Square Footage, Part 2

It just occurred to me that in this year alone, I have referred to four different buildings as “the office” and three different bedrooms as “mine”. I’m surprised that I don’t get lost more often.

I’ve already mentioned the current office and the one that came before it; both are located in Toronto. I went to the other two offices during my stint in San Francisco, earlier this year.

Late last summer, the company was flush with good press, and it was decided that we should have an office “where the action is”. One of the founders, Cory, went to San Francisco in September to open the American office, which would largely house the P.R. and business development teams while most of the development would still take place in Toronto. I remember saying something along the lines of “Wouldn’t it be neat to get transferred to the San Francisco office?”, not realizing that I would get the offer about six weeks later.

The first office space was a classic dot-com office: a converted warehouse at the edge of the seedier part of town (San Francisco has these seedy parts in good supply). There wasn’t really a front door — you entered through the loading dock. The entire third floor was being leased by an e-commerce company that specialized in buying stuff in bulk quantities. That company had just laid off people in bulk quantities and were only too happy to sublet half their space to us in exchange for dollars in bulk quantities (the equivalent of taking an Audi TT and losing it in some some teenage rite-of-passage ritual every month).

In a space that could’ve handled 40 people, we were four: general manager Michelle, office manager Robyn, chief evangelist Cory and yours truly as the director of developer relations. My title was just fancy talk for “programmer with ENTP personality profile” (studies have shown that 80% of programmers are INTP). Along with programming, it was my job to take my accordion to developer events, talk to other developers and jump in front of any news cameras. And to think that my Mom once told me that “no one will pay you to be popular.”

The office space was made up of two large areas: the front office, which had the kitchen, and the back office, which had the meeting rooms. The place had high ceilings, tall windows, office-grade wall-to-wall carpeting, exposed pipes and ductwork hanging from the ceilings and a nice (if somewhat out of place with the rest of the industrial look) kitchen. The desks weren’t really desks, but unfinished doors placed on “Burro Brand” sawhorses (the e-commerce company sold them to us for almost nothing). Cory and Robyn were both Disneyphiles and provided some of the decor in the form of Disney theme park memorabilia. A lot of my stuff hadn’t arrived yet, but at least I had my religious clock — a clock that showed a picture of either Jesus or Mary, depending on the angle of the viewer. All of us worked on laptops and listened to music on computer speakers. The neighbourhood was a little rough, so we always took our bikes inside the office, preferring to do it using the freight elevator. Most of the space was unoccupied, and we took advantage of it by either letting the EFF use the space while their offices were getting fumigated or using it as a makeshift velodrome. Simply put, it was the kind of hipster doofus office you’d read about in every new-ecomomy-porn article in Fast Company.

I took the northwest corner of the office. Nobody wanted it because it was too far from the door and the kitchen, but it put me close to two windows, one facing downtown, and the other facing the highway. It also put me a safe distance from Cory’s speakers, which constantly played Disney theme ride music or 1940’s novelty numbers (“goddamned clown music,” my co-worker John called it). The plan was to fill the remainder of the space with business development types, PR flacks and “local talent” — that is, programmers from the Bay Area who didn’t want to move to the Toronto office.

I remember sitting at my desk and surveying the area, thinking Not bad, Mr. deVilla. Not bad at all. I’m going to like it here.

We were out of there two weeks later.

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