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// Tales from software development

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After a long project based at Microsoft’s Thames Valley Park (TVP) campus, I started a new assignment a couple of weeks ago with a company that pitches itself as an online retail innovator. I guess I’ve been spoilt by my time at TVP because the working environment at my new assignment makes for a poor comparison despite the company’s attempts to make it a “cool” (sic) place to work.

The working environment at TVP is probably about as good as it gets but what is really striking is what it actually achieves.

Ask someone who’s been at TVP for a few weeks what they think of the environment and they’ll tell you that it’s great that there’s free coke, fresh fruit laid out in the kitchens every morning, a couple of excellent cafeterias, a shop for day to day essentials, and numerous coffee bars. Visitors are often nonplussed by the number of relaxation areas with football tables, pool tables, XBox 360 consoles, etc. where there are always people taking a break from their work.

Ask the same question a few months later and you’ll generally get a different answer. It’s usually something along the lines of, “It’s an environment that enables me to deliver.” I’ve heard a number of people say this in more or less the same words. There’s an appreciation of the ‘free’ stuff and the facilities but, in the end, what matters most is the fact that all this adds up to freeing people to get on with their work.

It’s difficult to moan about your working environment when it’s close to perfect. And Microsoft really does put a lot of money into ensuring that you do have a good working environment. As an example, in the area where I worked every chair was a Herman Miller Aeron. If you’re not familiar with the Aeron, it’s a superbly designed and made orthopedic and ergonomic chair that retails for around £700 in the UK. It even has its own Wikipedia page. Obviously, Microsoft must have got a huge bulk discount but, nevertheless, it purchased hundreds of one of the best chairs around for its workers to sit on all day. By contrast, in almost every other environment I’ve worked in, I’ve been sat on a relatively cheap generic office chair that made my backside numb after ten minutes and gave me backache by the end of each day. How is that supposed to help me deliver ?

I struggle to understand how a company can spend upwards of £800 a day for a contractor on projects that might last for years at a time but then ‘save’ money by buying cheap office furniture and using old, underpowered, workstations running back level operating systems. 

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Written by Sea Monkey

October 31, 2008 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Development

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