What's In My Bag (Hint: not much)

Recently @BobMcCouch posted a photo of the contents of his bags. He’s got a lot of gear, including a hammer, and a dent-puller. He assures us that it’s for lifting tiles, but I’m not so sure. Sounds to me like he’s worried about a few dings in the supermarket carpark.

It all sounded a bit scary. I want to provide a different perspective, that of someone who tries to minimise what they carry. I don’t want young engineers to think that they have to build up a huge toolbox, and the physical strength to lug it around. You might choose to do that, but it’s not the only path.

The Bag Itself

My general rules for a laptop bag are that it should be as small as I can get away with, and it should not look too much like a laptop bag. So pretty much anything from Targus is inappropriate.

Today I use the ”Yee Ross” from Crumpler. The current colour options are somewhat conservative. Mine is a much more garish green/orange combo. Perfect for when I need to operate as an undercover Australian.

The bag does what I want. It’s held up well to 3-4 years of use, with no visible signs of wear, apart from being a bit grubby. It’s comfortable to wear whilst walking, and the size forces me to limit what I carry. It can hold a 13” laptop, but no larger.

The Contents

Right now I carry this:

  • Laptop - 13” MBPr + power supply. It’s a little heavy for my liking. Will either go MacBook or MacBook Air next time.
  • Notebook + pen. Specific notebook varies. Depends what I’ve picked up. Not fussy.
  • Glasses + case.
  • Hearing aid case + spare batteries.
  • Thunderbolt -> Ethernet adapter, for those vary rare occasions I need to connect to a wired network.
  • Thunderbolt -> VGA adapter. VGA because it’s still the most common connection.
  • USB -> Lightning cable.
  • USB flash drive. Not sure why I still carry this. Remember when everyone used to hand out USB drives? No point now.
  • Photo ID for current gig.

And that’s it. Only additions might be a small umbrella, and my lunch. I carry the least gear I think I can get away with. This is the complete opposite to those who carry a million different cables “just in case.”

But What About….?

I know, you’re thinking “But what about…?”

  • Console cables - I don’t plug into physical gear gear any more. I mostly use virtual machines, or someone else has set up a console server. I’ve done enough of sitting in noisy data centres, and I’ll be happy if I never go in another one. According to “d katoola” I must be incompetent because I don’t carry a console cable. Seems that commenter has a narrow view of what makes a good engineer. Hint: It’s not about carrying console cables, or about being male.
  • Tools - screwdrivers, crimping tools, etc. I don’t do rack & stack, and for good reason: I’m no good at it. I’m slower, and I don’t do as good a job as a professional. I would much rather have my gear installed by professionals, who will do a high-quality, consistent job. Yes, I can crimp cables, and have done so.. But my skills lie in a different domain. If you’re paying for my time, you’re better having me doing something I am good at.
  • Spare <blah>. Meh. The only spares I carry are hearing aid batteries, and that’s because I know I’ll need them, and I can’t get by without them. You can buy/borrow everything else such as patch leads, adapters, whiteboard markers.

Your role might be quite different to mine, and you may find you do need to carry a cage nut extraction tool. But chances are you’re carrying a bunch of crap that you don’t need any more.

I do tend to look at these things differently to most people though. Reduced weight & improved mobility are crucial to me. I’ve travelled large parts of the world by bicycle. That forces you to constantly re-evaluate every single item you carry. I used to rip pages out of books as I finished chapters. I went without shoes for months. At one point I was happy that I’d gone down from two pairs of underpants to just one.

Hmmm. Maybe you shouldn’t listen to me :D