Microsoft's Build conference this week featured a “cuddle corner” — with four bunnies, three miniature horses and one chilled-out golden retriever — all there to provide a break for the software engineers attending the three-day event
Yoga classes and meditation rooms have become a common sight in tech offices. But Microsoft took relaxation a step further at its developers conference in downtown Seattle this week: It brought in farm animals.
Amid the sea of developers at Microsoft Build at the Washington State Convention Center lay a small cordoned-off area filled with furry creatures.
The “cuddle corner” featured four bunnies, three miniature horses and one chilled-out golden retriever — all there to provide a break for the engineers attending the three-day event
Microsoft employee Allison Krug, who works as a cloud technology advocate, arranged the corner to encourage wellness at the conference. “These events have so much stimulus and technology and screens,” Krug said. “This is a chance to get closer to nature and animals.”
It’s a first for Microsoft and for the nonprofit that brought the animals, Bellingham-based Animals As Natural Therapy. The organization, which has a five-acre farm in Bellingham, usually works with at-risk youth and veterans. The 12-person staff also bring animals to off-site visits about five times a month, but that’s generally to nursing homes and memory care facilities — a bit different from tech conferences.
Still, it was too good an opportunity to pass up, said Jessie Pemble, a manager at the nonprofit. People were streaming through the corner all day, she said Tuesday, many gasping in delight when they saw the animals.
“Animals are really good at teaching us social and emotional skills,” Pemble said. The developers were already trained — everyone was respectful and careful with the animals, she said.
Miniature horses Toby, Midnight Mocha and Persephone — who donned poop bags for the event — got three breaks a day, and gently nudged each other out of the way when one was getting more human attention. (The nonprofit’s goats couldn’t attend the event because they would have pooped everywhere.)
For those far from home, Gabby the golden retriever was a favorite. “I’m missing my dog,” said Marcus Hellgren, who traveled from Sweden to attend Build, as he sat next to Gabby.
Microsoft’s Krug also led stretches during the conference’s first-day keynote speeches, which stretched three hours and thirty-five minutes. She wanted everyone to stay relaxed, but the cuddle corner had another, unintended outcome.
People were bonding as they pet the animals, and she noticed engineers and customers talking to each other as they might not have had a chance to otherwise.
The animals “just kind of delight people,” Pemble said. “Just by existing.”