What Does a Tech Company Look Like?

Many software shops are desperate to mirror the popular notion of how these places operate: loud, boisterous bullpen type arrangements, whiteboards all over with various contrived things on them, street lights flashing the current iteration progress, desks littered with crazy toys and blimps and toy guns, and various nerdly hijinx. It is, in every way, cargo culting, putting the image of how it should work against the actual of how it works.

It looks like what many outsiders think a software shop should look like, all those geniuses doing their genius thing.

Impress investors. Impress potential hires. To the latter most will say "oh no! That wouldn't impress me", but the truth is that real work in this field occurs in the most boring looking way possible, so we all like to imagine that a vibrant office will be an amazing new experience. But in the end we're still wrangling code all day.

- Commentor corresation on Hacker News

Steve McConnell wrote in 2000 about “cargo cult software engineering”—the idea that software organizations often copy superficial aspects of other organizations they admire, wrongly believing that they are the cause of the company’s success.

Here’s a startup that works out of a garage because it’s too broke to afford an office:

In the garage

Right now, somewhere in downtown San Francisco, a large tech company is designing its swanky new office space:

Never lose that feeling


I guess some never leave the garage.

Humane Offices: MathWorks

MathWorks is a name that keeps popping up here and there when I read discussions about tech companies that respect the need for quiet and privacy amongst their software developers.

MathWorks sign

With headquarters near Boston, MathWorks is the maker of the venerable mathematical computing products MATLAB and Simulink.

MathWorks company BBQ

I was tipped off to MathWorks when someone left a comment on my post, But Where Do People Work in This Office?:

Here at MathWorks everyone gets their own offices with walls and doors and a small desk and chair for people visiting your office! I love it, it’s very peaceful to work.

Employees mention the private offices in reviews on Glassdoor:

Private offices: collaborate with a co-worker on the whiteboard/computer without interruptions.

- Current Employee - Software Engineer in Natick, MA

Private offices, great tools, many talented colleagues, plenty of opportunities to learn new skills.

- Current Employee - Principal Software Engineer in Natick, MA

MathWorks private office

From a comment thread on Hacker News about private offices for programmers, MathWorks comes up again:

…the general goal is an office for every full time salaried (non-hourly) employee.

In a thread from the /r/cscareerquestions subreddit:

"MathWorks...[is]/[was] famous for providing private offices to workers."

MathWorks private office

Check out the open positions at MathWorks here.