My Work Setup: Hardware and Software I use in 2021

31st of March

Inspired by Stefan Zweifel, Dave Rupert, and Ali Abdaal, all of whom productivity favorites of mine, this post is to showcase the hardware, workflows, apps, and tools which I use daily. In the spirit of “Show Your Work” (-place) and the possible resulting serendipity I recently convinced myself that this might be of interest to others. It certainly will look funny to revisit a post like this a few years from now with all the then antiquated apps and logos in it!

Introduction

Initially, years ago I started my company while working as a programmer. HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, and MySQL. You can do that job on almost any desktop computer or laptop, or even on an iPad if you’re feeling adventurous. As the projects grew bigger and required working with a larger team, I moved from writing code to writing emails and working with people who were better at writing code than me. This type of work requires even less of the devices you use.

I do, however, enjoy new hardware and finding the best tools for the job I’m doing. If a new piece of technology promises to increase my productivity, it will appear on my list soon and has a good chance of getting tested.

The complete basement workplace
The complete basement workplace

Hardware for Work

The 49-inch was well-suited for Zwift virtual cycling, but I gave it to my co-worker Maxim who can make better use of it coding
The 49-inch was well-suited for Zwift virtual cycling, but I gave it to my co-worker Maxim who can make better use of it coding

In general I’m happy with this setup as it leaves nothing to be desired for my type of work. On the list of possible upgrades I currently just see a 34-inch monitor, but that would mainly be for fun.

Under my desk is another machine, a Windows PC which I put together myself at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. Ninety percent of the time I use it for recreational gaming. That usually happens in bursts, when I spend the evenings of two or three consecutive weeks on it, then leave it turned off for a few months. I’m a fan of the Grand Theft Auto series (San Andreas especially, but also 4 and 5), got into the two Portal games quite a bit, and I love everything Half-Life. Playing the newest, Half-Life: Alyx, on it with my Oculus Rift S is breathtakingly awesome.

Recently I made it to all 42 achievements, even the Gnome Chomsky one!
Recently I made it to all 42 achievements, even the Gnome Chomsky one!

The MacBook and the Windows PC share everything: the external monitor (Mac via HDMI, PC via DisplayPort), keyboard/mouse via Bluetooth, and a cheap but surprisingly good-sounding Logitech speaker set which I have connected to a tiny Behringer mixer hidden underneath the desk. In addition, I have connected both units to Ethernet cables in order to combat WiFi overload during intensive pandemic related home school video conferencing days.

Cable management is for beginners
Cable management is for beginners

The Desk and Chair

After going through a few options over the years working in different settings, I have arrived at what I think is the best solution given certain design aesthetics, ergonomics, and a reasonably small budget.

Desk view from the top
Desk view from the top

Software on Desktop

Web

As ninety percent of my work happens on the browser, this piece of software is the most important to me. Now that major browsers are all roughly on the same solid level in terms of features and usability, I like to switch every few weeks. I have a pro/con list in Notion (see below) for them, in case I forget what my main reasons for a switch were.

The browsers I’m talking about are the usual big ones: Apple SafariGoogle Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox. On Windows, I’m happy with using Microsoft Edge, which I have put into rotation on Mac, since it’s available on that platform as of recently.

Browser Pro Con

Apple Safari
  • Works great with other Apple software
  • Sync with iOS built-in, fills SMS 2FA codes into forms automatically
  • Fast and clean
  • Tracking prevention
  • UI seems to be artificially slowed down at certain points
  • Downloads management is weak

Google Chrome
  • Fast enough
  • Great developer tools
  • Downloads management
  • Made by Google with marketing purposes in mind
  • Lots of hidden tracking
  • Seems to have gotten slower over the years

Mozilla Firefox
  • Independent developer, most ethical motivation
  • Has become subjectively faster over the years
  • Update cycle is slow on Mac, still only half-way supporting Dark Mode
  • Web apps like Microsoft Teams don’t work
  • Compatibility issues, some basic keyboard shortcuts won’t work

Microsoft Edge
  • Cool and new, modern management Microsoft
  • Based on the Chromium engine like Safari and Chrome, meaning safer rendering
  • Seems to be well maintained
  • Most efficient for video calls, my MacBook’s fans are the least noisy with it
  • Shortly after install, cryptic older days Microsoft error message (the kind of "error due to -2 fail on X")
  • Developer tools have crashed on me a few times, but might be my fault

Mail

A big chunk of my time is spent reading and writing email. I landed on using the paid Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) service at the Business level subscription. The web interface of GMail is working great for me, and its main advantage that beats all the competition I have seen is search. It’s the most important feature for me to be able to look up information buried in emails from the previous weeks and months at a moment’s notice, and all the desktop app solutions I have tried can’t make that happen reliably.

Another huge advantage is the Google spam filter which gets applied to all imported accounts. I haven’t yet seen a better working one anywhere. And that’s a real timesaver.

Still my number one: Google’s GMail
Still my number one: Google’s GMail

There are downsides, for example giving all my email to the giant evil corporation which is Google, and being limited to include different email accounts via POP3 instead of the superior IMAP protocol, but I have decided those are outweighed by the might of search and spam treatment.

The ultimate end goal would be a self-hosted mailserver which is somehow lightning fast, has a perfect spam filter, search indexing, and maintains itself. You gotta dream!

Other Communication

Information Management

One of the most important things running a business (and personal family life, too) is staying organized. My brain currently works great with numbers and visual impressions, but in other regards it needs help. That’s why I use several different apps to stay on top of things.

Development

I rarely do any web development myself anymore, but from time to time, may it be out of necessity, curiosity, or basic boredom, I write a few lines, repair some tiny bugs or add a little feature here and there. The world of development tools seems to change often, which is why I rely on the tool recommendations of my colleagues.

Other

The usual suspects and some specialties.

Apps on Mobile

The current Home Screen
The current Home Screen

I entered the iPhone market in 2009 with the 3GS model and subsequently went with an upgrade every one to two years. They’re great phones and there has never been a reason for me to switch to a different brand. Currently, I’m using an iPhone 12 Pro in the pretty dark blue shade, 64 gigs minimal version, because I have everything in the cloud so I’m not crying when my phone breaks or gets lost.

I’ll be only mentioning the apps which I haven’t before. It’s a rapid fire round.

Peripherals

A few other devices or peripheral setups worth mentioning. 

NAS

After once experiencing a loss of cloud-based data myself and hearing stories from people who got locked out of their accounts for reasons beyond comprehension, I decided a few years back to create an automated backup of the most important files at home. 

After thorough research and asking a few experienced friends, I landed on a Synology DS218+, which can be attached to a local network and holds two hard disks. Two 2 TB NAS-optimized disks of the IronWolf Pro series by Seagate seemed fitting. These are mirroring the content using RAID 1 so if one of them fails and breaks, nothing is lost. 

I have set up daily running cronjobs to automatically copy all my Google Drive contents and every single picture I’m taking to it, so the most I can ever lose is one day’s worth of work. Also, my personal websites like this blog get copied daily to the storage. 

The interface and options provided by Synology are great. My setup requires just a tiny amount of technical knowledge, after a few hours I had it all up and running. Now it’s just doing its job and requires no maintenance at all. I can recommend that solution. 

Other Devices

Headphones: I’m happy with my standard AirPods in most cases. Video calls and running works fine, but after a year they tend to break down on me and I have to replace them. Intense usage seems to be the cause. In addition, mainly for flights or train rides which aren’t happening now because of COVID-19, I have gotten Sony WH-1000XM3’s which provide immense value at that price. For my electronic drums I prefer audio-technica ATH-M50’s though. 

Webcam: The built-in MacBook cameras are still weak. And because I have the MacBook closed most of the time I needed to get a separate webcam anyways for the home office related video conferencing. The Aukey 1080p is totally sufficient and very cheap.

Music: As mentioned, I play drums on an electronic set next to my desk setup. It’s great for a quick break during work. I use a Roland TD-17KVX and love it – it’s almost as good a feeling as my real acoustic drums. Traditionally, I am a guitar player, though. A few years back, I learned about this new Swedish brand named .strandberg*, tried their guitars and fell in love. Over the years I have sold all other guitars of mine and replaced them with strandbergs. The one next to my desk is a Boden Standard 7 Maple Flame Blue model. It’s a game changer. In order to get the signal into my MacBook for playing with modelled amps and effects using the mentioned NeuralDSP stand-alone app, I use a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen USB-C interface.

Reading: A recent version of the kindle Paperwhite. I got it because it’s now waterproof and I like reading in the bathtub but destroyed a previous kindle doing that. It’s made by Amazon, which isn’t great. I tried the German tolino alternative but just wasn’t happy with it. Now my daughters use that one. In 2020 I went through a phase where I read only real printed books, but that turned out to make me read less, which is not my intention. So kindle it is, for now.

And last not least, I light my home office using several Philips Hue bulbs which I like to activate and control using an Apple HomePod mini. That’s also just for playing around. Apparently it’s better for the eyes to make the lights adaptive, but who knows. My kids love to walk into the room and say “Hey Siri, turn all the lights in the basement blue!” and therefore it was worth it!

Do you have suggestions? What’s your setup like? I’d love to hear from you down below in the private comment box!


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