Working on the Toilet

Last Friday I was the Tech Breakfast Ask a VC event in Georgetown and had the disheartening situation of the founder Ron forcing me to actually signup like a normal attendee.  I was at the second Tech Breakfast years ago when it was 10 geeks around a table with 4 of them arguing about something so esoteric in PHP that the other 6 of us were falling asleep.  I’ve been along for the rise of Tech Breakfast, and have promoted it heavily out of a true belief that it’s been a good series of events.  That being the way of things to say that I receive “comp” tickets to these events would be an overstatement.  Generally I just show up, find Ron, say a few “WOW look at this’s”, and then find the coffee. Registration is for “other people”.  Sadly Ron has gotten more by the book, and so I was at the Ask a VC event using my iPhone and trying to figure out what variation of the coupon code actually worked on Eventbrite.

Being that I had just driven into DC from Baltimore I decided to figure out this great mystery in the best of all places to do work in the modern world, the toilet.  Sitting on that toilet wishing I had eaten a few more greens the previous night, I plugged away on the iPhone trying to figure out which sequence of the coupon code would unlock the registration, as I also dealt with time outs on the website.  I was close to finally getting the registration finished when I was able to relieve myself of my fecal load.  The thing was I wasn’t finished with Eventbrite yet, so I just sat on the toilet an extra few minutes while my registration processed.

This may sound like a way for a grown man to talk about poop,  but it’s also an interesting example of how technology changes how we use shared facilities. I read a post a couple of years ago talking about Amazon having a real problem because so many of their male employees were doing work on the toilets.  The issue is that this then caused a backup for the toilets and something as simple as using the restroom was now causing real productivity issues as engineers would wander the building looking for a free stall.  Many of the regulations about the number of stalls all relate to how long it should take someone to relieve themselves, they don’t take into account folks finishing up a Grade A Under A video before leaving the stall.

At the very least managers and business owners should give real thought to over provisioning for restrooms and other facilities where the use cases are changing over time.   At the best case it would be good for new studies to be conducted to really gauge whether old assumptions and rules are still adequate.  It may seem that shaming folks like me by calling it disgusting would be the appropriate course of action, but the one thing I’ve learned in 20 years in the tech world is that people are generally going to do what they’re going to do.  You can either design for reality, or end up metaphorically with engineers crapping their pants for lack of stalls…

1 Comment

  1. Maybe Amazon should start keeping a log!

    Seeing as we’re talking about it, what really bugs me in the crossover between tech and the call of nature is the sheer number of selfies you see online where the subject is in the bathroom with the toilet seat left up. It squicks me out. It takes half a second to close the toilet lid. I’m a borderline germaphobe, but still, why are so many people, men and women, happy to have an open hole to a sewer in their house? It’s beyond me.

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