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A computer of your own…

Make sure you have one. Not your phone, because as computer-y as they are these days, it’s still a phone, and as you grow older your thumb joints will start to hurt from all that odd thumb typing on that small screen. An iPad / tablet can suffice. My main point is: you need your own computer that you control and that you’re the only one who has access to. Too many people I know use their work computers for everything. This is bad in multiple ways.

Life vs work

Because of all the information overload that current day employment now has going for it, we have the flexibility in many of our jobs that are more information centric to work from anywhere. This freedom of space has an effect on our freedom of time. Because we can work from anywhere, people begin working all the time if they aren’t careful. Using the same computer that you do at work for non-work activities leaves you open to constant interruption when you’re not working. Oh, let me just reply to this email from the boss really quickly, kids. As soon as I do that we’ll get back to watching this video together.

Also, the vast majority of employment contracts make several things true if you’re using a work computer as your primary computer:

  1. All the things you create and all the information on that computer is your employer’s property. This means that if you get fired or quit, they can take your computer and you never see the data you had on it again. All those pics of your kids you put on their: not your employers problem if you don’t have backups elsewhere. Also, your employer can go through all your browsing history and all your past emails. Anything you’ve created or worked on using any of their systems is theirs to do with as they will. Don’t use your work email for personal things. This is hugely important to understand for people working in technology with aspirations to start your own thing someday. If you use your work computer to work on any part of your precious start-up idea, even if it is just to check your personal email and respond to personal emails, if any of those exchanges involve discussion about your precious start-up idea, or work towards it, your employer could argue that they own it since you began it while working for them. Watch Silicon Valley for a somewhat funny, somewhat awkwardly “oh no” moment about this.
  2. Your employer can legally spy on everything you do on your work computer. Most don’t. But they can. They don’t have to wait until you’re no longer working for them to go through your emails or your browsing history etc. You’re working digitally in their space when you’re using a work computer. Just like walking into an office with security cameras. Keep that in mind.
  3. Your non-work activities put at risk the security of the company. Installing software that isn’t approved by your company or browsing around sites that aren’t trustworthy puts company property (your computer and other computers it interfaces with) and your company’s private internet at risk. You could be liable for any damages caused.

Even if you are a contractor who works for a company that doesn’t supply a computer, I would advise you get one computer that is your “work” computer to use against your work projects and another “home” computer that is for your personal stuff. There can be tax benefits to that structure depending on your set up too. Consult your tax consultant (Insert I am not a tax expert and this is not tax advice disclaimer here).

Compute differently

Several years ago, I started getting Windows computers instead of Mac computers for my personal computers. Why? Because it helped me in my head unplug from the way I work on my work Mac computer and the way I do non-work stuff on my Windows computer. It’s been a good psychological trick that has worked. You don’t have to go Windows if you hate Windows or Mac if you hate Mac, but get something that feels different than the machine you work on all day. Make it your space. Make it your own. I’d also advise ever setting up any of your work accounts, Slack or email, on your personal computer. Yes, sometimes you’ll be on vacation and really need to access your work email for whatever reason and your cellphone won’t cut it. Log in via the browser. Not in an app with notifications that you have always turned on. That again, would muddy the worlds of work and non-work in non-helpful ways.

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