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The office of MINDSCAPE at Hanon McKendry is located in the heart of Downtown Grand Rapids. It’s on the sixth floor of an old building next to Van Andel Arena.

When the elevators open on the sixth floor, visitors are treated to an open floor plan, a nice reception area, a nifty coffee bar, some fancy table and chairs for informal gatherings and a half-dozen nice cubes where information workers are busily executing strategies for website success.

It’s a great place to walk into, and a great atmosphere to work in. The free soft drinks, breakfast foods and a hidden cupboard full of M&Ms and trail mix add to the lure for workers.

But there is a hidden danger, one that the programmers who used to inhabit the cubes near the reception area found out first hand.

You see, the lights are really bright and cast harsh glares on their dual monitors. Co-workers and clients bustle to-and-fro past the cubes, catching their eye and interrupting their code flow. Phones rang, impromptu meetings and parties broke out at the coffee bar and the student tours gawked at the programmers, making them feel like white collared monkeys in a zoo.

MINDSCAPE’s merger with Venux in 2010 precipitated a change. We needed more room for the programmers and the six cubes in the entrance area of the sixth floor were no longer enough.

The programmers moved down to an empty office space on the first floor, and it fits their needs much better. Take a gander at the advantages they enjoy, and see if you can figure out why it is called the Pit.

A look at the “Pit”

1. No Lights – it’s true, this is an advantage. Fluorescent lights are harsh and being able to see your surroundings clearly only entices distraction.

2. Silence – it really is golden. The phones are used rarely, the inhabitants speak softly and everyone understands they walk on hallowed ground. Creation is happening and it is given the respect it duly deserves.

3. Privacy – it is hard to say if no one visits because they do not want to interrupt, or because it has been forgotten what office they are in, or if it’s the four digit combination lock on the door. Either way, the programmers thrive knowing they can put their heads down and get work done.

Programming Nirvana

4. Windows – There is a lot of natural light during the summer thanks to a number of windows along edge of the office. True, it sometimes brings too much light, but being able to see outside is a pleasant reminder that there is a world beyond the 1’s and 0’s on their computer screen.

It’s nearly a programmer nirvana, although there are some drawbacks.

1. Bathroom Breaks – Here’s a recipe for disaster: put eight intense, focused programmers in an office with no bathroom on that floor and only one key to access the bathroom on the next floor up. They aren’t concerned with simple bodily needs like waste disposal, so when the need makes itself urgently known, mad dashes for the key are inevitable. Then imagine it happens at eight in the morning on an overcast day in the winter. Ahh, you see the issue. There is no light. And there happen to be a lot of chairs in the middle of the room by the conference table. And there is only one key.

2. Communication – Sometimes it’s almost like the Pit is in another country and not just a short elevator ride (or walk down the stairs) from the main office. We had some communication issues for a while, but we are learning to overcome that through repeated training sessions with both the Morlocks and the lofty denizens of the sixth floor, the Eloi. Walking through the door into the Pit is not akin to entering one of Dante’s circles. Riding the elevator up to the sixth floor and having it open to a bright, vibrant atmosphere full of smiling, intelligent, bubbly people is not at all like their nightmare of showing up to do a presentation naked. It will take continual effort, but the gap will be bridged.

(If you ask me, any blog post that manages a reference to two classics like the Time Machine and Dante’s Inferno is a success.)

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