Posts tagged 'real_life'

Working from home

For about 6 months now I've been working for Canonical on the Soyuz component of Launchpad. Like most other engineers at Canonical I don't work at the office but from a desk at home, as our nearest office is in London, not really a distance that is feasible for a commute. I do work at regular hours during work days and stay in touch with my colleagues using IRC and voice over IP.

I did have some experience working on contracts and study assignments from home previously, but working a fulltime regular job has turned out to be a bigger challenge. It seems easy enough. No travel time, every day is casual Friday, being able to listen to obscure death metal all day without driving coworkers crazy. Awesome, right?

Well, not entirely. I can't say I wasn't warned beforehand (I was) but I still ran head-first into some of the common mistakes.

Solitude

I can work well by myself and I appreciate the occasional solitude, but it does get kinda lonely when you're physically sitting by yourself for 8 hours a day, five days a week.

Fortunately we regularly have sprints at different locations around the world and, apart from appealing to the travel junkie in me, that brings some essential face time with coworkers. Electronic communication mechanisms such as mailing lists, IRC, Skype and, more recently, mumble also help make the rest of the company feel closer, but it's still very different from being able to talk to people at the water cooler (the point of which, btw, still escapes me. What's wrong with proper cold tap water?).

What also seems to help is going into the city and meeting up with others for lunch, or even just to get groceries.

Concentration, work times

One of the nice things about working at home is that you're quite flexible in planning your days; it's possible to interrupt work to run an errand if necessary. The downside of it is that it is also really easy to get distracted, and there's something I do very well: procrastinating. I initially ended up getting distracted quite often and then would end up working into the evening to make up for that lost time. The result being that, while only spending 8 hours doing actual work, it felt like having been at work for 12 hours in the end and having lost all spare time. Or as a friend summarized it accurately: working at home is all about boundaries.

This is at least partially related to the fact that I am a compulsive multi-tasker; I always do several things at once and context-switch every minute or so (prompted by e.g. having to wait for code to compile), including checking email and responding to conversations on IRC and Google Talk. This, among other things, has the effect that I respond quite slowly in IRC/IM conversations; if you've ever chatted with me you've probably noticed it. Multi-tasking has always worked well for me - despite research suggesting otherwise - because software development always involves a lot of waiting (for vcses, compilers, testsuites, ...).

Recently I've tried to eliminate some of the other distractions by signing out off Skype, Empathy (Google Talk, MSN, etc) and Google reader completely and only checking email a couple of times per day.

Feeling productive

What has perhaps surprised me most of all was how essential the satisfaction of getting something done is. After spending about a day staring at Python code it's important for your mood to have accomplished something. This appears to be a vicious circle, as lack of progress kills the fun of work, which kills motivation, which causes a lack of progress.

I am hard core, so during my first months I used my lunch breaks and evenings to hack on other free software projects, triaging bug reports that had come in or reviewing patches. Despite the fact that this is indeed technically a break from Launchpad, it didn't (surprise!) seem to work as well as stepping away from the computer completely. Also, it turns out that spending 14 hours a day programming doesn't make you all that much more productive than working a couple of hours less.

What I've discovered recently is that getting at least one branch done by the end of each day, even if it's just by fixing a trivial bug, helps tremendously in giving me some sense of accomplishment. Julian also wrote a blog post with some useful hints on feeling productive a while ago.

What is your experience working from home? Any good tips?

Currently Playing: Sieges Even - Unbreakable

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Thoughts on the Nokia N900

Yesterday I started writing up a quick review of my new phone/tablet, a Nokia N900. Unfortunately it has since broken down by what appears to be a hardware issue. It does still work to a certain degree, as the leds flash and I can access it as a USB mass-storage device, but the screen hasn't shown anything since I woke up this morning. The timing could not have been worse, as I'm currently abroad and having a phone (as well as a GPS) would be useful, especially considering the ash cloud situation in Iceland.

Update: 4 weeks after dropping my phone off at the Nokia care center I have received a new N900; they weren't able to tell me what was wrong with the old one.

Anyway, my thoughts about the N900. Please note that I haven't used a lot of other smartphones, so I can't really compare this with Android phones or iPhones.

The good

The integration between the different components of the phone is really well done. Nokia has invested heavily in Telepathy, which is used for all voice and text messaging, and it shows. Skype and regular telephony are very nicely integrated with telepathy, albeit through proprietary daemons. There is one global status for all protocols. Skype and SIP conferencing work well.

The address book is another thing that is very nicely integrated with the rest of the device. It combines IM addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and other information for a contact and there are third party applications that can help keep that information up to date.

Both the Ovi maps app and its data are free, and it's possible to copy the maps onto the device so you don't need to stream them all from the internet when you're abroad. It's pretty quick compared to e.g. a Garmin GPS, but lacks features. It can't load GPX files, can't show points of interest, store tracks, etc.

The music player is neat and automatically indexes all audio and video files that are copied onto the device. The camera and photo manager work well, and are reasonably snappy.

The web browser displays all pages I've accessed so far without rendering issues, including flash.

There are quite a lot of neat third-party free software applications available - eCoach, Hermes, grr, mBarcode, Mauku, tubes, tuner, fahrplan.

The bad

Maemo is Linux-based and it has a lot of similarities to your average Debian-derived distribution. Despite that, it contains a lot of proprietary software. In particular, the Skype and POT plugins for telepathy, the address book and things like Ovi Maps are proprietary. This means it's impossible for me to fix little annoyances (see below) in these packages, but more importantly, it's impossible for others to fix these little annoyances or port these apps to the desktop and other devices (where there's an even larger pool of potential bug fixers).

The GPS doesn't work very well. This might be due to the fact that the hardware is substandard, but I suspect it has got more to do with the fact that if it does not find a signal within 30 seconds it will switch itself off. I assume this is to save energy, but this behaviour can not be switched off anywhere. A workaround is to close and reopen Ovi Maps every 15 seconds or so, but that's pretty annoying. I'm sure somebody with access to the source (I don't!) can fix it.

I'm sure the calendaring app is nice, but it lacks support for synchronization with Google calendar, which makes it unusable for me.

The standard email client does work, but it doesn't scale well. It will lock up at times while trying to index mailboxes. I've tried using claws mail for a while, but its interface is just too cumbersome - in general, but in particular on such a small screen.

The battery lifetime sucks. If I'm lucky I can make it through a single day with a fully charged battery, with only mild usage. The form factor is also still a minor issue for me, but I doubt that bit can be fixed in software.

Overall I'm pretty happy with the N900, although I'm not sure if I would pick it over an Android phone again.

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