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Treadmill Desks – the Future Software Engineer Office Rig?

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook described sitting as the new cancer, and using a treadmill desk is perhaps the easiest way of reducing the amount of sitting – at least in an office environment. As most novel technologies treadmill desks has the classic celebrity endorsement (Victoria Beckham), and is expected to become a unicorn billion dollar business as it enters the workplace.

In this blog post I will share setup, experiences (since February 2015) and thoughts about primarily using a treadmill desk as a Software Engineer in a startup.

1. My Threadmill Desk Office Setup

The table below describes my treadmill desk setup from the floor and up.

Hardware Description
Floor Sound Insulation – Acoustiblok (3 mm thick)  
Treadmills can be noisy – both within the office and to office neighbours in the floor below in high-resonance buildings (e.g. old concrete buildings). Acoustiblok – a NASA spinnoff product – is perhaps the best sound insulation, recommend having a look at the demo video above.NASA LOGO_1
Treadmill Protective Mat –  X-Erfit (6 mm thick)  This protects the (rather expensive) Acousticbloc from being destroyed
LifeSpan TR1200-DT3 Standing Desk Treadmill  The treadmill.
 LifeSpan TR1200-DT7 Standing Desk  The motorized desk (for adjusting height) that has control panel for the treadmill
 Macbook Pro 15″ Computer  Where all the Deep Learning and XCode/Swift/Metal magic happens (or is supposed to happen..)
 AOC U2868PQU 28″ UHD 4K 3840×2160 LED Monitor 28 inch screen

2. Experiences using a treadmill desk
Being the self-appointed lab rat of a small software engineering team, and curious about treadmill desks we bought a LifeSpan TR1200-DT7 Desktop Treadmill (perhaps the first of several) in February 2015. As opposed to its faster siblings –  treadmills found at gyms – desk treadmills have a way more soothing speed level. The typical desk treadmill speed is between 0.7 to 3 km/hour (roughly approx. 0.4 – 2 miles/hour), so a relatively slow walking pace, but infinitely faster than sitting on an office chair. I believe a good analogy is that Tai Chi or slow-paced Yoga would be equivalent to the the desk treadmill, and treadmills at gym would be more like Kung Fu or Rocket Yoga.

The table below describes various tasks I do and how it fits or not fit doing on the treadmill desk (subjectively speaking):

Task Description
Regular Coding Writing code and tests (Python, Swift/Metal and the occasional shell script) works nicely on the treadmill desk in 80-90% of the cases (see algorithmic coding for the remaining 10-20%). Optimal speed for this task is around 2.0 km/hour
Algorithmic Coding and Thinking If I’m at full concentration working on heavy algorithmic stuff (i.e. working at or close to my mental capacity :), I prefer to not do that on the treadmill desk and rather use the office sofa. Not sure why this is the case, but believe it might be 2 reasons: 1) simultaneous capacity being stretched (both walking and thinking very hard), 2) thinking very hard creates a lot of energy – and heat – and walking in addition creates even more energy.I think best with a whiteboard in near proximity, and haven’t found a good solution to combining the treadmill desk with whiteboard so far (believe there is room for production innovation here)
Writing Writing emails, documents, papers, blog posts and various administrative tasks works usually nicely on the treadmill desk. Optimal speed for this task is around 2.0 km/hour
Discussing with team mates Brief discussions works with team mates (who – for now – sits at regular desks) works nicely while I’m on the treadmill desk, but I prefer to slow down the speed a bit (perhaps to 0.7-1 km/hour). For longer discussions I prefer to sit down at my regular desk (which is still there).
Skype, Phone and other Meetings Skype and Phone (without Video Conference part) or equivalent I can do at slow pace (0.7-1 km/hour) on the treadmill desk, but usually I prefer to do them offmill (is that a new term?)

3. The future of treadmill desk for Software Engineers

Believe there is tons of innovation and product opportunities related to treadmill desks (e.g. combine it with whiteboards).

oculusrift2

On the visual experience – perhaps replacing the screen -side virtual reality related technologies such as Microsoft HoloLens or Facebook’s Oculus Rift can become an interesting combination with treadmill desks (perhaps making Star Trek holodecks a reality).

Given the rapid advances in Deep Learning for Speech Recognition on might even get rid of the keyboard (and the desk!) eventually, even though I believe using speech recognition for coding is still a bit cumbersome (but Tavis Rudd shows some impressive coding by voice in the video above).

Conclusion

Given my highly positive experiences using a treadmill desk as a Software Engineer, I’m pretty sure that this will become a default part of an engineer’s office rig in the near future. Since I also enjoy being a software engineer lab rat related to treadmill desks, I more than happy to try out gear that can enhance the experience, so feel free to contact me at amund@memkite.com if you have ideas or gears in that direction!

Best regards,

Amund Tveit

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About Amund Tveit (@atveit - amund@memkite.com)

Amund Tveit works in Memkite on developing large-scale Deep Learning and Search (Convolutional Neural Network) with Swift and Metal for iOS (see deeplearning.education for a Memkite app video demo). He also maintains the deeplearning.university bibliography (github.com/memkite/DeepLearningBibliography)

Amund previously co-founded Atbrox , a cloud computing/big data service company (partner with Amazon Web Services), also doing some “sweat equity” startup investments in US and Nordic startups. His presentations about Hadoop/Mapreduce Algorithms and Search were among top 3% of all SlideShare presentations in 2013 and his blog posts has been frequently quoted by Big Data Industry Leaders and featured on front pages of YCombinator News and Reddit Programming

He previously worked for Google, where he was tech.lead for Google News for iPhone (mentioned as “Google News Now Looks Beautiful On Your iPhone” on Mashable.com), lead a team measuring and improving Google Services in the Scandinavian Countries (Maps and Search) and worked as a software engineer on infrastructure projects. Other work experience include telecom (IBM Canada) and insurance/finance (Storebrand).

Amund has a PhD in Computer Science. His publications has been cited more than 500 times. He also holds 4 US patents in the areas of search and advertisement technology, and a pending US patent in the area of brain-controlled search with consumer-level EEG devices.

Amund enjoys coding, in particular Python, C++ and Swift (iOS)

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