[A picture of private offices at Fog Creek Software]

Joel on Software

The new Fog Creek office

by Joel Spolsky
Monday, December 29, 2008

Remember the Bionic Office? Fog Creek moved in there in 2003. After a couple of years we had outgrown the first office so we expanded to take over the whole floor. By the time our lease ran out in 2008 we had about 25 people in a space built for 18 and we knew we had to move. Besides, the grungy midtown location, perfect for startups, was starting to get us down after five years. We had a little bit more money, so we were looking for a place with about twice the space that cost about four times as much.

It bears repeating that at Fog Creek our goal is building the best possible place for software developers to work. Finding a great space was not easy. Our ideal of giving every developer a private office is unusual, so it’s almost impossible to find prebuilt office space set up that way. That means we didn’t have much choice but to find the best raw space and then do our own interior construction.

We knew it was going to take a while. After the first office, I knew that you should always plan on ten months from the day you start looking at space until the day you move in. And I also knew that if I wasn’t intimately involved in every detail of the construction, we’d end up with the kind of life-sucking dreary cubicle hellhole made popular by the utopian workplace in “Office Space.”

After a tedious search, we signed a lease for about 10,600 square feet on a high floor at 55 Broadway, almost all the way downtown, with fantastic views of the Hudson River, Governor’s Island, the Statue of Liberty, and Jersey City.

We found a landlord with his own construction crew who was willing to do the interior construction for us, at no charge. The only problem was that his idea of a nice office was a lot closer to Initech than Fog Creek. So we had to chip in about a half million dollars of our own to upgrade just about everything.

Building great office space for software developers serves two purposes: increased productivity, and increased recruiting pull. Private offices with doors that close prevent programmers from interruptions allowing them to concentrate on code without being forced to stop and listen to every interesting conversation in the room. And the nice offices wow our job candidates, making it easier for us to attract, hire, and retain the great developers we need to make software profitably. It’s worth it, especially in a world where so many software jobs provide only the most rudimentary and depressing cubicle farms.

Here are a few of the features of the new office:

Gobs of well-lit perimeter offices. Every developer, tester, and program manager is in a private office; all except two have direct windows to the outside (the two that don't get plenty of daylight through two glass walls).

Desks designed for programming. Long, straight desks include a motorized height-adjustable work surface for maximal ergonomics and comfort, and so you can stand up for part of the day if you want. Standard 30” monitors. Desks are straight instead of L-shaped to make pair programming and code reviews more comfortable. There are 20 electrical outlets behind every desk and most developers have small hubs for extra computers. Our standard-issue chair is the Herman Miller Aeron. Those guest chairs are the famous Series 7 by Arne Jacobsen. The pedestal storage is on wheels and incorporates a cushion-top for additional guest seating.

Glass whiteboards. Easy to erase, look great, and don’t stain.

Coffee bar and lunchroom. There’s an espresso machine, a big fridge full of beverages, a bottomless supply of snacks, and delicious catered lunch brought in every day. We all eat lunch together which is one of the highlights of working here.

A huge salt water aquarium which brings light and color into the center of the office.

Plenty of meeting space. The lunch room has a projector and motorized screen (most frequently used to play Rock Band, thanks Jeff Atwood); there are several smaller meeting tables around, two conference rooms, and a big S-shaped couch.

A library, fully stocked with obsolete paper books and two reclining leather chairs, perfect for an after-lunch nap.

A shower (floor to ceiling marble), so you can bike to work or work out during the day.

Wood floors around the perimeter, so you can use scooters to get around. Carpet in the offices to make them quiet. Concrete in the lunch room because it’s bright and looks cool.

I can’t quite fit in enough pictures in this article to really give you a feel for the space, but I put a bunch of photos of the new Fog Creek office up on Picasa. If you’re interested in learning more about the rationale behind spending so much money on building a great workspace, read A Field Guide to Developers.


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About the author.

I’m Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Fog Creek Software, a New York company that proves that you can treat programmers well and still be highly profitable. Programmers get private offices, free lunch, and work 40 hours a week. Customers only pay for software if they’re delighted. We make Trello, which lets you organize anything, together, FogBugz, enlightened issue tracking software for bug tracking, and Kiln, which provides distributed version control and code reviews. I’m also the co-founder and CEO of Stack Exchange. More about me.

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