Cube Farm

You're FIRED!

An Open Letter to Business


Cliff Notes:   Long rant about noise in the work place.  

Click on all pictures to enlarge.

I've been a pick programmer for over 25 years.    Pick is a business basic language, which also goes by the names of Unidata, Universe, D3 and a few others.   It's used by big companies, but lately it's been dying out because it's a legacy app and companies have been switching to other languages.    When I first started out, most of my work area was at a desk in an office.   What a concept.    But lately things changed.    At my current job, we sit in cubicles, I've been there for over 15 years.    So what's the problem?    The cube size has shrunk from 9x9 to 6x6.    You see funny e-mails comparing work to jail.   Well guess what, that joke is exactly correct.    Inmates do have it better than most employees.     Work is day time jail for normal people.  

Let's explain why the cube farm world sucks and why I want to get out of it.      It's not the size of the cube that bothers me, but the NOISE from all the people around it.   Even 15 years ago I remember when we first moved into our new building.    There were people all around me talking loud, playing radios, talking on speaker phones.   I'd complain and it would help a little, but there was always someone making noise.    We moved from one side of the building to another, and the same problems continued.  

Click the picture then back to return here.   Here I am in 2001.   A 9x9 cube.  In this set up there were a total of 24 cubes in the room and 5 offices on the side.   

A few years ago (2004) our company had the bright idea of putting the programmers next to customer service people.   Gee, what an idea that was.  These girls talked in Spanish all day.  So not only did my brain have to process someone talking all day, but it was in a language I didn't understand.  

Fast forward to 2007, the latest flip had us moving again, this time the cube sizes shrunk down to a 6x6.  Why?    For future use, they can cram 32 cubes and 11 offices into the same space.  But get this, half the cubicles in our company were EMPTY, yet the programmers were moved next to the web group, and they talk all day.   As I wrote this, there were 7 empty offices against the window wall you see in the picture up above, but programmers can't have them because they are only for managers from a company that bought us out.     Managers who have not appeared yet, and probably won't for a long time.  Yet the programmers are still stuck in 6x6 cubes next to noisy people on the other side of the room with a noisy warehouse on the other side.  

So frustrated about this, I went on an interview to see if there was anything else out there, a place with some quiet.   Not yet.   Want to know what happened?   I walked into a small office where  5 programmers work with a manager.   The boss sat in a nice office against a window on the 3rd floor with a view of the parking lot below.   Two of the programmers also sat against a window, but they were next to each other out in the open, crammed into a tiny desk about 3 feet wide.       In front of the boss' office were 4 more cubicles.  To the side was a big conference room with a door.    Do you see anything wrong with this picture?    And people wonder why it's hard to fill programming jobs.   They could easily fit two offices where that conference room was, but no, the programmers get to sit outside where all the noise is. 

So to all managers, and headhunters reading this.    STOP PUTTING PROGRAMMERS IN 6x6 CUBICLES.    The managers have nice offices, but the programmers get crapped on with 6x6 cubes next to noisy people.    Just so all you managers know, programmers do not want to be next to a bunch of people.    For some reason, managers have this picture that everyone wants to chit-chat with each other all day.    Nope, I want everyone to SHUT UP.    The answer is to make the cube sizes 9x9, and make the partitions go up to ceiling.  Or better yet, completely close in the cubicles with a door and walls that go to the ceiling.    But no, the managers think that everyone wants to look at each other, pop their head over the cube wall and talk like gophers.    That may be true for customer service people who are talking (flirting) all day that are used to it, but for programmers, we need QUIET.

What's the one thing most people who fly on a commercial jet want, besides arriving in one piece with their luggage?    A nice quiet flight.   What happens 99.9% of the time?  You get stuck near a crying baby.   Why do you think people are against having cell phones on planes?   Because you'll have to listen to other people blabbing the entire flight.   What happens when someone answers a phone in a movie theater?   They are immediately yelled down.   What happens when you visit a doctors office or enter a voting room?  There's a sign telling everyone to turn cell phones off.    If this is the case, then why are computer programmers stuck next to customer service people?  

When I make enough money, I'm quitting the cube farm world and doing something completely different.   The programming world will lose a hard working employee who can program anything in Unidata.   I don't consider my job to be a Senior Unidata Programmer/Analyst, instead it's listening to people talk all day, a torture test.      I'm on a message board with college aged kids.  When they ask which career path they should take, I tell them to stay away from IT.   Why?   Because you're either a manager in an office who was "included" or you're stuck in a 6x6 cube with a bunch of customer service people around.     It seems I wasn't included, even though I have 15 years of experience at my current job.   So I'm steadily telling everyone the cube farm world sucks, and to stay away.    That's why people are not going into IT.  Because programmers are put next to customer service people with cheap pay.   I tell them to start a business or get a graduate degree and become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer.   Stay away from IT.         Here's the pictures of what the cube farm world looks like.

Click on each picture above to make it bigger, then back to return here.   In the first picture is me in my 6x6 cube.    In the 2nd picture is me looking down the row of cubes.  There's 4 in a row, times 8 columns = 32 cubes.  I can hear everything people are saying.     At the end is an office against a window, it's EMPTY.  That's the window I used to be against in the first picture up above.    In the 3rd picture is a look to the right of the cube farm world.  This is where the web programmers sit.  One of them is a female who talks all day with a loud voice like she's talking on a cell phone.   She never shuts up and she's 3 cubes over.   To the left are more cubes, most of these are also EMPTY along with all the offices against the wall.      There's a total of 32 cubicles, 11 offices against the wall.   About 15 of these cubicles and 7 offices are EMPTY.    In the room next to us is more cubicles, of which about 15 of these are also EMPTY.    In the previous room where we came from, are 9 cubicles, and 2 offices that are now EMPTY.   What is going on here?   Half the cubes and offices in the building are empty, yet we're stuck next to people who talk all day.   Do I sound frustrated?   Yes, I am.     

So to all you head hunters and managers out there.    Stop putting your programmers in 6x6 cubicles.  And if there is a job out there with an OFFICE, please let me know.   Until that time don't e-mail me asking if I'll send you my resume.     I don't need to be stuck in a little desk in front of the nice office the boss has, while there's a conference room next to him that sits empty most of the day except for a weekly programmers meeting.    I don't need to be in a 6x6 cube farm while there are offices against the window that are EMPTY.    No No, you find a job with a closed office where I can shut the door and block out the females who talk all day, then send me an e-mail.  

I hope some of you managers realize why you can't keep good programmers around.   We're sick of the noise.  It's easy to design a cube farm of 6x6, and then put customer service people next to programmers, and then you wonder why your good programmers are retiring, or quit after a few years.      And you head hunters wonder why you can't find qualified candidates to fill the IT jobs you have listed.    It's because they have 20 acronyms and lead to a cube farm world next to customer service with people looking over our shoulders snooping on us.   Companies restrict web access, don't allow streaming music, block many web sites, make things boring,    Did you know that is counter productive?    Did you know that Google doesn't care what their employees do, as long as they stay in their cubes?   I look around my area and people are taking breaks all the time.      It's the work environment.  

Update October 2010 - After much complaining, they finally came around and made our cubes 6x12.   Basically they lengthened each cube making it a rectangle.   The problem here, is the extra space is at the entrance of the cube, and it's not used.   So it's still a 6x6, just means less people in the room.

See the office at the top of the picture?   That's where I go to work and get away from the noise.    Everyone calls it my office, even though it's really a meeting room.  I can hear everyone in the room and I'm so happy when we have layoffs.  

Another example of a rectangle cube.  Look at the bottom left of the picture.   There's nothing on the counter, it's unused space,  not only that, there's no room for guest chairs or people to come in and sit.   The person sitting here has no privacy, people walking by can look in on them and snoop.

Now let's look at the way it should be.  Here we have a nice big cube where the person faces the entrance.   No feeling of being stabbed in the back, the person sitting here feels safe and doesn't have to worry about people snooping at their monitor. 

People do not like their backs facing the entrance, which is why many put up mirrors.  One person even put up a motion detection sensor that turned on a light when someone approached his cube.   You may be saying, "Tuff, employers deserve to see what everyone is doing."   Fine, and when no one stays and you have an empty cube farm, you'll know why.   The problem is that everyone snoops at the monitor when walking into a cube.   So the people sitting with their back facing the entrance feel they're going to be stabbed in the back.    Co-workers will walk into a cube, look at what the person is doing, and say something about it.   That's why many are turning their monitors around.     The traditional cube farm does not work. 

Want more proof?   Google the term "Open Plan Wiki" and this page will come up.  Scroll down to Disadvantages. 
Open Plan Wiki
The noise level greatly reduces the productivity, which drops to one third relative to what it would be in quiet rooms."

Update 2011 - We're moving again, this time to a new building.     You see, every time a company is bought out, there's 5% layoffs across the board, and they move to a smaller building.    There's a great movie that just came out which documents this, "The Company Men" and it stars Ben Affleck.    Go see this movie.  It explains how CEOs at the top get everything, while the employees are hung out to dry.    Yet when you hear about good companies, it's the people that make them great.  

The Company Men

Will the programmers get offices at this new building?  Are you kidding me?   Not even the managers get offices, they get a 6x7, and everyone else gets a 6x5.     50 people in one room, a farm.  

Here is it, this is what you get for being in IT.    6x5, and who are the programmers next to?    AP (Accounts Payable).    The girls talk all day.    I call it animal row.    It's like a zoo.   They never shut up from the moment I arrive at 07:30am to when I leave at 04:30pm.   

CEOs get big offices they barely use because they're in meetings talking all day or out of the office.   While the employees get a cube farm.   This is why MultiValue is dying, the work environment is horrible.    So the managers trying to hire Pick Programmers can't find anyone and they convert to something else.    Oh, and all companies have "Morale" meetings.     People spill their guts giving ideas about what should be done.   Do you know what comes of these meetings?   Nothing.    The CEOs read the comments, say they'll think about it, and things fizzle.   They stand up in front of everyone saying, "What can we do to make the company better?"  Then go right back to what they were doing, completely ignoring the great ideas the workers come up with.    The work environment is the key.     The cube farm sucks, which is why I tell everyone to stay away from IT.   

I bought $300 noise cancelling Bose QC-15 head phones.   They help, but I can still hear everyone talking.    So when the managers say, "get headphones" that's not the answer.


In 2013 my boss quit to become a male nurse.    Call it a mid life crisis, but I think the work environment had something to do with it.    I ended up getting a window cube since I had senority.     The noise from the animals is slightly less, but they never shut up.  


1/24/15 update - Take a look at the pictures up above.   In the 1st picture, the person wanted a "door" for their cube.   They removed it a couple days later because there was no space left in the cube, but this person wanted a door.   Take a look at picture 2.   This person decorated their cube for Christmas, and left it that way.    Why?   It's like a mini office.    Take a look at picture 3.    Can't see the person while walking by.    Same thing in picture 4, this person also wanted some privacy from behind.    Do you see what is happening in all of these pictures?    People do not like their back exposed, yet that's exactly what the cube farm does.   

02/22/17 - Here's a web page with a video explaining the origin of the cube farm.

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