Hi! Tell us about who you are and what you do.

I’m Holly, and I’m a Senior Principal software engineer at Red Hat. I’m working on Quarkus, with a focus on the Quarkus ecosystem.

What is your hardware setup?

I only joined Red Hat a few months ago, so I’m basking in the new-employee new-laptop phase of the hardware lifecycle. My work machine is a shiny new 14" M1 MacBook, and it’s glorious. Even though my laptop is beautiful, I hardly ever touch it or open it; it lives on the floor next to my desk, attached to an external monitor. As well as the monitor, I’ve got the usual peripherals like keyboard, mouse, trackpad, speakers, headphones, camera, and microphone.

a closeup of my desk

I feel lucky to have been one of the first in line for the 14" M1, because it’s fast, quiet, the battery lasts for ages, the keyboard is good, and it has an HDMI port. I’m the sort of person who always forgets adapters, so it’s a relief to have idiot-proof HDMI connectivity. The 14" size is light enough for travelling and powerful enough for home, so it’s perfect.

My display is an HP Z27 that I chose because I wanted a decent-size USB-C monitor that would charge my laptop and have lots of ports. The HP does what I need and I don’t notice my display one way or another, which is probably about right for a monitor. I sometimes wonder if I need multiple monitors so I could have more screen real estate, but I’d only fill the extra screen space with browser tabs and terminal clutter.

When I worked in an actual office with other people, we had hot workstations with wireless keyboards, and they were a headache. You’d arrive in the morning, sit down, and discover someone had pinched the keyboard off the desk you’d been using. Not having a keyboard was bad, but what was worse is that the thief’s keyboard would still be paired to your laptop. So at some point, usually on a web meeting or demo, random keystrokes would start appearing on your screen. The low point was when I ended up running through the office yelling “stop typing, stop typing, if your keystrokes aren’t appearing, I have them and I don’t want them!”

That’s a long way of saying I used to think wireless keyboards were a terrible and pointless, until I got one at home, and loved it. The Apple Magic Keyboard battery seems to last for a year between charges. It’s unexpectedly useful to be able to clear the keyboard off my desk without a tangle of cables trailing after it. The Apple Magic Mouse is less great, as lots of people have observed.

a mouse charging upside down

After I bought the mouse and complained about the silly charging mechanism, I ended up being talked into buying the Magic Trackpad by twitter. It wasn’t best purchase either, because even though I have both mouse and trackpad, I mostly use the mouse.

I have two sets of headphones at my desk, plus speakers. It’s ridiculous, but I seem to genuinely need all three. (Thank goodness for headphone hooks.)

two headphones hanging on a hook

I mostly use a tiny pair of wired Panasonic RP-HS46E-K clip-on earphones. They’re almost as invisible as in-ear headphones, are very comfortable, have quite decent sound, work a monitor for my fancy microphone, and cost £7.49. I also have a pair of noise-cancelling Bose NC 700 headphones. I wouldn’t use bluetooth for an important recording, but it’s nice to be untethered from my desk during meetings. Walking around the house helps me focus on what’s being said rather than getting distracted by code or twitter. I use the external speakers if I’m listening to music.

For recordings and meetings, my audio input is a Røde Podmic, alongside a Scarlett Solo audio interface, a Røde boom arm, a Klark Teknik CM-1 booster pre-amp, and a Røde windshield, plus the little wired headphones as a monitor. The Scarlett Solo and pre-amp lives in the cable tidy under my desk, because otherwise it’s a lot of boxes and wires.

a scarlett soho in a cable tidy

The second-worst thing about my audio setup is that it’s quite expensive. The worst thing is that I’m not sure my sound is actually good. I need a friendly audio engineer to analyse my recordings and tell me what I’m doing wrong. Too much echo from hard surfaces? Too soft-spoken? Too far from the mic? Clipping? For a while I was producing embarrassing recordings with sound only on the left channel until a colleague pointed out the problem. It’s a known problem when the Scarlett Solo is used by amateurs. It seems I’m a sad and bad example of “all the gear and no idea”.

My only consolation is that I compared the Røde to several other mics, and in my experiment recordings, the Røde was best. So maybe my sound would be even worse if I hadn’t invested.

I’ve had a happier over-investing experience with my webcam. I used to use the classic Logitech C920. When my partner’s cheap webcam broke, I took the opportunity to upgrade to the Logitech Brio and give them the c920. What a difference! I was able to completely get rid of my ring light, because the Brio copes so well in low light. When doing green screen recordings, I used to have to record at the brightest time of day and play with OBS settings to avoid flicker with the C920. With the Brio, chroma key just works. The Brio also serves my vanity, because I look better on the Brio. It’s not a documented feature, but I’ve seen speculation that the Brio has some skin smoothing filters in there to make the image more flattering.

On the subject of green screens, I have an Elgato green screen and it’s very well-designed and totally worth the price. The gaming companies have some excellent kit for home offices. My office does become pretty awkward to navigate when the screen is up, though.

A green screen taking up half my room

And what are the favorite items in your workspace?

At the start of lockdown, I took the money I’d been spending on commuting and bought a good chair and a good desk. Like many owners of standing desks, I don’t ever work standing up. In my defence, even when I bought the desk I was fairly sure this would be the case. (I feel faint if I stand for too long, and fainting-while-working doesn’t appeal.) The standing desk isn’t a waste, though, because I stand up for talks. It was advice I got from KubeCon, and I can confirm: speaking while standing does help with engagement and posture, even at home.

When I got my desk I was trying to fit a desk into a 110cm gap and also match existing furniture, so I sourced E:Lift LINAK standing desk legs and then ordered a separate custom top from a lumbermill. This let me choose the finish and exact top size, so I’d recommend that route.

a view of a desk and chair

I like my desk, but I love my chair. When I was chair shopping I shortlisted a HÅG Capisco partly because the selection of colours was better than other vendors. Once I looked into it more, I realised the Capisco met a lot of needs I didn’t know I had. It’s a fidget chair. You can sit on it like a normal chair, you can raise the desk halfway and perch on the chair, you can sit sideways, you can sit backwards, you can massage your feet on the base, and it’s small enough to tuck tidily away under a fully-raised standing desk.

a chair under a standing desk

My chair is pale grey wool with custom turquoise stitching. Some day I’ll spill coffee onto the chair and it will be a major tragedy. The good side-effect of buying a chair in an unwise colour is that it encourages good lunch-break discipline. I almost never eat at my desk, because I’m too worried about dropping staining food on my chair.

What is your software setup?

My software is pretty simple: have IDE, will code. I mostly work on Java, with a bit of JavaScript. I’ve recently switched from Eclipse for Java and VS Code for JavaScript to IDEA for Java and WebStorm for JavaScript. It’s taking me a while to get the muscle memory for keyboard shortcuts, and I still haven’t got the knack of getting the Java structure right and keeping the IDE classpath in sync with the maven classpath.

I use Keynote for presentations, although I end up having to convert back and forth to Google Slides for sharing. Red Hatters love Linux (for good reason), so all the tools we use need to be cross-platform.

Any favorite programs/apps/tools?

I do really like Keynote, which is why I’ve persisted with it despite the conversion hassle. I also enjoy using Tayasui Sketches on my iPad for illustrations, although I’m still learning how to take advantage of what it can do.

What are your favorite programming or scripting languages?

I’m in the lucky positions that Java and JavaScript, the languages I use every day, are my favourites (or maybe ignorance is bliss, and I don’t know what lovely languages I’m missing). I’ve done some Go programming in the past. When coding Go I mostly ended up thrashing around trying to make things compile by randomly adding and removing ampersands to references, which made me feel rather dumb. However, the go fmt debate-free formatter is the best thing since sliced bread and I wish every language had one. I wrote Swift for iOS development and I didn’t mind Swift, but found the tooling strangely lacking. I’ve also done some Ruby on Rails but never got past the “I don’t understand what I’m doing but will keep copying and pasting” stage.

Is there anything you are missing in your setup?

I was planning to buy myself a desk-mounted Elgato ring light to replace a cheaper ring light that was always getting in the way and falling off the desk at bad moments. In the end, after my webcam upgrade, I decided I actually didn’t need a ring light at all.

When I travel, I bring my Bose NC 700s, but they’re a bit too bulky for my bag. I’m planning to get some AirPod pros for taking meetings on the road.

I need to sort out my recording audio, but I’m hoping I can do that without buying anything else!