Postmortem on working from Nebraska


I have spent the last three weeks working from Lincoln Nebraska, where my wife is in school. In fact, I am typing this from my plane back home. I decided that it might be interesting to talk about my experiences working remotely.

First, I would like to thank Microsoft for the opportunity to work remotely. I feel very very privileged to be given the chance. I know that few employers would be so understanding. I am very grateful for getting to see my wife for three straight weeks. It has been great. That said, spending half your time living apart from your wife isn’t easy. Furthermore, aside from the fact that I have more flexibility over which NPR station to stream content from, I hope I don’t offend anyone by saying that Seattle offers a living environment that is more to my liking.

Best parts:

  • I love the commute.
  • I love the fact that I can drink my breakfast coffee while at work.
  • I love having my refrigerator and stove at work – lunch has never tasted so good.
  • I love working when no one else is awake (Nebraska is on central time).
  • I was more productive. Probably because lunch took little time, I didn’t have a commute, and I had fewer distractions.
  • Call forwarding worked well once I figured out how to enable it. People would call me without realizing what state I was in.
  • To anyone who doesn’t know – remote desktop kicks ass

 

Not-so-great parts:

  • It is hard to hear people in meetings. I guess speech recognition is hard for humans too.
  • I miss 3:00 coffee. All of the debugger developers go to the cafeteria at 3:00 for a hot caffeinated beverage. For me, this means good chit-chat and a reasonable latte. In Nebraska there was no chit-chat and my espresso tasted fine, but somehow wasn’t as good. Unfortunately the rest of the country hasn’t yet realized that the correct number of coffee shops is one per block…
  • Can’t TS into the console of Win 2k. This was only a problem once.
  • It is hard to pull yourself away from work in the evening. Come 4 PM Pacific, there is a lot going on at Microsoft.

 

Advise:

  • Be careful not to get too sucked into work before you are done with morning activities. One of the first days that I worked remotely I forgot to take a shower.
  • I have worked remotely twice so far — once for two weeks and once for three. After two weeks I didn’t want to come back. After three weeks I didn’t want to leave my wife, but I felt like seeing people at work would be good. I don’t think I would recommend any longer.
  • My cable modem service has worked out well.
  • Complete with a 7200 RPM drive, my laptop can build the debugger faster then my dev box.
  • Getting my Virtual PC and my actual PC to have authenticated communication has been hard. I found it easier to use computers that are sitting in Redmond.

 

Thing to consider:

  • Next time I am going to try and hookup a second monitor to my laptop. Anyone played with multimon on a laptop?

Comments (8)

  1. Jake M says:

    There is one more thing that has enabled me to work from anywhere, virualPC and VMware. I don’t care which I use, because they both allow me to save the system state of a test machine and instantly reurn to it. They both allowme to have as many different configurations that I might need as I have hard drive space.

    Oh and I have never had a decent enogh video card in my laptop to make dual monitors partical. I have tried though.

  2. Roger Heim says:

    I’m going to assume you’re talking about Ultramon. Ultramon works great on my Dell 2150 laptop. It works better with Nvidia chipsets and video cards than with ATI.

    I use it primarily when doing presentations. The projector our user group uses maxes out at 800×600. Ultramon can drive the laptop’s panel at its native 1400×1200 and can drive the external video at 800×600.

    There is a product called Multimon that I use on my desktop. One downside is that Multimon can’t drive to two displays at different res’s.

  3. Dan Golick says:

    Greg I always use two monitors on my laptop. I don’t use any special sw but the video card built into my laptop supports dual-head display.

    This is a very productive way to work since you can have windows with context (google search, e-mail etc) on one window and the debugger opened on the other. Also if you do any gui development this setup is essential.

    When trying to debug a gui with a single display you get paint events everytime the debugger covers your gui. With the dual-head display I keep the debugger on one monitor and the gui of the project under development on the other.

    There are a few minor problems you may run into.

    Some applications keep "invisible" windows offscreen – these windows will show up on your second display. This is a minor annoyance.

    Another problem is with applications that persist the last position of a window but on start-up don’t make sure it is visible in the current configuration. So if you put such an app up on your second monitor in one work session and then later in another session you are working with a single (built-in) monitor you cannot see the window. The solution is to be familiar with the keystrokes for moving a window: Right-click on the icon in the active applications bar and select Move. Then use the arrow keys to start moving it. After pressing an arrow key the window will follow the mouse. Again rember to hit an arrow key after selecting Move.

    Good luck,

    D

  4. Gregg Miskelly says:

    I actually have been using two monitors on my desktop for ages, I couldn’t image going without, but I have never tried this on my notebook. The video card in my notebook is capable of driving a second display to some obscene resolution, so that isn’t a problem. On my desktop, the two monitors are at the same height and feel like peers. I am more worried about what it is like using one monitor that is right next to the keyboard and another that is very different. I guess I will find out…

  5. I run a notebook and second monitor. I found that having a resolution of 1400 x 1050 on the notebook and 1280 x 1024 on a 17" works great.

    However if you ever have Visual Studio (or any program) across both of the monitors, you will run into some problems. Everytime you ever touch the taskbar settings, or display settings Windows decides to resize the window to fit the primary monitor, which is a bit of a pain. But apart from that, I love it.

  6. jaybaz [MS] says:

    It’s interesting that you are more productive remotely because you have fewer distractions.

    When I work at home, I have wife & son running around the house. I can’t every focus on something for more than 10 minutes. Nothing gets done.

    Too many distractions.

    Your boss’s boss (Scott) used to work remotely from Hawaii while he wife was in school. Now *that* seems like a sweet deal!

  7. Gregg Miskelly says:

    It helps when the only child running around the house has four legs, a flufy tail, and only interupts you twice a day – once for a walk, and once for food.