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A Year of Hermit Hacking


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A talk by Pamela Fox, from Ignite Foo 2012.

Published in: Technology, Business
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A Year of Hermit Hacking

  1. 1. Heyaz, Im Pamela. About 2 years ago, I was working for Google and I was in love with it. I was working on GoogleWave and their APIs and throwing my heart and soul into the project.
  2. 2. One morning, this big important exec dude came over the VC and told us that Google Wave was no more. I wasyoung and naive and I thought that projects were forever- I was heartbroken. I couldnt stay at Google anymorebecause I thought to myself that anything I worked on, they could kill one day.
  3. 3. So I said f ne, I wont work for this company or any company. Ill be a free-range developer, hacking in the grass. If ianyone kills something, it will be me. But f rst, I needed a place to hack. i
  4. 4. So I thought Id start with the obvious: work from home. Id have home-cooked meals, adorable cats to pet whenever,and I wouldnt have a commute down the nasty San Francisco streets that are perpetually under construction.
  5. 5. But then theres the actual reality of working from home. When Id see my kitchen, Id think to myself that I shouldprobably make some vegetable stock, stick some kale chips in the dehydrator, slow-cook some pork...and pretty soonI have timers going off every 10 minutes, and I havent managed to code anything.
  6. 6. Plus, my formerly adorable cats decide that my laptop is the warmest seat in the house and do anything they can totake their nap on the keyboard - and when Im programming interpreted languages like Python or JavaScript, anapping cat on my keyboard means constant syntax errors. And when Im banging my head against an error, its justway too easy for me to f nd myself in the living room watching a Glee marathon. i
  7. 7. So when I realized I just couldnt do the work from home thing, I f gured Id try the cafe. I could pay just a few bucks ifor a bottomless cup of tea, I could people-watch the hipster nerds, and I could eavesdrop on people brainstormingthe next big startup (and code it up while they were talking :).
  8. 8. But then theres the reality. First, cafes werent designed for hackers, and they have limited outlets. These are actualmaps of the 3 cafes nearest to me, with markers for the outlets and best seats near them. So you have to know thelocations, and you have to be the f rst one to get to them. i
  9. 9. At this one Starbucks, I was always competing with this homeless guy for the outlet seat. Now, when the homelessguy got the seat, I was pretty much out of luck for the whole day - cuz homeless guys dont really have anywhere togo, theyre quite happy to sleep all day. The employees at that Starbucks always gave me my drinks for free, and Ithink thats because they thought I classed up the joint when I was actually able to get the seat.
  10. 10. But, lets say I actually get a good seat and I set myself up with my laptop, my charger, my mobile testing devices andUSB cords...and then I realize I really need to go to the bathroom. I sit there staring at the bathroom, fantasizingabout how amazing it would be, putting it off until the very last possible minute.
  11. 11. When I realized I didnt have the bladder for cafe life, I decided to try co-working. There would be outlets everywhere,free WiFi, unlimited tea, toilets galore, and people!
  12. 12. So I joined a space thinking that there were all these people around for me to talk to. I started talking to them andfound one was a geologist, one that was a wikipedia ghost writer. One was an author of an advice book on sex -- forpeople over 50, so not so useful for me. I also found multiple life coaches, a job that I didnt even know existed.
  13. 13. They all had interesting jobs, but I didnt really know what to talk about with them every day. We had very differentgoals in life and ways of getting there. When I wanted to rant or rave about something during the day, I found it mucheasier to “talk” to Twitter.
  14. 14. But hey, I told myself, were all adults and we have this default way of talking to each other no matter what – drinking!The co-working space held a happy hour every Friday to enable that form of stranger socialization.
  15. 15. I had 2 problems with it. 1) It was at 4pm, which is apparently my productivity peak and the moment that Im alwaysjust about to deploy. 2) I was actually working on a nutrition-tracking tool at the time, so itd just be a little weird for meto join them in binge drinking while deploying my nutrition app, right?
  16. 16. At the end of nearly a year in the space, I had the sudden realization that I was surrounded by strangers - people Ididnt really know or particularly want to know. I felt more alone at the co-working space than I did at the cafes and myapartment.
  17. 17. I was so sad with this realization that I couldnt hang around anyone that had colleagues, because I would just get sojealous that they had someone to banter with during their workday.
  18. 18. So over the course of this year of hermit hacking, I f gured out whats most important to me. First, I really need the ifreedom to pee whenever I feel like it.
  19. 19. But equally important, I need to be around other people. Not just arbitrary people that happen to work in the samevincinity as me, but people that are driven by the same passions as me and working towards the same end goal.
  20. 20. Now Im starting to think that its time to join a company again. Sure, I would lose a little bit of control over what Imworking on, but I would gain the privilege of a community of colleagues - and now I know how important that is to me.