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my office is a tent that my employer purchased for me

my office is a tent that my employer purchased for me

If you look up on Instagram, you'll see jaw-dropping pictures under the hashtag #vanlife. It's true. The big blue world is freaking beautiful, but beauty comes at a cost.

Geoffrey Huntley
Geoffrey Huntley

👋 I'm Geoff. I work at Gitpod, a product (and open-source project) that provides ephemeral software dev environments in the cloud. It's pretty rad software - each new browser window is a CI/CD generated environment that enables hopping between pull-requests with a single click with no waiting because the pull-request has already been pre-compiled.

Anyway, I'm not here to pitch you on Gitpod. This post is about sharing with you insights about my unique office setup. Is there anyone else out there doing this‽ I have many lessons to share...

In January 2021, the founders of Gitpod approached me about joining them, and the offer contained an exciting line item...

A line item for "Van Office Setup" expenditures

The timing of the offer was perfect in the scheme of things because the story arc of rebuilding myself during the majority of 2020 was nearing a point of closure. The van was nearing a stage where it could be a fully functional office on wheels (sans cladding and sans aesthetics!).

The construction of the van was suspended and a new chapter formed. Anyway, this post is about sharing with you insights about my unique office setup.

Is there anyone else out there doing this‽ I have many lessons to share...

If you look up on Instagram, you'll see jaw-dropping pictures under the hashtag #vanlife. It's true. The big blue world is freaking beautiful, but beauty comes at a cost.

You see, the truth of the story is that working full-time from an RV if you have never done it before sucks, at first.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.Source: Neel Burton
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Source: Neel Burton

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs comes straight at you, and living without the modern-day abstractions comes with a high emotional cost - at first...

What happens if you get in a van accident and that results in you becoming homeless once again?

  • Where will you sleep tonight?
  • Is this place safe?
  • Where do you empty the toilet?
  • Where is water?
  • How to cook?
  • Weather anxiety due to it being foggy in the mountains ala will I have enough electricity to last me the week?
  • Where to visit next and how long can I legally stay there?
  • If it hails how do I protect the three solar panels? 👇🏻
What’s up with these cauliflower-shaped hailstones?
Sydney was pelted with hailstones the size of tennis balls and golf balls, but some seemed to resemble more the shape of a cauliflower. Here’s why.

January and February was a period of immense personal growth where I learned many life skills in the arena of self-sufficiency...

One month in, I saw all these lovely places, was onboarding into a new company, but I wasn't happy. Having to address items on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is stressful and a low-value problem.

Working implies getting paid to deliver value, and delivering requires you to be working at the appropriate level of abstraction...

Whilst money was being saved according to plan, and I was eating well, change was needed. For the entire bigger picture plan to work - work must be stable, and I must be sturdy enough to work. Thus I started travelling slower (min 5 to 7 days in a single place) and started paying for caravan parks from time to time (which in my case is tax-deductible).

With each passing day, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs became something I thought about less and less, but there was still one problem.

Working, living, sleeping from a van is hard and whilst cafes have excellent food, but they tend to suck as a place to co-work from.

So change was also needed in that department. Suddenly, the line item for "Van Office Setup" expenditures started to become super relevant!

Money is cheap (for a company), and money exists to solve problems.

Money is a cheap (for a company) and money exists to solve problems.

After much thought and research, the solution was clear. I needed a separate work space and living space. At my next one-on-one the I brought the topic up with the founders, and then it happened...

Gitpod purchased me a tent.

This is where work happens. This blog post was authored from this tent👇🏻

The entire world is my office but work happens in this tent

The beauty of small companies is that there's less bullshit. Suppose I was working remotely for a FAANG style company. In that case, I highly doubt they would have even allowed me to submit an expense claim for a tent, even though a tent is exactly what I needed to be more effective in delivering value.

This is no ordainary tent. It takes 51 seconds to setup and pack down.

The expensed tent is an OzTent Hex Screenhouse, and it takes 51 seconds to set up and pack down. During the day, the office looks like this...

My son suggested adding flooring to the office - which in retrospect was a bloody great idea. Two weeks ago, we made a couple quick trips to bunnings (the hardware store), and yes, whilst technically I could raise an expense claim for the flooring, I'm not going to bother.

At night the office looks like this...

and if you attended Gitpod's Dev X Conference (ps. all proceeds donated to open-source maintainers) this was me at 2am - 6am freezing my butt off living in the CEST timezone running the conference from next to a fireplace.

office equipment

  • Zempire Kitpac Large V2 Camp Table - High quality, adjustable height, has independant microadjustments if the land isn't even and folds up tight.
  • Herman Miller Aeron chair - totally normal to have this chair for camping!
  • Macbook Pro M1 16GB 1TB  - Without a doubt the best computer you can buy at the moment. If you are in a toss-up between the Air vs Pro consider that the Pro has two USB-C ports and that makes a huge difference. USB-C charging is non-negitoable if you are on the road like myself. Whilst the M1 is lighting speed fast I don't have a local development environment toolchain installed on this computer because all my development happens in in the cloud on Gitpod.
  • espresso 15" USB-C portable display - It's so small that I can and do carry this around in my backpack along side the computer.
  • 240v Phillips Hue Lighting - One of the best upgrades done recently was to add house quality lighting to the office because it enables productivity when the sun goes down.
  • Google home - For music and control of the van which has been described by folks as essentially "zigbee on wheels".

internet access

I don't know how to share this with a straight face...

The van has multi homed internet from five (soon six!) different network providers....

There are three mobile phone carriers in Australia. Thus, naturally, the van has a connection with Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. I use Category 19 4G modems that support carrier aggregation and each has the very best omnidirectional antenna money can buy. The right-hand plumber tube contains a telescopic unidirectional antenna which can be assembled and strapped to a tree if needed but haven't needed to use it yet...

The van has a Optus 5G internet connection.

There's two high gain WiFi antennas connected to a Alfa AWUS036ACH USB WiFi adapter that provides inbound internet connectivity from friendly WiFi hotspots.

Starlink (#vanlink) is also on pre-order. Musk, baby, hook me up sooner?

All of the above gets merged into a single internet connection via ESXi virtual machines running on an Intel NUC that is piped out to the vans Unifi Dream Machine Pro, which is naturally connected to an UniFi Mesh Pro.

In a future blog post I'll explain the specifics of how it all works. Leave your digits in the newsletter signup form to be notified when the post ships.

Finally, I carry a portable Telstra 4GX modem in my backpack.

software stack

  • Gitpod - Ephemeral software dev environments in the cloud. Each new browser window is a CI/CD generated environment that enables hopping between pull-requests with a single click with no waiting because the pull-request has already been pre-compiled.
  • Notion - Personally, I use markdown but Gitpod uses Notion.
  • Google Groups - Gets checked twice a day, every day for new inbound business development and support matters. I rarely open Gmail or check email more often than every other day.
  • Slack - Slack messages at Gitpod are treated as ephemeral. Anything important gets written down into Notion. Light weight proposals happen via Slack messages but product/technical decisions happen in Notion via design docs so that the why is captured.
  • Zapier - Point, click, integrate a solution together without needing to do development is always a winning combination. Optimise for REPL and time-to-market outcomes whilst avoiding maintenace costs.
  • Figma (and) Adobe Creative Cloud - Figma is the tool used by Gitpod. I have a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud as that's the toolset I'm most comfortable with and I need to do video work from time-to-time.
  • Loom and Camtasia - Gitpod uses Loom. I don't like Loom. I prefer Camtasia.
  • Orbit - Build relationships, not spreadsheets. Orbit automates lots of things I used to have to do by hand and thus I've stopped using Monica.  
  • Streamyard - Provides a live streaming studio in your browser. Follow me on Twitch, Twitter and YouTube!
  • TimeSnapper - An automatic journal through via screenshots. Enables me to review my productivity and improve habits. I've used this software at every employer for over 13 years.....
  • Toggl - For smashing pomodoros, ensuring that I take breaks and personal accountability. Gitpod doesn't require timesheets but it's something I do.
  • Window Magnet - Magnet provides keyboard shortcuts for manipulating windows. Trying out xmonad for OSX ala Amethyst is on my TODO list.

Anyway, thanks for reading. This post is the fourth in the series. I'm blogging more and tweeting less, so if you want to learn about sweet places to visit in Australia, working remotely from a van or the inner technical details of how I get internet whilst camping out in a remote forest, like, subscribe (free) and enter your email address to be notified when future blog posts ship.