Software Development Heaven – sit stand desk and Herman Miller chair

This year I joined the sit-stand work environment revolution and I love it! When it comes to being a successful software professional, investing in the right tools is important. Many of us overlook ergonomics, especially our desk and chair. In terms of productivity, I would argue our desk and chair are just as important as our workstation/laptop, keyboard, IDE, and even wifi connection.  An internet connection is now suddenly much less useful to me when it doesn’t come with an ergonomically designed sit-stand workstation.

Unfortunately most employers are cheap when it comes to providing good desks and chairs for their people. Thankfully this is changing. In 2006 Joel Spolsky pointed out a top of the line chair helps with staff retention and productivity. When averaged out over the life of the furniture, per day it costs less than toilet paper! Think about that the next time you use the bathroom.

I have gone through 4 chairs from big box stores in the past 6 years. Some for $75, one $200! This time around I did some research and have hopefully fixed the issue once and for all. This time I went all out and invested in the best chair I could find. That means skipping the big box stores completely. Only boutique furniture stores that specialize in ergonomics have the right stuff. I also opted for a motorized sit-stand desk, allowing me to stand for part my work day further improving my posture.

BEFORE – sit down only, chair from big box store:

AFTER – sit stand motorized desk with Herman Miller Embody chair:

sit stand desk software
Sitting configuration.

sit stand desk, standing mode

Standing configuration with anti-fatigue mat.

I use an anti-fatigue mat when in standing mode. I spent about $40 on a good one from Amazon. My rug is pretty thin on top of hard wood floors. After an hour I do notice my feet start to ache without the mat. When standing I make sure not to lock my knees. I shift my weight between feet or adjust my posture every few minutes. At first it is a little strange standing up and programming. It puts me in a different kind of mental zone where I feel an urgency to get things knocked out.  Feels like ‘the meter is running’, so I need to get more done when I’m standing. I stand 2-3 hours at most in a day. The difference at the end of the day is noticeable!

I am overjoyed with this setup. My productivity is way up and I feel great!

This entire setup was $1,850 including freight shipping. That is less than a new 15” MacBook Pro! It should last 10-12+ years, much longer than your average development laptop. Doing the math, if this setup lasts just 10 years the cost is ~$0.50 per day.  Seems like a no brainer. Plus it makes a nice tax deduction, which are few and far between in the software business.

How to buy an ergonomic desk and chair – shop in person if possible:

When shopping for a desk and chair, I didn’t want to order it blindly off the internet, especially the chair. I recommend going to a showroom that carries Herman Miller chairs. Pacific Furnishings in Portland, Oregon carries the entire Herman Miller line. They have a huge selection of high end office furniture. It is a fun place to visit. I sat in the Embody model for about 10 minutes and noticed it improved my posture right away. The Embody makes it hard to slouch, but also has a nice rocking mode when in a conference call or watching a presentation. I also tried the Aeron and Mirra models, but I didn’t like them. The Embody was the chair for me. All Herman Miller chairs get great reviews but each model is unique and suits a particular body style.

herman miller embody for software professional

I just love the exoskeleton design of the Embody:

herman miller embody for software professional

Finding a good sit stand desk:

Sit stand desks may be harder to test out locally. Thankfully ErgoDepot has an office in Portland. The cheaper sit stand desks are way more wobbly when in standing mode. I considered the crank style desks because they are cheaper, but the crank takes FOREVER. So I went for the motorized version.

Motorized sit stand desk switch

The switch on the left is to power the motor, the switch on the right raises and lowers the desk.

If you are on a budget, a do it yourself (DIY) standing desk is not that hard to make. Here is the ghetto one I built temporarily. I considered building a second standing desk just for my laptop. That takes up extra floor space and switching machines would break my train of thought.

DIY standing desk

I recommend rigging something temporary just to see if you like standing while working.

Taking it to extremes:

If you really want to take ergonomics in the workplace to an extreme, ErgoDepot has desks hooked up to treadmills! I’m pretty sure coding while walking would be an interesting skill to master, perhaps someday an Olympic sport. Interviewer: For this next interview question we’d like you to implement the bubble sort routine in C while jogging on a treadmill. Ready, set, go!

They say spend good money on anything that separates you from the ground – your bed, your tires, your shoes. Now I include my computer chair and desk in that list and I hope you do too!

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