Engineering
February 5, 2020

The Freedom of a Fully Mobile, Software Dev Setup

Engineering
February 5, 2020

The Freedom of a Fully Mobile, Software Dev Setup

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.

— Charlotte Bronte from Jane Eyre

With this free will, imagine choosing to be a bird who defines its own cage.

I believe this statement to be a matter of perspective… I will always be in some form of cage, small or large, apartment room or Milky Way galaxy. But, for a moment, imagine living life in such a way, waking up to a warm cup of coffee, and thinking… Where will the boundaries of my life extend to today?

For so many this question has an answer. The office. Honestly, the office is a really wonderful place when you work with good people in a healthy culture. I have never had a “remote” gig so the office is all I have really known. It was back in November 2019 that our small team of developers at Galley Solutions learned that we would be transitioning to remote Mob Programming and collaborating with a team in Argentina. We would still be open to coming into the office and would receive a small stipend to get the gear required to successfully collaborate on Zoom all day. I was relieved that the office was still an option because the condo my wife and I live in does not really have the space for a home office. I was also fearful of being at home all day. That idea of a cage sounded scary and claustrophobic.

This idea hit me about two days after we found out about the news... I had always enjoyed working out of coffee shops, cafes, and public places with a little bit of character, noise, and foot traffic… almost like how the ambient sound of the jungle helps put people to sleep faster, the ambient hustle and bustle of the coffee shop invites a bit more presence and focus in me. The idea was to create a mobile office that offered the benefits of a more established home office so that I could work, comfortably, from anywhere. This way I would be free to choose my own cage… everyday.

In building this set up I wanted enhanced ergonomics, more screen real estate, extreme portability, low cord count, and low cost. Check out what I came up with…

An external monitor on a tablet stand, a laptop on a laptop stand, a keyboard, mouse, and a set of headphones on a table.
The full setup.

The whole setup requires two cords, costs $305(without the backpack), fits in a 3 x 2.5ft rectangle, and sets up in a relaxed 2 minutes and 20 seconds (I timed it and forced myself not to rush). One cord powers the MacBook and one connects the external monitor.

Lets dig into each individual item and how they work together... Just a note and disclosure here that these are affiliate links to products on amazon that I am a huge fan of and will get a commission on if you purchase any of them through the links in this article.

Hyper X Cloud Alpha — These headphone are the most crucial part

The other day while working in a small and loud North Park coffeeshop, I had a UCSD Comp Sci professor tap me on the shoulder and ask me how I managed to video chat here without driving the participants crazy. I told him it is all about these headphones and the adjustable mic. He was amazed and said he usually had to walk all the way home before hopping on video calls.

With remote Mob Programming there are three to four programmers on a Zoom call collaborating all day around code. To be productive, sound quality and communication needs to be clear. By turning my personal mic volume in the Zoom controls very low and placing the mic very close to my mouth, I am able to completely reduce outside noise. That means meeting members only hear me, not the coffee shop!

…Winning

Sitting man with macbook relaxes and smiles in celebration
Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

Portable Monitor — Lepow 15.6 Inch

This monitor…

  • 0.3 inches thick
  • Weighs 1.7lbs
  • Connects fully through USB type-c for power and picture
  • Is fully HD with incredible screen resolution(1920x1080)
  • Has vertical and horizontal picture modes
  • Has fully adjustable settings(brightness, contrast, ect)
  • Has speakers
  • Is insane

It comes with an outer cover that makes storage in a slightly larger laptop slot of a backpack super easy. If you do not have type-c there is a mini-hdmi to hdmi connector that is provided and a power cord as well.

As a Software Dev, it’s quite hard to do everything you need to do with 13 inches of MacBook Pro screen real-estate. This monitor allows me to have my UI and test suit up and running while using my code-editor on the central screen. Retail is $160 but I got this on an Amazon lightening deal for $120.

Nexstand Laptop Stand

I’ve had countless people come up to me and ask me about this stand. It’s 100% crucial for ergonomics. It lifts the screen up to eye level, has 12 adjustable heights, and breaks down into a very slim configuration for storage. The stand is sturdy and takes the weight of the 13in. Mac Book Pro very easily, I’ve also tested it out on my much larger Lenovo 16in laptop and its 100% capable. Using this stand means a mouse and keyboard is a must have, as typing onto an elevated surface is a large nuisance.

KABCON — Tablet Stand

This is crucial for using the portable monitor. The monitor comes with a cover that doubles as a stand, but when going this route, it puts the monitor at desk level and forces a poor/hunched neck angle. This tablet stand is very sturdy and bears the monitor size/weight easily. It elevates the monitor to just below eye level which does wonders for maintaining a good neck angle.

TeckNet Bluetooth Mouse and Logitech Bluetooth Keyboard

The mouse is just a mouse that has bluetooth, I don’t use my mouse much while programming, but it’s cheap and has worked for a long time.
The keyboard is just a bluetooth keyboard and one of the only pieces I’m not super stoked about. The keyboard is portable and not so small that it makes programming difficult. I’ve got an opening on my team for an ergonomic, foldable, bluetooth keyboard that would take my love for this setup to the next level; however the ones I’ve found are somewhat pricey and have very limited, less than stellar, reviews (Kinesis Freestyle2 Keyboard and Goldtouch Go!2 Keyboard).

I’ll wait until something comes along that is reliable, or maybe just manufacture my own? If you have a lead on a great product please drop a comment below!

Timbuk2 Laptop Backpack

This was given as a gift to me by my mother about 3 years ago, she said she found it as a lightening deal on Amazon and thought it might be useful. I didn’t touch it for about 2–3 months… When my coding bootcamp started I had the need to bring a lot of things with me downtown. Workout clothes, lunch, and my laptop. I packed this backpack on my first day and never looked back.

The back laptop slot has 3 compartments, a long laptop slot that fits a 16in beast Lenovo laptop, another long slot for a notebook, and a pouch for cords and accessories.

The main compartment unzips like a suitcase (beautiful design choice here). This enables me to lay it down, line everything up accordingly, zip it up and run. Also, it means you don’t have to go digging from top to bottom to get out what you need. Basically… horizontal access is king and laptop slot access is queen.

There is still room on the far right pic for a packed lunch, and workout clothes.

Modular configuration

Without the external monitor.

In the event you have less space, or are doing work that doesn’t involve the need for extra screen you can omit the external monitor and tablet stand. The laptop stand alone will elevate the screen to eye level, doing wonders for the neck vertebrae and t-spine over time. Additionally, not using the track pad and using a mouse will put the right shoulder in a better, more open, position.

I have to say it’s been pretty wonderful. Remote Mob Programming and being on Zoom delivers face-to-face time and develops connection with coworkers. I’ve now worked in many different places, productively, since we stated this new journey… The office (with my setup at a floating desk), coffee shops, a local climbing gym… In the end I have choice, and the freedom to structure where I put myself in the world on any given day. You may find me in South America this summer… who knows… the world is now my cage.

Also find this article on Medium.

Cover Photo by Junior Moran on Unsplash

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