Ex-Valve employee lambasts 'worst' open office space

Rich Geldreich on the bad side of an open studio setup
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An ex-Valve employee has labelled the open office setup at the Steam firm “the worst expression of the concept I’ve ever experienced”.

In a blog post, Boss Fight Entertainment CTO Rich Geldreich, who spent five years as a software engineer at Valve working on Portal 2, DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, was speaking broadly about open office spaces at large firms, and said such a setup was “craziness” at big, established companies.

One example he used of a poor setup was of the DOTA 2 team, in which he claimed “the desks got packed in so tightly that occasionally a person would lower or raise their desks and it would get caught against other nearby desks”.

He added: “One long-time Valve dev would try to make himself a little cubicle of sorts by parking himself into a corner with a bunch of huge monitors on his desk functioning as walls."

Another issue he raised was how ambitious staff may clash in a small space as employees chase bonuses or look to gain a promotion or more responsibilty.

“Some particularly nasty devs will do everything they can to lead you down blind alleys, or just give you bad information or bogus feedback, to prevent you from doing something that could make you look good (or make something they claimed previously be perceived by the group as wrong or boneheaded)," he said.

“Anyhow, in an environment like this, even simple conversations with other co-workers can be difficult, because all conversations are broadcasted into the room and you've got to be careful not to step on the toes of 10-20 other people at all times. Good luck with that.”

Geldreich also highlighted numerous other issues with large open offices, including constant background noise, constant interruptions, proximity to sick co-workers, power issues for equipment and mixing staff of different professions.

“Ultimately, I noticed the biggest proponents of open office spaces have no idea how programmers actually work, aren't up to date on the relevant science (if they are aware of it at all), and in many cases do their best to actually avoid working in the very open office spaces they enforce on everyone else,” he said.

Not just singling out Valve however, in later blog posts Geldreich discussed Destiny developer Bungie as an example of what he claimed was another poorly planned open office space, based on pictures of the studio. He also praised Microsoft and Robot Entertainment for their office planning, particularly the latter for using high ceilings, a lower density desk layout and discipline based pod organisation.

You can view Geldreich’s series of blog posts here.

What do you think is the ideal office setup for developers? Do you have any examples of how your company operates? Let us know on our LinkedIn group.

Image credit: Tim Eulitz

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