Buildings designed for Software Engineers

With the wonders of Google Maps at our service, we can get some interesting insights. Take the photo below, also viewable here. This is the older part of the Microsoft campus at Redmond, where much of the software in the computer I’m writing this on was developed.

Microsoft buildings at Redmond

Notice how the buildings all have cross shapes visible in their plans. This is not because of a religious bias in the company’s management. It is, I was told when I visited there, because Bill Gates had decided when he started the company that an effective software engineer needs the peace and quiet made possible by an office with a door. Indeed, while myriads of hi-tech engineers (yours truly included) work in cubicles in the noisy open space made famous by the Dilbert comic strip, Microsoft coders all have their own individual offices with real doors to block out the world when they need to concentrate. Of course such an office requires a window too, or it gets claustrophobic… which explains the shape of the buildings – with a need for so many windows, they had to be made with a convoluted outline, to maximize surface-to-bulk ratio.

For my part, I admire the tenacity – Microsoft moved to Redmond in 1986, and 22 years later they still resist the temptation to compress their engineers into cubes. They have a good thing, and they stick to it!

3 Responses to “Buildings designed for Software Engineers”

  1. 1 Mike Smith-Lonergan

    I worked on the Redmond campus for a couple of years, and as I heard tell, the design of those early buildings was definitely to maximize the number of offices that had a window (by maximizing the external surface area), but it wasn’t a requirement that every office has a window (even then – now it’s far less strict).

    Offices are still a given on campus, but not in the sales & marketing offices, and in the tech support pools (what few remain that are staffed with blue badges), cubicles were still pretty common. For those groups in buildings with only offices, double-occupancy is not uncommon, and tripling is used under duress (or if you’re “just a green badge”).

    For those groups being moved into the “newer” buildings (e.g. SpaceLabs), the offices are being built smaller and cramped, but they’re still pretty committed overall to the concept of a door – though the social pressures can sometimes discourage closing the door on your teammates.

    Compression still happens, just in different ways – and a door still isn’t proof against noise from neighbours, since the walls are often thin drywall and the ceilings are made from those ubiquitous “fibreglass tiles/sheets”.

  2. 2 Nathan Zeldes

    Thanks for the inside view, Mike. Looks like the ones enjoying the Dilbert dream are mainly the coders – which actually makes sense. Too bad they sometimes cave in to pressure…

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