Always Get Better

Archive for March, 2015

Standing Desk Experiment

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

Over the past year I experimented with working at a standing desk. My setup was a converted “regular” sitting desk with the computer monitor lifted on a set of rubbermaid bins. It wasn’t the most beautiful rig but the ergonomics were right and the screens were at an appropriate level for my height. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of the contraption.

Motivation: Not Wanting to Die

It should come as no surprise that sitting for long periods of time is killer bad for you. When you live a generally sedentary lifestyle, any excuse to get out of your chair is a good one; so my expectation going in was that I would probably be uncomfortable from being on my feet and subtly flexing my knees all day versus sitting.

In reality it wasn’t bad at all. The first two or three days my legs were pretty sore at the end of the day and then my body got accustomed to standing. Many standing desk users suggest putting an anti-fatigue mat down; I never did nor did I find I needed it. The first week I used a few towels to pad my feet from the hard floor but after the initial adjustment I was fine on my own.

Results: More Energy

After sitting at a desk all day I noticed I was always exhausted both physically and mentally after work. I would want to eat dinner and relax on the couch with the kids, maybe watch a movie. I expected to be ready to crash and put my legs up after standing all day, but the opposite happened.

Unlike days spent sitting, when you stand you never stand perfectly still; you’re always shifting your weight from one leg to the other even if you’re not noticing it. At the end of the day I felt wired – I didn’t want to sit at all. I was more likely to go for a walk than to vegetate and zone out after working.

Results: Sharper Focus

After all this I think every company should raise their conference tables and throw away the chairs, or ditch the conference room and go for walking meetings instead. When you’re standing you naturally approach your tasks with more urgency, and have quick brilliant insights. Everything gets done faster because there is less mind-wandering.

For a programmer, this works really well if you are doing a good job at breaking your work down to manageable tasks. A single work unit can be done quickly when there are no other distractions, and standing really helped cut through all those other distractions.

Results: Shorter Attention Span

The major downside I experienced was the flip side of the sharp focus that standing brought. Long monotonous jobs, like data-entry, research, or marathon programming sessions were a lot more difficult to focus on while standing. I would start tasks with a lot of focus but lose interest and need to switch to something else or walk around. This worked well for quick multi-tasking kinds of work, but when something too longer it felt like a struggle.

Mix It Up, Do Both

The standing desk streak was broken when I did some business travel last November. I had to force myself to sit at a desk all day where no standing spaces were available. Turns out, I didn’t hate it as much as I expected.

Nowadays I have a lot of surfaces to work on and I move around throughout the day, switching between sitting and standing positions depending on what needs to be done. The next purchase might be an adjustable desk capable of moving from a sitting to standing layout throughout the day.

I would recommend everyone try working in a standing position at least once. Like me you can try it out quickly without spending a fortune on a dedicated standing desk.

That’s Not My Job

Friday, March 13th, 2015

Most companies seem to have a group of people who gravitate to either front-end or back-end development. I’ve been struggling to wrap my head around this because it doesn’t seem like a useful dichotomy.

It’s a fast-moving field, do you really want to carve a niche as a Unity programmer? An ActionScript expert? A Sharepoint developer? If you specialize to that degree, what happen

s when your technology of choice moves on?

How many of these have you come across:

“Front-end” developers who don’t understand the HTTP stack.

Companies that don’t have centralized source control.

“Back-end” developers who believe front-end code should be unit and performance tested just like server code – who don’t understand why squeezing maximum performance for one user on one machine would be as challenging as constructing a web app that served thousands of users at the same time.

Web designers who don’t know HTML, CSS and jQuery.

Anyone who takes a laissez-faire approach to security.

Project groups that don’t use Continuous Integration.

Understand More

Everyone has an area of interest where they excel and you should definitely pursue yours. Never forget that yours is a piece of the whole, and the more you understand of the whole the better you will be able to create value with your work.

If Photoshop is your bread and butter, learn how programmers slice your designs into HTML. Understand the technical limitations and get inspired by what the web browser can do for you.

If you’ve been slinging awesome responsive webpages, use your JavaScript skills to learn Node.js and understand where that server data is coming from and how it is stored. Expand your ability to write front-ends that scale as beautifully as they present.

If you are more comfortable in the bowels of a Linux server, download Cocos2d-x and experience the thrill your front-end counterparts get when their math turns into gorgeous sprites on-screen.

Everybody’s Talking

Every time you learn something new you open up a world of people you can network with and understand at some level.

Whenever someone asks how to get into the field, what do you answer? “Just do it!”