13 of the strangest places developers have written code

Proving that you really can work from anywhere, here are some of the most unusual places software developers have found themselves programming.

A woman dressed for very cold weather working on a laptop in a tent
Credit: NASA ICE
Writing code from anywhere

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These days, thanks to laptops, mobile devices and seemingly ubiquitous Wi-Fi, it’s pretty easy for software developers (and lots of other people) to work from just about anywhere. Whether it’s the bedroom, a coffee shop or poolside, it's easy for programmers to plug in anywhere they like, fire up their IDE of choice and start coding away. Life is good!

But, for many years, developers had to work wherever the code or systems they were responsible for resided. Depending on the system or client, that could lead developers to ply their craft in some unusual locations. Even today, programmers may still have to occasionally work on-site in less-than-optimal conditions. Last year, a number of software developers shared their experiences coding in weird and wacky places in a Slashdot thread. Use the arrows above to read about a number of the stranger locales programmers have found themselves trying to get work done.

See also:

Rest, relaxation and refactoring: 11 great places for a coding vacation

Keyboard for one: 9 of the most impressive solo programming efforts

10 signs you’ve been coding too much for too long

Exposing the source: 16 pieces of classic software whose code is now accessible

If this then that: 9 programing skills and the jobs they could lead to

Superclass: 14 of the world’s best living programmers

A man crammed into a washing machine
Credit: Jason Rogers
Inside a machine

Sometimes, when developers are programming, they’ll trying to (figuratively) get inside the head of those who will be using their software, to anticipate what they need or how they’ll behave. At other times, though, programmers may have to literally get inside of a machine that will be running their code. Coding inside of a machine, however, can come with its own hazards, aside from just carpal tunnel.

“Did some programming&debugging from inside a 3D printer” daid303

“From inside the base of a wind turbine tower in rural Inner Mongolia province, China.” DeathToBill

“Sandusky, Ohio, at Cedar Point amusement park. in 1993, I was working for a company building atm-like machines to sell tickets at venues like Cedar Point. I had to do some emergency maintenance, so I was inside the machine with the monitor turned around so I could use the internal computer. In this configuration, it looked a little like a trash can, and I would routinely have stuff thrown in on me. Worst was a half-eaten ice cram cone landing in my lap.” bokmann

A sign outside the Seventh Veil strip club, which says Live Nude Girls Girls Girls
Credit: Don Richards
In a strip club

When you think of strip clubs, you’re probably more likely to think of lap dances than laptops. The obvious built in distractions in “gentlemen’s clubs” haven’t stopped some developers from getting programming done in such places. However, if you do ever find yourself writing code in a strip club, don’t expect anyone to make it rain on you.

“Actually, the most unusual location was in the undressing room at a strip club, which happened to be where the computer was sitting. “ FreedomFirstThenPeac

“In two different occasions, I had to edit Haskell code (on my VPS) with an N900 when I was in a bordello club. You know you are a real nerd when there is a bunch of naked ladies walking around and you can still focus.” Anonymous

Three men on a small rowboat
Credit: rawdonfox
On a boat

Some programmers will choose to take a coding vacation on a cruise ship. Others, though, have to code at sea out of necessity. In those cases, the accommodations are usually a lot less luxurious and possibly more stomach churning.

“Jonboat (metal dinghy) heading to a tug for a software patch to its navigation system.” spiritplumber

“I worked on an energy savings project on the Queen Victoria. I was in the engine room next to the noisy diesel generators while we were at sail for a lot of the time. I just put in my custom ear buds (blocks most of the sound) and over-the-ear muffs and I was in my own little world listening to music while banging away at my laptop and sweating bullets since the warmer I made it in the room, the more energy we saved. “ brxndxn

“When I was in the Navy... I did write a few UNIX scripts and DOS batch files as part of my job on the ship here and there. The only issue I had was that spending long periods of time looking at a screen would get me a little sea sick so regular breaks were always needed.” Anonymous

A laptop on floor of a bathroom
Credit: Cali4beach
In the bathroom

Thanks to WiFi and laptops, coding in a bathroom is probably a lot more common than most of us would like to think (or prefer to know). Sometimes developers write code in the bathroom because they can get some good thinking done in there, but sometimes they do it out of necessity. If you ever do find yourself coding in a bathroom, just be sure to wash your hands - not to mention your laptop - before returning to work.

“I once wrote the formula for a gravity routine while on the toilet, for a tank game written in Amiga Basic. It was in my head, so I had to quickly get back the the keyboard to type it in before I forgot it “ necronom426

“One place they were grinding the cement floors, so I found the only room that was not a cement cloud, the womens bathroom.” Lumpy

“Sitting on a closed toilet seat in a college bathroom where someone decided to install the Cisco router I needed to do unnatural things to with a Perl script.” Minupla

SpongeBob SquarePants using a computer
Credit: Viacom
Underwater

Normally, computers and water don’t mix, meaning that programming isn’t a very common underwater activity. However, thanks to submarines and submersibles, it's possible to get some code writing done under the surface of the sea without you (or your laptop) getting wet, which some developers have reported doing. There’s also the example of SpongeBob’s nemesis Plankton programming his computer wife, Karen but, of course, that’s purely fictional.

“10 meter below the sea surface, inside one of the legs of a semi-submersible drilling platform in the North Sea in winter (Dec 1981).” Terje Mathisen

“I wrote several programs for my Tandy PC-2 inside a nuclear submarine (mumble) feet beneath your keel.” DerekLyons

A group of Emperor penguins in Antarctica
Credit: REUTERS/Martin Passingham
Antarctica

Normally, if a programmer gets chilly while coding, all he or she has to do is put on an extra layer or turn up the thermostat. It’s not quite that simple, however, if you’re writing code near one of the Earth’s poles. On the plus side, penguins might be less annoying (and messy) than your usual office mates.

“I spent a few seasons writing code in a tent on Ross Island, Antarctica. It was in C for a platform that was running an embedded version of a 386. The system was used to monitor and track Adelie penguins. The tent was pitched in the middle of the colony of several hundred thousand birds on top of many hundreds of years of guano. “ natpolish

The desert
Credit: ale
In the desert

Deserts are generally lonely and desolate places. What better location, then, to get some quality coding done? Of course, if you plan to get work done in such a place, be sure to bring some water, apply sunblock and dress appropriately.

“I was stuck in the middle of the desert in the border region of two mid-east states waiting to be picked up by another party. With 8 hours of battery left, I was determined to quickly finish a project that was kinda important to the next stage of my trip :> Needless to say that the heat (even in the shadow) reduced my battery power to an effective 5 hours, having the fan running at max all the time.” Anonymous

“Caught some wi-fi and fixed a production problem while sitting in the middle of the desert at 3 AM, while wearing a kilt and not much else.” jnelson4765

A miner in a coal mine
Credit: REUTERS/Stringer
In a mine

The only kind of mining that most software developers are involved with is the bitcoin variety. Of course, these days even traditional mining will often involve computers and software of some sort, meaning that, sometimes, programmers will actually have to be on site (i.e., in the ground). The good news is, even if you have to descend into a big hole in the ground to work on some code, you probably won’t be there long enough to get black lung.

“A Thailand coalmine” Meski

“I had to fix a script to unattended write a CD of data every day. The script was being run on a computer literally in the middle of a gold mine in Papua New Guinea. I wrote the script in the same location, which was a small (1mx2m) hut plonked right in the middle of the gold mine, with the acquisition system and 2x computers (one linux file server, one MS-DOS acquisition controller) running off a generator. “ mvdw

An army soldier working on a laptop
Credit: MC4 Army
In a combat zone

Like any other large organization these days, the military makes lots of use of software and computers for a wide range of things. That, of course, means that they need developers to work on their code, whether it’s enlisted folks or outside contractors. The key difference from programmers in the non-military world, however, is that coders working for, say, the army may have to deal with working in a live (or simulated) combat zone. The good news is, if you do a good job writing code for the military, you may land up getting a medal.

“... inside a military bunker. Writing a program to interconnect 4 different batteries of a antiaircraft battalion, through RL-431 antennas. Part of it was being written during an actual full-scale military exercise; re-writting parts of it as the exercise went on for 5 days.” Reverant

“... the Tito Barracks in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in 1996, just after the war ended. I was working as a contractor for the U.S. State Department, and we were setting up a system to keep track of the progress removing landmines - a process still going on today. We were still writing the system as the hardware (and trailers) were being set up in the barracks courtyard, with landmines surrounding us!” bokmann

“After sitting in a cube for the first five years of my career coding, I needed to ‘go work with some end users’ and volunteered to help out the Marine Corps. I was working on the Army Battle Command software of the time, Command Post of the Future. ... I was coding up a personnel tracking system in CPOF. ... It was towards the evening when about 80 meters away you heard the familiar THUD! followed by the alarm 10 seconds later. Not a drill and at this point annoying. Imaging being in the zone for hours, when suddenly you need to stop and run out to a crowded concrete bunker for hours. Damn! I was just about to compile, too. Well, being the operations center, Marines can't just leave. They have to continue running the war. So some them stay with the helmet and vest in case of a direct hit in the operations center. … On my last day, the team I worked with gave me a flag and plaque designating me a ‘Combat Software Engineer’ which to this day is one of my most cherished possessions.”arizonahockey

An empty closet
Credit: Orin Zebest
In a closet

Most developers, at one time or another, have probably put in some time writing code in a closet, like a server closet. Of course, not all closets are created equally and some may pose unique hazards. If you get sent to the closet to code, bring along a can of Raid, or a beekeepers outfit, just in case.

“So I have written software sitting on a bucket in the electrical closet many times.” Lumpy

“Arrived at a client site and was directed to a terminal in a server closet. As I was making changes to a script something flew past the corner of my eye. There was an active wasp nest above and behind my head. I never coded so fast in my life.” MTEK

A car attached to a dirty trailer parked on the side of the road
Credit: Andy Bullock
In a vehicle

The increasing availability of in-car Wi-Fi may soon make coding in your car a common activity. Up until recently, however, programming in a car or on a bus or in some other road-worthy vehicle has been a more unusual, but not unheard of, activity. Needless to say, coding and driving is probably a bad idea.

“... in the parking lot of an abandoned diner, sitting in a rented car writing code that talked to a box on the lamp post through special radios while the homeless ambled along on their business.“ gumbright

“... from a caravan in the middle of a forest in Eastern Finland in the middle of winter - minus 30 C outside.” DeathToBill

“A converted London bus parked on a slope at the bottom end of the company site.” Anonymous

“As a consultant in the UK I once worked for a council, programming out of a small caravan. It was cold, wet, and to add to the eeriness one of the guys there kept a collection of jars of pickled eggs on his table.” millwall

An airplane hangar full of aircraft
Credit: Phil Johnson
In an airplane hangar

Writing code (or doing any sort of computer-based work) on an airplane has become quite common thanks to laptops and in-flight Wi-Fi. However, programming next to an airplane or other aircraft in a hangar is still pretty unusual. Unfortunately, unlike coding on airplane, if you code in a hangar there’s no beverage service.

“I once wrote a program to extract video from an IRIG datastream while sitting in an aircraft hanger and trying to hear myself think over the electronics on an apache helicopter being run from ground power.” systemeng

“Me, my most prosaic experience was to sit on a stool in a huge, mostly empty (except for the robotic PC board line and some CNC machines cranking out ship propellors) aircraft hangar size warehouse to write code to run the US Navy's RAMP project back in the early 1990's.” Anonymous

Two prison cells
Credit: Jumilla
In a prison

A software developer going to jail for committing a crime is an unusual occurrence, though it has been known to happen. What may be an even more unusual occurrence, however, is a  software developer going to a jail to write code. Being in a prison for either reason sounds unappealing, but, at least in the latter case, you get paid - and you can go home at the end of the day.

“I performed the hardware integration testing with the PPG software I had written on-site in a prison psychology department.” Anonymous