Tool on the Hill
Scott Eriksson: Software developer, champion discus thrower, mountain man
Most of the time I work out of my home, a big log cabin in Centennial, Wyo. The town was founded in 1876 and brags a population of about 100. Right off our back deck is the north fork of the Laramie River. We're at 8,200 feet and surrounded by Aspen trees. We have a wood-burning stove, and we sleep in a log bed that my wife, Brenda, made by hand. When we moved out here, I figured I was going to become this mountain-man-type person. Well, I spend all my time up in this mountain-man cabin -- but working on the computer. Meanwhile, my wife goes shopping for the day and comes back with a brand-new chain saw.
The business I work for, Aspen Tree Software, which helps companies computerize employee interviews, is really flexible about letting its employees telecommute. It has a very loose structure, but only because everybody works to keep communication tight. We have a Shiva network at the main office, in Laramie, that I can hook into from my cabin. We also use a program called Close-Up, which allows those of us off-site to dial into one another's computers. I go into the office once or twice a week, and that's pretty much when I need to talk to people rather than do creative-type things.
In my home office I put my Schwinn Air Dyne bike underneath a large, 53-inch-high desk platform, and I sometimes pedal while I work. My office also has a Postscript printer, a fax machine, a 486 computer with two gigabytes of hard-drive space, a six-disk CD-ROM drive, and an STB Lightning video card with two megs of RAM. That's pretty heady stuff.
I'm a discus thrower and have been on some international shot-put teams. I went to the Olympic trials for track and field in 1988 and 1992, and am considering going in '96. Two or three times a year I videotape myself throwing. I'll capture the shots in a digitized format on the computer and then study them to improve my technique.
On nice days I'll take a laptop, a Thinkpad 486 with 16 megs of RAM, and go up in the mountains to train -- legwork stuff like sprints or climbing -- and as ideas pop into my head, I have everything right there and can run with them. I usually set the laptop on the front of my Chevy truck or on one of the rock outcroppings. Every once in a while I'll go up in the mountains for three or four days -- there are some cabins up there. I'll take a cellular, and that's the only phone contact I'll have.
You definitely have to be a self-starter to work this way. I'd say I work 75% on inspiration and 25% on discipline, just because I'm so into it. If I have an idea at 2 a.m., I know I'm going to just pop up to my office and execute it. My philosophy for the past eight years has been that every day's a weekend, but I work weekends.
On a typical day I wake up between 3 and 6 a.m. and immediately go to my office to work. This is pure uninterrupted development time. At sunrise I go for a short walk or run and plan the day. The mountains are to the south and west, and there are 30 miles of open plains to the east before there are more mountains, which makes for spectacular sunrises.
Around noon in the summer I put on my waders, grab my fly rod, and head 10 miles up the road, where there are 150 alpine lakes within a 5-mile radius. I'll spend an hour or so there, catching little brook trout.
From 7:30 until bedtime is another sacred development time. Occasionally I'll pull an all-nighter. When I do, I'm good till about 5 p.m. before I crash and make my whole schedule haywire for several days.