant amount of random crap on their desk, and I beat them out by quite a bit.

This is the point where I thank my lucky stars I don't work for a place with an actual clean desk policy.

How messy is your desk?


I have a corner desk of good size, but it is very messy. I have crap piled high on both sides

that said, my kb area is clean

On behalf of the entire internet, I demand pictures ! :-)

I've been blessed in my last two workplaces thus far when it comes to office/desk space. The only even partially conceivable gripe is the lack of windows.

I currently occupy a rather large office all to myself. The office would sit three very comfortably as two entire walls have permanent desk attached with overhead shelving that provides vast storage space. There's also a standalone drawer unit, a standalone shelving unit and a tall file cabinet. I could even store my bicycle in there comfortably but the access-controlled bike cage outside is sufficient.

When it comes to mess, I go through accumulation and purge cycles. Every few weeks or months, after accumulating papers, documents, hardware, boxes, electronics recycling, etc. in my office, I usually take part of a day to completely clean up and set things straight. It clears my mind and I'm then able to get back to productive work.

There aren't too many permanent items on my desk. Dual 17" 4:3 monitors (!!), a keyboard and mouse, my notebook, a paper inbox, an old printer that's only there because we still have toner for it (which I try to use instead of the "good" printer which has ongoing costs), my laptop and whatever other computers or hardware I happen to be working on at the time. Right now it's two ancient Sun lunch boxes: the IPX and IPC.

I no longer have a cubicle, a desk, or a chair.

A while back, I left a job at a consulting company where I had a desk/cubicle/etc., and while I spent a good amount of my time working at customer sites, I also worked in and around our own data centers with our internal servers, networks, and such. My cubicle and desk (and all other spaces in which I worked) was messy, and often garnered scorn (especially when big shots visited). But I maintained my messiness reflected my busy-ness. I loved my messes. I defended my messes. The messes were as comfortable as the chair.

Now, at my current consulting company, we have cubicle "motels" that are for use by the staff consultants when they are in-house (which is relatively rare).

I spend 99.999% of my time placed at one customer location, where I've been for almost a year. Our project team has a "War Room" conference room where we mostly sit, though sometimes we head out to other locations as needed.

I have no personal space, and I LOVE IT. No family pics, no mess, no piles, no comfortable chair. My entire world is encompassed in my laptop and all my VMs (like you), my Blackberry (yes, I love my Blackberry), and a Swiss Army backpack. Of course I have lots of family pics and notes and grocery lists and such; it's just that they are always contained electronically, and portable.

Every day I arrive at the site with everything I need; and I leave nothing behind but the changes I've made, electronic documentation, the occasional scratch/sticky note on the table, and strategy items on the white board and wall-sticky notes. Everything about it is honest, direct, and out-in-the-open. It keeps me on my toes and at my best... and never *too* comfortable.

I hope it never changes.